Monday, May 18, 2009

Tightrope Parenting

It has occurred to me several times lately that parenting is a lot like walking a tightrope. It requires a lot of skill, balance and concentration and it's pretty easy to get thrown off in the wrong direction.

When people complement me on my children or on my children's accomplishments - I feel a combination of a sense of pride and a pit in my stomach of vague dread.

It seems like the sort of pronouncement that could jinx everything.

My children are not perfect and I am not perfect and they will never be perfect and neither will I. My goal as a mom has never been to be the perfect mother (well maybe it was BEFORE I had kids, or for a very brief time before I realized reality was going to be very different from my fantasy version of motherhood) - My goal as a mother has been to be 'good enough'. Good enough to raise decent, relatively well adjusted, minimally mal-adjusted, functioning, contributing, reasonably happy children to become all of the aforementioned as adults with the least number of bumps in the road along the way as possible. I never anticipated raising perfect children and I never anticipated being perfect. Thanks Goodness! I've seen women drive themselves crazy with such notions.

Worshiping our children is always a bad idea too - because just when you start thinking they are truly wonderful, they will do something completely stupid and prove you wrong.

But it's hard sometimes to figure out how to raise children the 'right' way. I think I've been o.k. Probably I could improve in some areas. But sometimes when I watch young moms today it makes me exhausted watching them kill themselves to be perfect and to raise perfect kids. They make sure they eat all the right foods, they reinforce them in all the right ways so as not to hurt their little egos, they buy them the right kind of educational toys and send them to the right kind of pre-schools, they teach them to "use their words". I'm not making fun of these things - but I do find them silly sometimes. And I'm not saying I didn't do any of those things. But I think I was a little more laid back about my approach. I didn't worry too much if the food wasn't organic, I didn't think McDonald's once in a while was going to kill them, and I wasn't super concerned that my oldest didn't even go to pre-school because at the time, we just plain old couldn't afford it and he spent his days playing in a creek catching frogs and craw-dads and I figured that was education enough for a 4 year old.

Mostly I was right about most of those things.

But at the same time...

I have been very strict in other ways. I have been fairly controlling of weekend activities, friends and the amount of time spent away from my watchful eye. I encourage them to have people over here, but don't encourage a lot of time spent elsewhere (of course I allow it sometimes, just not excessively). You aren't allowed to just roam around without a plan. There's no roaming the streets for no reason. There should be purpose in our pursuits and activities. Our day should have some sort of plan or goal. If part of that plan or goal is that you really think you need to spend 3 hours goofing off in the pool, that's fine, but there should be some sort of plan - don't come whining to me that you're 'bored' or I will like to kill you. When Holden was 13/14 and giving me a little bit of a hard time, when I wasn't particularly crazy about some of his friends, and even less crazy about his attitude, we got into a little bit. One night, when I was super frustrated with where I thought his life was heading if he didn't cease and desist with some of his friends and his attitude, in a fit of frustration I told him (quite loudly) that I would begin from that moment on to "MAKE HIS LIFE A LIVING HELL". It was more complex and the situation didn't resolve itself immediately, but years later when I asked him why he finally got his crap together he said "Mom, you scared me so bad when you said that because I knew you really MEANT it". And I kind of did. But he knew that I still loved him, deep down and with all my heart, and he knew my frustration was coming from that place. It made all the difference I think.

Don't over-protect your kids. It's a terrible idea. They have to learn how to fail and get back up again. You'll retard them in ways you never meant to - ways in which you'll have a very difficult time fixing later. You'll instill in them fears and doubts that will over-take them.

Don't under-protect your kids. It's a terrible idea. They will make mistakes that can't be easily fixed, life will come at them so fast, they won't have the skills to deal with it. It's awful for children to be over-exposed to an adult world when they are too young - it leaves lasting penetrating scars that can't be healed sometimes.

I deeply believe both of the above paragraphs, which is why I find motherhood often taxing. It's a never ending process of trying to find that balance between those two worlds.

I'm not done raising these kids - I have 6 more years before the youngest is 18 and lots of things can happen in the interim. Everyday I feel like I have to be on my A game. Sometimes I'm not, sometimes I'm on my B or C game.

I'm an abysmal failure in certain areas: I can't sew, can't make a costume or even come up with a decent idea half the time for a costume, I forget dates and times easily, I get distracted, sometimes I just want it to be quiet even when they really need me, I'm not a fan of cooking because I hate the clean up all the time, laundry is my least favorite chore, grocery shopping is often a last minute after-thought, and sometimes I can help you with homework but not if it's math.

I'm good at enough things to compensate though I think. Maybe. I won't list them, because it seems like an unseemly thing to do - but I know I'm good at certain things and I think I've learned to be thankful for the areas in which I excel. And maybe sometimes those things are more important than having a mom who can help with math homework.

When I was pregnant with Holden I really thought about what I wanted for this baby - how did I want him to turn out, what could I do as a mother to help that? I thought about it for a long time and I realized what I really wanted was to have a child with confidence. I read a bunch of books, one appropriately titled "How to Raise a Confident Child". There were a lot of things in that book that influenced my parenting.

One day when I was on the playground with Holden there were several other little kids there about his age. He was two going on three. There was a big climbing toy there and some of the kids were climbing on it. Holden was an excellent climber. He started to go up higher and higher. I was standing several yards away and as he got higher I stood a little closer. But I never touched him, I never told him he had to get down. I just told him "be careful, watch where you step". I seemed to be the only parent doing that. The other moms were in two camps, there were the "You're not allowed to climb up there" moms and the moms who were drinking their coffees on the pic-nic bench with the other moms not even watching what their kids were doing. I've always been the mom looking for the happy medium between those two worlds and...dare I say it?

So far so good.


Cynthia said...

You're not perfect? Who knew? (and I'm not saying that sarcastically). You really are a great mom. I believe in finding that balance for kids too - not too much, not too little. It's hard sometimes to keep out of their business and let them experience some hard consequences of their actions. But learning some life lessons early when the consequences are small is way better than protecting them from life and then having them learn hard life lessons when they are old and the consequences are much more serious.
Who knew being a parent would be so hard? And who knew that once you kind of get the hang of being a parent to small kids you have to re-learn everything you know to be a parent to teens, and then again to adult children.
Maybe it would have been easier to have been a tightrope walker.

Suzanne Barker said...

You are very articulate Lezlee! And I think you do a great job and have great kids!

Anonymous said...

Well done! We are super irritated with today's media-based culture, too, where every night on the news there's another "helpful" segment on child-rearing or alerts to dangerous products. Now with the economy issue, these are even more insulting than ever.

Do I really need the news to suggest we take the kids to the public library as an economic, education-friendly family activity?

And how did we all survive riding bikes without body-armor? Or raise babies w/o all the REQUIRED products "sensitive" mothers know their children need but us older, less-trendy moms know they'll grow out of in about 3 months?

On of my girls friends had a neatfreak mom who couldn't tolerate us playing Barbies in her bedroom because of all the clothes and accessories on the floor. But - we had to spread all her stuff out to make our fashion girlfriend was from a well-to-do family, and she had more Barbie stuff than a ToysRus before ToysRus. It was not allowed. Neither were pets. Dirty.

She came to my house to play. A lot.


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