Of all the titles I have in this life the one that gives me the most joy, the most bewilderment and definitely the most consternation is my “mom” role. I blithely dance through life while wearing my other monikers; engineer, sister, friend, wife, and cousin. I mean there are bumps in every road, but in a macro sense I do not find myself shouldering the burden of every decision I make, as much as I do in my parenting role. Questioning not only my choices but my wisdom in making those choices. And by wisdom I mean, do I even have all the necessary marbles in my brain to make this decision? I am not talking about a narcissistic preoccupation centered on how I will look based on this decision, I am talking about a real sense of what the hell am I doing? I mean seriously IS there an app for this?
I love math, so what, you’re probably saying, well bear with me I’ll explain. I view life through a math-tinted lens, when I think about the advice, guidance, criticism, praise and support I give my children I see it this way. My kids are on their own unique journey with or without me it is their and only theirs, I do not posses it, and I believe I do not have a right to claim it as my own. However, like a vector in math I know the slightest, even most minute, change in angle on a vector will have greater and greater effects as the magnitude or length of the vector grows. So the little things that I do with my children, say to my children, advise my children about, acts as an external variable on their path. I believe, please hang with me math-haters, those external variables create slight adjustments in the angle of trajectory and grow in significance the further away we travel from the point of origin. So it sometimes overwhelms me, even with the so-called little things I do or avoid doing as a parent.
I put myself on heightened alert when I tread near my “regret bone yard” with my kids. People who have no regrets fascinate me I wish I could say I have no regrets, but I do, starting with I regret that I regret! I regret how I treated some people growing up, I regret that I did not stick with my chemistry major in my first attempt at college, I regret that I treated my mother poorly at times, I regret that I was not with my grandma and my dad when they took their last breath. Each regret has its own unique circumstances so when advising my children in any areas that overlaps a regret in my bone yard, I ask myself are you advising young Marsia, or are you advising your kids? I could lie and say I always answer my kids but I don’t, sometime I forget to ask the question or I ask and convince myself I am only thinking of the kids, this is where my parenting gets messy.
We all do it even those amazing put together parenting authors and shows, they have their messy moments. My messy parent internal alarm goes off when I start to feel that gnawing uncomfortable feeling. I believe our greatest lessons are in those awkward, uncomfortable circumstances and times in our life. So when I witness myself or another parent pushing kids in a direction the child doesn’t seem to have a passion for, I get that wobbly feeling.
Case in point, my daughter asked to take guitar lessons I was overjoyed! Oh boy one skeleton in my bone yard is the “I wish I would have played a musical instrument regret.” So here is one of those parenting mine fields for me, I start to watch every step so this whole thing does not blow up. I keep checking to make sure my intent is pure, my advise authentic. Am I pushing her to practice because she needs to learn commitment, to learn patience and realize the accomplishment for that patience and hard work, and not pushing her to clean up my bone yard? It really is a fine line we parents walk, if I am having my children make up for my regrets or if my passion becomes theirs, is their trajectory diverted so off path that their true purpose becomes more difficult to achieve or even see? And what about experience? Are we supposed to ignore our experience, no, but we can’t be consumed by it either. Sheesh, it’s complicated.
And what about failure? I have learned so much from my missteps, can I let my children fail? My mom and dad allowed me and my brother to fail, I can’t imagine what it took for them to stand by knowing full well we would fall flat on our face. I have seen children who are not allowed to fail, their parents make sure of it, I feel such compassion for those parents, but also great sorrow for those children. This has been difficult for me, to let my kids go into situations where I was not sure whether or not they would fail. I still struggle with it every single time. It drives me to distraction when my kids fail an assignment or test, however, my work as a parent is lessened with each failure I allow them to experience because that is where the really learning takes place. I still despise it.
So whether or not I know what the hell I am doing, and I am certain I do not, this is what I do, right or wrong, my parenting litmus test is the way people feel when they are with my kids, if they recall feeling hopeful, happy, or good, I must be doing ok as a parent. It’s the same test I use on myself as a human being.
It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself. ~Joyce Maynard