Nearly two and a half years into this parenting gig and I continue to gain more and more respect for my parents. In particular, my mom. We, as parents, want good things for our children. We want love and justice and soft landings. My kids are just babies and the worst things they’ve suffered have been goose eggs and time outs. My heart hurts imagining them experiencing rejection, heartbreak and, God forbid, legal or physical consequences. The truth is, though, they will. This is all part of life and as much as I want to protect my kids, I also want them to be prepared.
I want them to understand the harshness of the world enough to know the importance of thoughtful decision making and interpersonal skills. I want them to develop compassion and strength. I believe my mom did well at this. Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly self-absorbed, but I believe what I do posses of these positive characteristics is a result of my mother’s intentional parenting choices. Here are a few things I believe my mom did right:
- She did not attend all of our games, activities or performances. Truth be told, that was hard as a kid. It’s difficult to look out into the audience and see all your friends’ parents, but not your own. It’s painful to hear the cheers from the families of your teammates wondering if anyone will be cheering for you when you are up to serve or bat. My parents weren’t by any means absent. Where I grew up traveling for sports ranged anywhere from a 45 minute drive to four hours for just a single conference game. Watching me play volleyball was important, but they had other responsibilities to the world that seemed a better use of time than spending eight hours driving to support my one hour of playing volleyball (and to be honest, I wasn’t playing that full hour anyway #benchwarmer). So, they attended home games and those shorter distances from home. They attended most shows (some plays and band concerts) I was in, but not every performance. They showed up, let me know I was important to them, and then they did other things like mentor young couples, teach Sunday school, take older widows and widowers out to dinner, help young children with homework, and attend workshops to enhance their marriage because other people were important too.
- She chose not to request our teachers. In my tiny hometown, there were three elementary schools that were basically all the same and one middle and one high school. School choice was not a thing, but choosing teachers was. With only two teachers per grade in elementary school, there was usually one with a reputation for being the “good” teacher and one for being less desirable. This was determined by any number of factors: actual teaching ability, meanness, structure, newness, gender, notoriety, etc. Many parents would request a specific teacher for their children. My mom chose not to follow suit. Needless to say, my sister and I often ended up in the classroom with the unpopular teacher. It also meant that we were usually in the class with other “non-requesters”. Those students were kids whose parents who were either, like our mom, intentionally not requesting, or those whose didn’t care at all.
Sometimes our teachers weren’t really that great at “teaching”. One teacher often took my sister’s class down to the local convenience store to buy nickel candy so she could smoke. Another teacher read books aloud to us probably 50% of the day, avoiding other subjects, like science. Most of the time we ended up with great teachers, or at least just the right teacher for us at that moment. My mom says that my sister’s second grade teacher (the one who took the “smoke breaks”) helped her gain confidence again after her first grade teacher had really damaged her self-worth. And that teacher that read to us all the time; she inspired my creativity. I may have been the most creative during the time I was in her class. We both grew up to be successful students taking upper level courses (yes, even in science), getting good grades, and going on to college.
- She didn’t fight our battles. I have a slightly abrasive personality. It hasn’t served me well in relationships. I also have a strong sense of justice (at least what I perceive as justice). During my third grade year, I really got into with my teacher and often felt he was not “being fair”. My mom listened to my complaints, asked questions and encouraged me, but she did not step in and confront my teacher. She let me handle my problems with him. I remember many times through the years wanting someone to come to my rescue and smooth over the issues (mostly with teachers), but she let me handle it myself. It was empowering. I learned that I could do it. I also learned the hard way that it’s not worth fighting for some things.
- She did not give us everything we wanted. We were never hungry growing up, we always had clothes, and there was never any worry that the power was going to be cut off or that we were going to lose our house. My dad had a great job that he worked for thirty years until his death, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom/substitute teacher until she got a full time job when I was in middle school. Though we were never wealthy, we weren’t poor either. From kindergarten, we were given an allowance, and by the age of twelve we were generally expected to buy our own clothes, toys, and other non-essentials. We didn’t have troves of toys as kids and rarely had any trendy or popular play things. We always had gifts at Christmas, but they weren’t always what we wanted. When my sister asked for a brand name bike for Christmas in middle school ,we both got generic bikes my parents had tried to make look cool by swapping seats and handle bar grips. We were so embarrassed we bought a couple of old banana seat bikes from a garage sale and rode those instead. We both drove the same 1983 Clubwagon in high school. We paid for half of our college, and during my junior year when I wanted to study abroad, I had to choose between that or a car (I chose the former. Duh!). From my sophomore year of high school through college, I had a job to help pay for all these things. I learned the value of hard work, saving, and what it is to want. I also learned how to handle disappointment.
As a child, these were not my favorite things about my mom. She has many other admirable qualities and has made other great parenting choices, but as a parent. I recognize the value in these decisions and the difficulty she may have had making them. I admire her ability to see past the moment, the selfish desire to be the hero, genie or fairy godmother, and to choose the difficult path. By seeing that her world did not revolve around us, we understood that we were not the center of the universe. Thanks, mom.