Have you ever noticed how something seemingly small – a slight remark, a subtle expression, a wave of a hand – has the power to take you from a peak to a valley almost instantly? Everyone has these moments; I’m sure it’s not just my overly sensitive interpretation of the world, right?
Here’s what I’ve learned as a parent: you never stop learning. With each new age for you child comes new joys, but also new challenges, leaving us the task of learning to navigate these uncharted and sometimes raging waters with our wits and our faith. And the stars. Isn’t that what sailors did hundreds of years ago? As a mom of two boys, I do feel like a Viking conqueror, especially after bathtime.
Today I was surprised with a short but important conversation with an educator from our boys’ preschool. My usual emotional state is challenged by surprises like this; I like time to gather my thoughts and gain perspective, but I’m also learning we aren’t always afforded that luxury in the world of education. Since this chat left me with big feelings I wasn’t quite sure what to do with, I’m putting them in a popular place for me: written words. Make way for my emotional dump-truck.
If you know my older son, you know he’s spirited. He’s energetic. He’s fully embraces life with every fiber of his being. He’s strong-willed. He’s bright. He is me, made over. These are a few of the sometimes-challenging but always-endearing qualities of my firstborn. As a parent, it’s very difficult to hear your terms for your child’s personality phrased in ways like “He’s boisterous. He’s disruptive. He’s distracting. He’s defiant.” It’s difficult because you see the best; you see your child, and know that while there are times of struggle, they are far outweighed by the times of great joy.
It’s been said that comparison is the thief of joy – this rings truest when you become a parent. From the moment your tiny human arrives in this world, people will unknowingly (or, in some cases, intentionally) cause you to second-guess your abilities, your choices, your methods. Is he crawling? Walking? Eating solids? Using the toilet? Counting to 20? Writing is name? You begin to look at other kids, other families, and wonder if you just might be doing something wrong. It’s a natural train of thought.
Where behavior is concerned, your feelings of inadequacy increase. When you see a classmate sitting quietly, writing their numbers, after you’ve been told that your child is “unable” to do the same, it gives you pause. It sometimes wakes up a small voice in the back of your mind that starts a sentence, “I wish my kid would…”
Would…what? This is the truth that not many share: we’ve all had the thought. You wish they would sit still, listen, learn their sight words, learn algebra, the list goes on and on. And as soon as you allow that tiny, little voice to occupy space in your brain, the next voice moves in with it: guilt. You wonder: Why do I think this? And you feel an overwhelming sense of guilt, because you find yourself suddenly not appreciating your child’s unique personality.
The truth is, you don’t need to feel guilty. Yes, our children are a joyous blessing, sweet little miracles who fill our lives with happiness. But do you know what else they do? Fill the vegetable crisper with LEGOs. Fill the dishwasher with the 15 Batman action figures they own. Fill the bathtub with markers without caps. Fill your brain with the sort of “where am I?” fuzzies you sometimes had in your early 20s. Oh, there are some very full days around here. Human emotion is raw and honest, but it’s not bad. It’s essential to know how we feel, so we can accept it and move on.
You also don’t need to think I wish my kid would…
Here’s what I’ve learned: your kid will, but in his own time. Your children are snowflakes. (YES, I SAID SNOWFLAKES) Of course they are delicate creatures, but I also mean it in the sense that they are different. They are unique individuals, capable of a whole heck of a lot, but not always when we expect (or prefer). As a parent, I’ve learned we have to seriously let go of our own expectations. Our children are humans, just like us. They have thoughts, feelings, ideas, and plans. They bloom in their own time, and it cannot be rushed.
But how does that knowledge help me now, today, when I’m realizing my spirited and unique child is suddenly being viewed as “that kid” by others? You know the one. It’s the child who makes others, total strangers, say a very similar line: I wish that kid would…
And those words put in that context, man it hurts. It breaks my heart. It leaves me feeling as if I’ve somehow failed over the past 4.5 years, without realizing it. And when I hear those words from a stranger, it makes me realize what it’s like when we think those words. When did we forget that children are just that – children? When did we begin to expect they would do things far beyond their young years, far beyond their emotional maturity, far beyond what they should be doing? When did we deem it acceptable to put pressure on them from such a young age? Heartbreak territory, when you see the world is trying to make your child grow up before they should. I want to treasure these wild moments, and remember them forever…not squash them. When did being a kid suddenly become something we need do address?
So, what do I do? No clue. I’m not sitting here with the answers tonight; in fact, this is Great Parenting Truth #476: sometimes (okay, lots of times) there are no answers. At least none that immediately present themselves. This is like typhoon waves at midnight, with my compass going overboard and clouds covering the stars. The Loch Ness Monster is probably waiting for me next. Mrs. Loch Ness is probably teaching kindergarten next year, right?!
When folks say hindsight is 20/20, I can tell you this: those folks are parents. I know that we’ll continue doing what we do: loving, supporting, nurturing, learning, growing. I will remind myself daily (or hourly) that there is no growth without challenge. I will embrace every minute of this, because I know it will continue to pass quickly, and I’ll miss finding rocks in my shoes one day. I will try to remind others that these are still children, and we should have little expectations. And I will remind them that they are humans, like us, and deserve the same respect and grace we (should) extend to each other.
Give it some time. Even the lotus blooms from muck.