A friend of mine said that to me recently and he was so right. Lovely summer is coming to an end and all of us have been feeling the stress of going back to school. It’s been a rough week. Just when you think things are getting really good, everything changes and it’s all hard again.
It makes me reflect on how hard, how truly hard and challenging and never-ending it is to be a parent.
Another friend and I were talking about how tough 3rd grade was for both of our sons. She told me it was gut-wrenching for her to do what he needed to get through the year. I asked her how she did it and she said, “I had to be someone I’m not to push him through, on a daily basis. It was brutal.”
Being a parent forces you to change who you are. I’m not talking about simply giving up the freedom to go out to dinner with your spouse any time you want. I’m talking about a deep soul work kind of thing.
I remember when I first opened my child care I wasn’t very teacher-y. I was the kind of parent who felt that we speak to our children in a grownup way and do not talk down to them. I did the same thing with my day care kids. You can imagine the results I got.
I now have a teacher voice, and a teacher persona, and a preternatural teacher calm that sometimes amazes even me. But I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to get here. I literally had to force myself to behave differently with the kids.
Until then I was just being lazy, and a bit arrogant to be honest. Why should I change myself – why should I be someone I’m not, someone I don’t really want to be, just for these kids? THEY should change to match my expectations. They need to learn and I’m not going to teach them anything with baby-talk.
Well I learned pretty quickly that I had to be different if I wanted to be a child care provider. I can’t tell you, when I finally reached that point and gave in and started acting like a foolish singing clown, how much of a difference it made for my kids. How much of a better teacher I became and eventually out of that, a better parent.
Because I realized that parenting is not about forcing your kids to be what you want – it’s about altering your expectations, and what you believe to be right and true, and sometimes admitting that you are wrong. Changing yourself for the good of someone else. They don’t talk about that in the parenting magazines.
I’ve also had to be hard when I’m not, and that’s where my husband comes in. I told him there were times when he was right and I knew it. Which means I had to really listen to him (huge step right there), admit I was wrong (painful), and do it his way (are you kidding me?). This is not how humans naturally behave. We dig in our heels and fight to the death to prove we’re right. But having kids, and really wanting to make it work, REALLY wanting to do right by them, forces you to do these things.
Parenting – not for the squeamish.
On an episode of “Louie” the main character was bullied by a teenager, followed the kid home, and confronted the parents. The parents immediately started beating him and Louie defended the kid, saying “How do you think he turned out like this? You teach him to just hit people – what was he gonna be but a stupid bully? You never gave him a chance.” I envisioned a beating and bloodshed but instead the father admitted to Louie that he just didn’t know what else to do.
So here’s what you do. Re-set yourself. Look at your child as another person, a human being separate from you. You cannot control them. You must teach everything it means to be a good person: manners, empathy, responsibility, tolerance, honesty, patience.
You must accept that they are their own person, and while you do teach them all of the above, they are still going to make their own choices. They are human, and they will make mistakes. They are not perfect and they will need help along the way. But they are also beautiful people who deserve respect.
And the process of changing yourself goes on and on. It doesn’t end when the kids get to kindergarten, or past elementary school, or become what you think will be teenagers capable of putting dirty laundry in the laundry pile.
You are responsible for getting them through life until age 18. At that point they need to be ready to face the world, and that’s kind of on what you did for the the last 18 years of hard work so remember that too. But along the way, step back and take a good hard look at things every once in a while. When they’re not going right, you might have to be the one to make an adjustment.