Saturday, August 24, 2013

Parenting is not an Olympic event

I was reading an interesting and thought-provoking article posted on a social media site today about parenting. Specifically, it was about how we in today's society are making parenting harder than it was for our parents when we were kids. 

This is something we've noticed often in the last twenty-odd years. It's almost as though parents today are afraid of each other and / or trying to outdo each other in an effort to not be seen as "bad parents." 

When I was a child, only the rich could afford to put their kids into sports, or get them more than one Christmas present, or have birthday parties for their kids, much less make them into themed ones. We were fortunate to get ONE birthday present. And I remember distinctly that my first, last and only birthday party was when I turned 11 years old. (After that fiasco, I cared nothing for them, and still don't.) Now, parents are having full-blown birthday parties for one-year-olds. And they are totally stressing out over them.
Seriously?  Those kids are never going to remember their one-year-old birthday party. So the parents go crazy over something so ridiculous as whether they have enough helium or whether they can find the right color Spiderman outfit for the wall decoration. 

I'm sorry for the crickets in the background ... is that the sound of total indifference? 
Memories can be made without going
over the top...

I'm not saying we shouldn't have birthday parties for our kids. Far from it - making a big deal about the anniversary of the day they took their first breath is a worthwhile endeavor and making memories surrounding times like that can really be the stuff of strengthening relationships .... as long as we don't succumb to the "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality perpetrated by parenting magazines, social media, and sitcoms, to name just a few.

I think that we have seen so much in the media regarding the trouble kids can get into through neglect or boredom, that we are paranoid about letting them have any time to themselves. So we go overboard! Every moment has to be scripted. We keep them entertained because - God forbid - they might think of something to amuse themselves that isn't in "the plan". And who knows? that might mean they'd end up in juvenile hall. It is fear and fear alone that keeps us dreaming up new and exciting things for them to do.

But isn't that the point? I know ... I sort of fell into this trap when my kids were small. I found myself sucked into the myth that they had to have something with which to occupy themselves every moment of every day, and before long, they couldn't make a move without checking it with me first - and then I complained and told them that I wasn't their entertainment director. 

Or was I? 

Yes, I did it to myself. I made myself indispensable. I forgot that my main job as a mother was to get my kids to the point where they could be independent from me. Yes, I could support them; yes, I could be there to talk to. However, the cry of "I'm bo-o-ored" needn't have filled me with so much panic. 

I eventually (possibly too late, I'm not sure) learned to say, "You know what? I am sure that you can find something constructive to occupy your time." When I did, that's when I discovered that these kids had talents that I didn't even know about. One excelled at baking. Another developed a penchant for video editing - like for Youtube! Slowly they have learned ways to amuse themselves in socially acceptable ways. And just as slowly I have learned that I don't need to cow-tow to the tyranny of "Should."

And my obsession with controlling everything they did, thought and said got to the point where they actually resented me for it.... and with good reason!

Years later - I had to apologize to them for that. Talk about humbling!

I used to spend my time berating myself because I wasn't as "natural" a parent as the mom up the street who had her two kids organizing their own yard sales at the age of seven and nine. (Mind you - I consoled myself with the fact that all they were learning was to be mercenary and take advantage of their same-age neighbors by foisting their own cast-offs (most of them broken or tattered) to their friends ... for money.) Or, I compared myself to the mothers who were constantly gushing about their kids and about how fulfilling motherhood was. Yeah, I was seriously doubting my suitability for the career of being a mom because I didn't feel like I thought I "Should." (Oh puh-leeze. Now I know better!) 

It's still a sore spot with me - especially when I hear people talking about their parents or their kids like it's the one thing in their life that gives them ultimate fulfillment... as if those who don't feel that way are somehow defective. 

Parenting is not an Olympic event. There are no winners and losers. You can do everything right and your kid can turn out wrong after all. You can do everything wrong and your kid can turn out right in spite of it. 

This is not a competition; it's life. We don't need to be afraid of each other or envious of each other. We need to realize that everyone has the right to have feelings, whatever they are, and everyone has his or her own take on how to raise a child. 

Acceptance and support goes a lot further and carries a lot more weight than condemnation or judgment. After all, we're raising the people that will eventually carry on where we left off and who will pass on their values and skills to the next generation. The last thing we need is to be competing with each other over something that our kids don't even think is important. Or won't remember!

They're not going to remember who gave them what, or how much something cost compared to something else someone else gave them or anyone else. They are not going to care how many organized activities they've had when they get to be adults. What will matter the most to them is whether their mom and /or dad gave them the one commodity that seems to be the most lacking in our busy world: their time - in paying attention to them, to what mattered to them. It's way easier to let someone else take over the responsibility of spending time with our kids when all they really want is OUR attention. When it all boils down, that's what remains. Kids need to know that they are important to US.

I think the most profound commentary I have ever seen about parenting was summed up in a "Family Circus" cartoon I saw once.  It said, "Parents can give their children things ... or time. Time is better!"

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