We live in a world of yes, a world filled with endless books on how to raise fulfilled and happy kids. There are so many titles on how to be “perfect parents.” Most of us are doing our very best, and this is one place where the pursuit of perfection is not just unachievable, but a goal that we can happily let go of and still raise our kids with a smattering of confidence. The truth of it is our kids don’t need perfect parents, they really need us just the way we are. In fact, they don’t need the perfect home, or the ideal education or even access to every possible activity, in order to grow into pretty fine adults. While all these things are nice to have, it turns out they are definitely not, whatever the marketers say, essential to healthy happy kids and will not necessarily result competent and compassionate adults.
Marketers would have us believe that if we create stress free lives, and protect our kids from all kinds of real or imagined dangers, not to mention create a perfectly ideal world… that we are giving our kids the best start in life and even more than that: a chance to get ahead. The truth is actually a million miles from that, our kids need to see the good and the bad, they have to see how we cope with disappointment. How do we deal with things when someone dear to us has let us down… what do we do when the dinner with best friends that you have been looking forward to for weeks is postponed again, how do we cope when our best efforts to reach a deadline are frustrated by things way beyond our control. How do we cope with those cranky days, when it doesn’t really matter what side of the bed you get out on, nothing is going to go right. I have a idea that is more important for our kids to observe our day to day difficulties than it is for them to watch the latest educational channel on satellite tv. We are to be an example to our children, in the way we conduct ourselves through life’s difficulties…
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Deuteronomy 4:9
Our children need to know that pain is a human condition and we shouldn’t shelter our kids from the “regular ups and consequential downs” of life. Protecting our kids from “the big bad world” is not preparing them for real life. I am not saying that we should toss our kids to the wolves and drop them into the world of harsh realities… nobody wants that, but smoothing every kink in their path is not enabling them to grow up and move on. While it is okay to say yes to plenty of wild and crazy things… it is also, from time to time, quite okay to say no. I for one am not trying to raise miserable and disappointed children… but a good solid “no” every now and then is not the worst thing in the world for my gang. I just want to say that a little disappointment is one way to give our kids the emotional skills required for life as an adult. And if we faithfully stand by what we believe when the going gets tough… our kids will notice that and it will stand for something, if not comfort them, when the road they choose gets tough along the way too.
- The chances of my kids growing up and their husbands or wives treating them to the perfect dinner every single evening is totally unrealistic. It is okay if from time to time if they are faced with a meal they “just can’t face.” It is also okay, if not jolly alright for them to have no alternative. There is no tea and toast for the person who doesn’t want whatever was on the menu, they aren’t going to die of starvation if they wait until the next meal… they may feel like it, they may even make you think that they will… but actually they won’t.
- It is okay that our kids don’t attend every single activity or party or event that crosses their path. It is okay if you just decide you can’t face another Saturday of rushing around and you hang out at home recovering from a week of crazy. Chances are your kids will be disappointed but they will get the hang of downtime and learn to take a break when things get overwhelming… thats a lifeskill.
- Should could be given responsibility, for sure: Chores are very much key to being a team player. The consequence of not doing the laundry again and again and ummm again… I know the “nice mum” would jump in and just do it, I have a feeling the “better mum” will just leave it. The point is in our house, our kids don’t do their own laundry, when it is their turn, they do everyone’s laundry. They have to get it right, the folk that are heading for work in the morning need their clothes clean and ready… one day when they are responsible parents, they won’t just be responsible for their own clothes… they will be responsible for a family. My kids all wash their own dishes after dinner… trust me if they don’t get it right and someone else gets a dirty dish tomorrow – they will hear all about it.
- One of the hardest things as a homeschool mom is to inspire my kids to do the work that just has to be done. I am all for a lifestyle of learning… and so many things that a child can learn simply because they are engaged in it. But sometimes they need to just do what they have to do and do it properly. Nobody wants to do a math review on a Friday afternoon… but we have all learnt the hard way, that getting the hard stuff done on Friday afternoon makes for a much nicer weekend.
- Fact is that we do prioritise our kids over ourselves… time and time again. I know this, I cannot tell you how many pairs of shoes I have bought because my kids “needed” them, while I wore a pair of slip-slops year in and year out. How many times has a friend explicitly said: this gift is just for you and not for the kids at all. We live in a world where if you aren’t prepared to give up everything for your kids then somehow you aren’t a good enough parent. Our kids need to know that that they aren’t always first in line and that there parents are worthy too.
- Don’t be afraid of hard work… many times what started out as sweeping the front stairs has turned into a full on gardening epic event… And while most folk wouldn’t sign their kids up for a day of planting trees in the pouring rain, or even in a dog shelter(!). Turns out that those days may well have had parties they couldn’t go to, and playdates they might have missed… and turned out to be the best family memories ever.
- A little unpleasantness is not the end of the world, even if it feels like the end of the world. Somedays getting from A to B is easy and other days some of my kids find and/or make car travel so impossible that it isn’t actually worth it. But we persist anyway, it isn’t nice, but it isn’t forever, we hardly ever travel further than half an hour, and this is training for when you have to share an office with people that drive them crazy. The truth is, how we handle this dramatic drama speaks volumes to our kids, they need to know that they may never get the window seat and life will just go on… not an easy lesson to learn ever… but a whole lot easier to master when you are a child than when you are faced with the daily dramas of working in an office.
- Sometimes you just have to make do. How often I will be headed for kid’s bible study and someone will say: “I was meant to bake,” or on the day of a hike, “I left my water bottle at a friend’s house.” Make a plan an do the best you can with what you have… a packet of biscuits will have to do, even if you told everyone that your mother bakes great cookies, and a bottle from the recycling bag will work on a hike. I know for myself I want to rush in and rescue my kids from these silly little problems, but actually it is better to commiserate and then leave them to it. I so often feeI am letting my kids down when I just can’t fix things for them, but actually I am enabling them to cope with typical scenes from life as we know it.
In our quest for self improvement and endless pursuit of excellence… which isn’t very excellent after all, we may well find ourselves falling into the cultural trap of being “yes to everything parents.” Because parents that say “yes” are supposed to have happy children and the theory is that happy children will grow into happy adults.” The truth is children learn from our example and as we conduct ourselves faithfully in and out of our days is the way our children are going to learn to cope with everyday struggles and disappointments… and those are the skills we want our children to master far more than how to survive when everything is going perfectly well.