Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Theirs, Mine, Ours

I could very well be turning into that kind of parent. The type I once smirked at before I had children of my own... My little Johhny can recite the U.S. Constitution from memory. Susie-Q is two and sings within a range of eight octaves. Billy is taking pre-med courses in order to earn his thirty fifth cub scout badge. Oh by the way, he'll be seven this March.

OK, hopefully that's a level of parental lunacy I have not yet attained. But I do find myself spending a lot of time thinking about my kids' success or lack thereof. This topic is especially timely because I recently insisted that E maintain his involvement in a specific activity, despite his repeated requests to drop out. This particular activity is something he is good at and has really enjoyed in the past. Here's the crimp: he's now reached a point where it's not coming naturally. He's got to practice. He's at a level where he is no longer the top dog. He's got to work at it. So, as with any six year old, E would rather just play. Or sit in front of his Nintendo DS.

Not on my watch, buddy... My compromise is that he may quit once he achieves a reasonable level of competence. This level could easily be reached by the end of the Spring if he puts forth a bit of effort. The thought here is that once he attains this new level, he will be re-inspired and want to stick with it. If not, however, he's welcome to call it quits.

But what he may not do is simply give up because it's challenging. Or because he's not the star. After all, isn't accomplishment all the more satisfying if it's hard to achieve? If I permit him to quit the moment he encounters resistance, aren't I allowing him to miss out on an opportunity to learn? To grow? To develop that besmirched yet still secretly revered parental holy grail: childhood self-esteem.

Admittedly, a part of me can't shake the classic stage mother image. Rosalind Russel as Gypsie Rose Lee's maniacal mother, controlling every detail of her daughter's career. Achieving her self worth by way of her daughter's success. Or those tense moms exuding contrived perkiness, who work two jobs to put their daughters on the beauty pageant circuit. You've seen their gritted teach under strained smiles. Coaching their ridiculously coiffed little girl through song and dance routines. Every misstep will surely result in endless do-overs and reprimands. Mom assures the interviewer that the child can quit any time she wants as the camera pans to the child's nervous, tentative smile. Meanwhile, you're almost sure you caught a twitch in mom's left eye as she surely fathoms the possibility of her daughter leaving the pageant without a crown or a title. Mom struggles to hide a cringe as she remembers her job as check-out supervisor at the Piggly Wiggly. Back to Bud Light Friday nights and juggling the light bill with the car note. Just so the rent gets paid.


Granted, I'm not placing myself among the ranks of these tortured souls. But I have to admit that I love it when my kids do well. At anything. And when they fall behind or miss the mark, I'm a little nervous. Will this affect them later on? Will they be excluded because they don't know how to do a, b, or c? Can I do more to help them succeed?

I'm just voicing an inner reality check. The fact is that kids are going to blow it. Sometimes, when you least expect it, they rock your world with victories both large and small. You just have to make sure that you don't measure your parental worth by the rising and falling meter of kid accomplishment. We moms, including this one, will do well to divest ourselves just a bit from children's successes and failures. And if at all possible, we can and should make our mark in ways unrelated to our children. A mom who feels good about who she is and what she has to offer just may be less concerned about her children's achievement and have more capacity to focus on the most important goals: her children's ability to show kindness and compassion. To display grace under pressure. To be resilient in the face of loss. To show character in times of crisis. A mom who feels a sense of accomplishment independent of her children won't be crushed by every childhood pitfall. And she allows her children to own their successes, independent of her.

Turns out, distinguishing your own life from that of your children benefits not only the mommy, but the kiddos as well.

I'm learning friends. I'm learning.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think all moms do that more or less. You are normal.