Going Easy on Myself…For the Kids

These days, it’s easier than ever for a mom to feel inadequate. Most of us, of course, can’t resist that age-old temptation to compare ourselves with everybody we know…which inevitably leads to the conclusion that we are utterly inferior to All Of Them. This tendency is compounded by such modern atrocities as the Mommy Wars – an embarrassment to our generation – and Pinterest, whose soul-crushing cuteness can reduce even a Supermom to tears.

Fortunately, my friends and neighbors are too classy to engage in the Mommy Wars, so the only taste I’ve had comes from the times I’ve been stupid enough to visit the wretched hives of scum and villainy known as Internet forums and blog comment sections. Furthermore, I know myself well enough to stay on Pinterest no longer than the amount of time it takes me to “pin” a recipe I found elsewhere. As for the comparison thing…well, I can’t claim complete innocence. I’m working on it.

Even if I were to conquer all those demons, though – if I could look at my high-achieving mommy friends and feel nothing but admiration and delight at the wonderful things they do to raise their kids – I would still have myself to deal with. And I don’t know about you, but I can be a real bear. In my head, I have some pretty well-defined ideas of how my children should turn out…and the extent to which I reach my ideals tends to govern my sense of success or failure as a mother.

First and foremost, of course, I want my children to love Jesus and know that He loves them. Beyond that, though, I really think it’s important that they develop a deep love for books. And while I’m certainly not the Tiger Mom type, I’d like them each to become proficient on at least one instrument. It teaches discipline, beautifies life, and brings so much joy to oneself and others. Both of these goals would benefit, obviously, from a love for learning and a desire to achieve. Not to the exclusion of outside interests, of course; they should also have a healthy love of the outdoors, whether they experience it through biking, camping, running, or reading in a hammock. Regardless, they should definitely prefer being outside to doing anything that involves looking at a screen. Heaven forfend.

As you may have guessed, our reality doesn’t match my ideals. Although my children both enjoy reading, it’s not the first activity they request when they’re bored, and my son has frankly informed me more than once that he prefers movies. As for my musical dreams…well, having been raised as a musician, by musicians, I know how much practice goes into excelling on any instrument. When I imagine the battles that would ensue if I tried to instill good practice habits into my strong-willed, attention-span-of-a-squirrel six-year-old, my legs get wobbly and my breathing becomes labored and I’m tempted to issue an edict that all instruments be hidden from sight for twelve years, kind of like the spinning wheels in Sleeping Beauty. So, needless to say, we haven’t touched that one. As for my Earth Mother dreams: I’m happy to say that, when we go hiking, or haul our bikes to a trail somewhere, we usually have fun together (especially if I’ve brought snacks). If we’re just playing in our yard, however, eventually one of them is bound to say, “I’m bored. Can we go inside and play with toys?”…or “play Wii?” THE HORROR.

Reflecting on the disparity between my ideals and the reality, I can easily become discouraged. If I were doing things right, we’d be making discernible progress toward those goals; conversely, my inability to make them happen indicates personal failure. Or so I’ve allowed myself to think for too long. As God has worked in my heart, through time spent in prayer and Bible reading, and through conversations with people older and wiser than myself, I’ve slowly come to understand and accept several truths:

1. At the tender ages of six and four, my children are way too young to have their fates decided. Though I know them pretty well, I can’t possibly predict – with any accuracy – what they’ll be like as adults. So I seriously need to chill.

2. When I look at what has and hasn’t happened in my children’s lives so far, taking full responsibility for every perceived lack, I give myself a power I don’t possess. Though I can (and should) influence them, teach them, and often correct them, I didn’t create them. God designed each of them with unique personalities, gifts, strengths and weaknesses, and will work in their lives far beyond anything I can do.

3. As long as I think of these not-yet-accomplished goals as personal shortcomings, I am doing a disservice to myself…and to my children.

For some time now, I’ve understood the truth of Point Number One (though I must constantly nag myself to remember it). As for Number Two, I’ve accepted, at least intellectually, that I have less control than I’d like to think. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating a “kids-will-be-kids” approach that dispenses with all discipline, allows the children to run the household, and avoids ever making them undertake anything they deem unpleasant. I’m simply saying that I did not, and cannot, shape their personalities, their passions, or their gifts. They are individuals, each one composed of a dash of myself, a dash of my husband, and a generous dose of the things that make them unique.

Which brings us to Number Three. It should go without saying, but I put far too much pressure on myself when I conclude that I’ve failed simply because of some unattained ideals my brain has randomly generated. Moreover – and this is what really gives me pause – my harsh critiques of myself will, in one way or another, inevitably extend to my children.

My son is great at building things. He excels at problem-solving, knows the rules of Chess better than I do, and considers Scrabble Junior beneath him, preferring instead to play the “real” version. My daughter has an amazing memory, fears nothing, and is incredibly agile. (This blows my mind, as I routinely bump into doorframes, and hit my head on the table almost every time I pick up a Lego).

If my son grows up to be an engineer, and ends up spending most of his time inside being smart and computery, will he know that I’m proud of him? Or will he sense that I always wished, deep down, that he would be an English professor who went camping every weekend? If my daughter becomes a ballet dancer, will she know that, even though I admire her and am in awe of her grace, I thought she could have been a great violinist who spent her free time as a freelance writer? When I allow dissatisfaction to hold sway as long as my expectations remain unmet, am I truly being thankful for the wonderful children God has given me the privilege of raising? Or am I putting my desires ahead of His, thinking that only the preconceived path I’ve envisioned will allow them to glorify Him?

When I answer all these questions honestly…it’s a bit humbling to realize how self-absorbed I can be. Unimaginative, even. Over and beyond that, though, I feel immense relief. I don’t have to write the perfect script that will guarantee careers of intellectual and artistic excellence. In fact, I shouldn’t. So, briefly, here’s what I want for my children: I want them to have character. I want them to be teachable, and to make the best of the gifts they’ve received. Most of all, I want them to know that Jesus loves them…and so do I. No matter what they do when they grow up.

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