Delighted Parent of Less-than-Perfect Children
This essay first appeared in the August 2009 issue of New Jersey Family, and online at njfamily.com, under the title, "Smelling the Roses."
The epiphany came just outside the doctor's office. Thumbing through the pulmonologist’s report, I was struck by one of his concluding remarks. Describing my daughter as a “delightful girl,” the phrase contrasted starkly with the statistics and graphs detailing problems with her breathing, which dominated the file. Whether sincere, or merely one of his standard lines, I believed it. As if for the first time, I fully appreciated that my daughter was delightful. Moreover, she was someone to be delighted in.
Simply enjoying my children proved challenging, though, especially when intent upon fixing a medical condition or enduring a difficult phase. Yet, even in whirlwind-free times, I was often so preoccupied with raising my daughters properly that reveling in their presence rarely entered the picture. Naturally, I wanted the best for them, including good health and nutrition, plus a solid foundation for the future. Instilling morals and at least tolerable manners also topped the must-have list. Enriching, educational activities - budget permitting - seemed reasonable as well, since jam-packed days form a staple of the American diet. (One mother I knew routinely entered “shower” to her family’s already-overflowing calendar, to keep from neglecting personal hygiene.)
In addition to my parenting checklist, I was, regrettably, also driven by a desire for recognition. Having reduced responsibilities at work, my focus turned to parenting. Naturally, I sought proof of some progress, if not success, in this realm: a reader, after countless trips to the library; an athlete, after hours of coaching. Rather than savoring time with my kids, I fixated on results, marking off milestones and achievements. Nurturing my "garden" in an unrelenting effort to make it green and glorious left no time for smelling the roses.
Not surprisingly, the pulmonologist’s comment caught me off guard. In my shortsightedness I had displaced the joy of parenting with my endless laundry list of child rearing objectives. Unless I found a way to enjoy my children, I risked merely connecting the dots of parenthood, but never admiring the emerging masterpiece. Even if there was still parenting work to do, making a concerted effort to relish these precious works-in-progress had to come first, before they departed or staged a rebellion.
Fortunately, I realized that, regardless of their accomplishments, my children would be better off raised by a patient, accepting parent, than prodded, stretched, pressured, and chauffeured into becoming superkids by a nagging mom. The challenge lay in putting this concept into practice.
Starting small, I stopped insisting my children finish their fruit and vegetables at mealtimes. Occasionally letting them play with their food seemed a small price to pay for a taste of parenting joy. Sooner than expected, the deal paid off when we unexpectedly discovered (after covering the kitchen table and tiles with dark smears) that blueberries bounce.
At lights-out, the classic parent-child battleground, when my daughter ignored my appeals to brush teeth and launched instead into a descriptive narrative about preschool, I let her pour out her heart to me uninterrupted. Now a subscriber to the Parenting Lite philosophy, I realized the importance of our dialogue, even at the expense of sleep. Admittedly, I had lost the bedtime battle, but, on the flipside, gained my daughter’s trust, and also the knowledge that four-year-old William had proposed to her.
Somewhat sleep-deprived and antioxidant-deficient, we trudged to swim class the next day. With parents hovering by the poolside, mentally tracking children’s stroke quality and finishing times, the competition was as oppressive as the facility’s sauna-like temperatures. Nevertheless, I strove to laugh about clumsy moments, rather than applaud accomplishments or despair over inadequacies. For instance, when my daughter slipped while getting changed, sending us both toppling into a locker, we picked ourselves up, laughing and no longer caring who had performed the most beautiful freestyle kicks in the class. Simply sharing a silly moment in the locker room, however embarrassing, trumped winning a first place ribbon.
Months later, I still occasionally feel like a parenting machine tasked with raising children properly, but thanks to the pulmonologist, my daughter’s breathing problems are solved, and I have started reordering my priorities. Rather than focusing on parenting objectives, I now concentrate on nurturing relationships and reveling in the moment, never forgetting the value of humor and of small instances that cultivate lasting memories. I have yet to mount a bumper sticker to my car declaring, “Delighted parent of less-than-perfect children,” but when life is so regimented that we no longer have time to crack a joke at dinner, I downshift, taking a moment to enjoy these delightful people under my care before they grow up - or need therapy.
Copyright © 2009-2013 by Jennifer Kirsch. All Rights Reserved.