As a parent of four children, I often wonder if the kids will survive childhood and if I will survive it too! I am positive that I am not alone in my sentiments.
Why do so many of us parents feel discouraged, concerned, or stressed over parenting? Is it because parenting itself is challenging? Our kids are challenging? Is it more than the normal stresses and challenges of dealing with imperfect and immature little replicas of ourselves that gets us?
As a mom, I can attest that it is more than the actual parenting and caring for four active little ones that gets to me at times.
Yesterday, I took my son for his 7-year check-up. Normal procedure that every concerned and dutiful parent does. There was nothing wrong with the visit, and my son was declared fine. What bothered me was the normal feelings of guilt that accost me as I step away from any institution that “specializes” in caring for children. Let me explain. It was the helpful forms they gave afterwards and a few of the questions the doctor asked my son…
The forms were full of great information, but my feelings of guilt came when they indicated that if a parent modeled good behavior and didn’t allow negative behavior in their child, that child should become more consistent in demonstrating his or her own positive behavior. They were good words of advice: to model good behavior for our kids. There are plenty of parents, including myself at times, that need that reminder. What got to me though was the implication that if I am doing the right job, my kid will behave correctly. What about when my kid(s) don’t behave properly? Does that mean I am a failure? That I am a horrible parent? That I am a negative model? Can children be that controlled by their environment?
Then there were the questions… They were fine questions. The doctor asked my son what fruits and vegetables he likes, what activities he does, what safety equipment he uses, how he’s doing in school, how he sleeps, how his bodily functions work, his dental habits, etc… The questions are probing but can be useful in cases where true negligence is. What bothered me was not so much the questioning as the conclusions drawn by the young doctor. My son honestly answered her with a shrug when she asked him what vegetables he likes. Me, not being as mentally alert at the moment, didn’t think to respond with, “He eats vegetables — just doesn’t like them much.” In other words, because a child doesn’t like vegetables does not mean we conclude the parent neglects to feed their child vegetables. The truth is I don’t like many vegetables either, but my family and I eat them anyway.
What makes parenting so much harder these days is the intense pressure — the pressure to insure early cognitive development, proper stimulation, health and weight management, social interaction, etc… It’s the lists of check-lists that we feel we must all accomplish with our children for them to develop into healthy, productive adults. It’s effective too — for the concerned and responsible parent. We want our kids to mature into responsible, caring, productive, successful adults. So, we studiously follow the charts, the books, the newsletters, the blogs, the articles, the check-lists. The result: we may produce safer and healthier environments, but then we may also be producing something less safe and less healthy: an environment of stress. Stress because we are stressed as parents over insuring that we have met all the guidelines and suggestions. Stress because our children are not allowed to simply be children at times and to occasionally overlook the forgotten bath or allowed the occasional sweet. I almost wince as I write this because it sounds so bad. Once again, there’s the guilt.
We guilt ourselves as parents over all this stuff and assume if we aren’t doing everything and following all the professors’ and doctors’ instructions then we are dooming our children to a life of failure and are failures ourselves as parents.
Pressure! You betcha!
The truth is all the suggestions — or most of them — are good. The truth is I try to fulfill as many as I can. The truth though is I also wish that sometimes I could relax a little in my parenting and just let my kids and I have a little more flexibility without feeling like I am failing us both.
My suggestion to health-care providers and educators is that they encourage more. Encourage the parents that are putting forth positive efforts. Because most of us parents care a lot about what our kids think of us as parents, what we think of our parenting, what others think of our parenting, what God thinks of our parenting because we do care.
Instead of allowing our parenting to become so narcissist, I believe the goal should be that we love our kids and that we enjoy our kids. Too much rule-setting and goal-setting produces the opposite effect — adults that are too afraid to even attempt the daunting task of becoming a parent or parents who feel as if they don’t know if they’ll even survive parenting, let alone enjoy it and enjoy their kids. Then, there are the kids, who in spite of our best attempts at doing everything just right resent us because they sensed our fears, felt the pressure, and observed the disconnect.
The goal after all is for our kids to grow up feeling secure in our love — even more so than having eaten their five helpings of fruits and vegetables for the day or having their teeth flossed and brushed two to three times that day.