I recently had the pleasure ofslowing down a bit over the spring break holiday with my three young children, ages 1, 3 and 5. Technically only the oldest was on “spring break,” but with her mornings spent at preschool five days a week and my adherence to afternoon naps for the boys, we don’t have much time these days to do a lot of the things we used to enjoy. We relished in slower mornings, trips to the playground, play dates with our pals and visiting our local children’s museum. While out and about, I had some time to observe lots of children and their parents interacting in environments specifically designed for children.
One of the things that struck me was the intensity by which we parent. In our current culture, parents are expected to create a marvelous, exciting and perfect life for their children and children are expected to perform, in subtle ways, from a very early age. This creates a lot of anxiety for both the parents and the children. I noticed parents shadowing their young toddlers at the museum, a safe environment expressly designed for their exploration. I watched parents force their children to share. I saw children who were old enough to solve problems with their peers, run to their caregivers when another child did something they did not like (my child, in fact). I saw parents blush with embarrassment when their child did something, well, childish. As I sat on the edge of the room, watching from afar as my three kids explored and interacted with their peers, only intervening when my toddler was rough with other children (the youngest of three is having a hard time learning the rules of the playground), I felt my own anxiety creeping in. I felt like I wanted to jump in and direct their play, tell them to quiet down, move faster down the slide, hand over the toy that another child is demanding to have a turn with. I felt the eyes of other parents--as I have so many times before while at the playground as my little monkey climbs higher than other parents are comfortable with--boring through me, wondering why I was just sitting there doing nothing as he negotiated the wonderful world of childhood on his own.
It took a lot for me to hold my anxiety, sit with it and remember what is important to me – that my children are given the room to grow, make mistakes and emerge more resilient than before. For a few days I couldn’t stop thinking about this experience. How do we hold onto what we value as parents in a society where parenting mores are no longer being passed from one generation to the next? How do we make the choice to parent differently from our peers without giving into the pressure to follow their path, instead of our own? In our house this means teaching self-reliance and resilience.
On the outside it may seem as though I don’t care they my chubby 18-month old fell down on the playground, but on the inside he is learning is that he can stand himself up, brush it off and keep on playing. And for the times that he does need a kiss and a cuddle, he knows that I am there, loving him unconditionally. Recently, when my 5 year old proactively and independently, procured pieces of cardboard for her “recycling center” from our new neighbors, who had an abundance from all their moving boxes, the pride on her face reminded me that this value is working for us.
On mother’s day each year, we will undoubtedly run around buying cards and flowers for the special women in our life; planning brunches, outings and my favorite, making reservations. This year I have a new tradition that I invite you to put on your mothers day to-do list. Take some time this mother’s day to reflect on what YOU value as a parent. Not what society says you should care about, but what deep down in your heart are the 3 or 5 most important things you want to focus on in your home. You might put things on your list such as less screen time, more floor time, a tighter routine, or more unstructured activities. Maybe you want to focus on yelling less and connecting more, or finding a reason to laugh together every day. Write these things down. Share them with your partner in parenting or anyone who is especially involved in your child’s life. Focus on these things daily. Let the chatter about how to be the perfect parent fade into the background. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground, even when it makes you the unpopular person in the room. Next year on mother’s day reflect on your values, how have they changed (because they will), what needs to be re-tooled and begin again. We often say that the parent is the child’s first and most important teacher. As parents, you are at the helm of this ship and the more clear you are about what is important in your lives while living in this messy and complicated world, the easier it will be to chart your course.