By Ann Brown
There really are no new topics in parenting. It’s the old same themes, just with new details. Or maybe that’s what I tell myself when I’m on a deadline for a parenting article and I have a headache from last night’s extensive “research” for pairing the best wine with each of the different flavored truffles I got as a Christmas gift from one of the parents in my class, and now I really need to take a nap. And unzip my jeans.
No, I stand by my initial sentence. The overarching issues in raising kids have existed since time immemorial: keeping them safe, instilling good values in them, fostering positive qualities and strengthening our family and community.
These days, however, we’ve added a few more essential items: Make them TAG worthy, make sure they speak four languages, know how to read before they enter Kindergarten, attend toddler Yogasoulcycle, be an athletic superstar who also serves dinner to the homeless, and cleans his own room without being asked.
I am really surprised that all parents and children don’t just give up and go lay down on the couch with a cold compress on their heads. We are making this parenting thing waaaaay too hard on ourselves and on our kids.
I once had a mom in my parenting group who, exasperated with all the stuff that is expected of parents, said to me, “please just tell me what the MINIMUM requirement is to get an A in parenting.”
So, a few years late (I’ve been busy, what with the wine research and all), here it is – the addendum to the three things I listed in the second paragraph:
You need to be a good person and a good role model.
There is nothing else. Go pour yourself a cup of coffee and watch some TV.
Unfortunately, even though there is only one thing on this addendum, it’s a really tough motherfucker of a requirement. You can pretty much spend your whole life trying to get it right.
Which is the point, Grasshopper.
Our children do not need us to run flash cards with them, or to put them on sports teams before they can spell the words “sports teams”, or to schlep them to the myriad classes and groups and practices that the ridiculous world of middle and upper middle class parenting offers. They don’t need us to spend countless hours playing with them, or doing the latest Pintrest activity with them (I am just pulling that out of my ass; I don’t even know what Pintrest is, but it seemed like a good thing to use as a target to make my point), or fill every silent moment with educational chatter.
They need us to live our lives the way we hope they will someday live theirs.
They need us to work hard, to find purpose in life above the purpose of getting ahead, to laugh, to sing, to appreciate art (which is not achieved by your young child taking an art appreciation class, btw. It is achieved by the family noticing art in the world – on murals, in museums, in nature), and to be emotionally literate as well as academically literate. They need us to show compassion for others in small ways (checking in on a neighbor who has a cold, remembering to call Great Grandma and say hello) as well as large ways (delivering food to shut-in’s, voting, holding our actions accountable to our values, taking a stand on something. Preferably a stand that mirrors MY opinions.)
Hah. That “one “requirement doesn’t seem so easy now, does it?
But here’s some good news: when you give yourself permission to stop doing all the things you think you have to do to be a good parent, and instead, just start being the person you want to be, you have a lot more energy and time left over for watching The Good Wife and hanging out on Facebook with your old high school friends. And napping. And trying out some of those cocktail recipes The Barefoot Contessa is raving about. Oh, and sex. You will have more time and energy for sex. (Disclaimer: I have no idea if you will or not. My degree is in ethnomusicology)
What do you believe in? What is important to you? How does your life reflect your beliefs and values? I know that raising young kids turns our lives into a lot of minutiae – laundry, picking up toys, cooking – and it can be really hard to focus on The Big Picture of values and beliefs. But – and here’s where my whole 60’s aging hippie wisdom is really going to kick in for you – there is value and opinion and, yes, holiness, in the minutiae. Doing laundry is a holy and respect-worthy act, especially when you think about the ramifications of NOT doing the laundry. Doing laundry with your kids is an expression of respect (for the clothes we have), and appreciation (thankfully, we don’t need to bang the dirty jeans on rocks in the age of washing machines), purpose (the family is counting on clean clothes) and work ethic.
(Next month, I am going to write about The Tao of Laundry. Someone remind me. All that, um, hippie living has kinda messed with my short-term memory.)
Our children need us to interact with them, to be sure. They need to know us, to know that we know them, that we love them, that we will take care of them, that they are part of a family, a community, a world that values them. They need us to be kind to them, and laugh with them and show them that the world is a loving place. They don’t need to be entertained by us, or “enriched” with so many after-school activities that their lives are rushed and hurried.
Sitting together in the living room, each family member doing their own thing – playing, reading, staring at the dog, whatever – is exactly what is going to get you an “A”.
Oh, and if you bring me truffles, you get extra credit.