In one day it all came rushing back, the busy-ness that begins and lies ahead. I immersed myself into reality and was reminded why I had chosen to go into exile. I can’t get away from it; especially when it lives within. I’m losing ground.
How can I be the best parent to produce successful progeny?
Almost two weeks ago I had sat with my childhood girlfriend who is a teacher. She had recently discovered a textbook most current teachers have been introduced to in their educational studies. But in her twenty years of teaching she had just stumbled upon it and she was mad. Why hadn’t anyone told her about this before?
Three hours passed as we shared experiences. I found myself recounting experiences as the stay-at-home mom, the working mom and the volunteer mom. Where is there time to be a wife, a friend? It had been over a year since I last saw my childhood friend who lives less than twenty miles away. In the end, we came back to parenting and how less stressful and vastly different it had probably been for our own parents raising us. As tweens we had bicycled on ten-speeds four miles to a beach (each way) on a lonely road, with no helmets. We did not fear for childhood predators. We had no supervision. We returned at dusk as the streetlights turned on. We had freedom.
These days when my sons walk home (less than one mile from three different schools); texts come through asking if my boys need rides home. The principal didn’t allow them to walk home after extra-curricular activities; permissible only if there were many children dismissed at the same time. The helmets were bought and replaced each year as their head circumferences grew but the bike tires remained flat. The GPS tracks their whereabouts on cell phones but these days, our street lies empty. Kids are either inside on electronics or shuttled to countless activities for sports, the arts (lessons or classes), community service projects or after-school tutoring. I am always happy to hear my neighbors’ kids outdoors playing baseball or playing in their backyards. I have to plead with my own sons to join me, in triple digit heat, to swim in our own pool; IF they’re not scheduled to be somewhere else.
My current reading material is How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims. It seeks answers to the same questions I’ve been asking myself the past three years. Lost amongst the helicopter parents I struggled to find my way; grappling with guilt for not providing this same kind of parenting. The badge of parenthood reads like a job resume; an endless list of scheduled activities, enrichment classes and internship worthy causes to claim the job position of “best parent.” The prize? The smartest, best-looking, talented athlete/artist/writer/musician/filmmaker/(you fill in the blank) child who is gifted with the art of gab and humbly gives back to the community; all with a rigorous academic load and a loving smile, because he/she wants to.
As a first generation child who was told to assimilate into the culture and not make waves; navigating these current waters have been tricky. My girlfriend and I recall waking up at 5:00 AM, making our own breakfasts and sitting at our bus stops by 6:15 AM to be driven fifteen miles to the high school we attended. Classes began at 7:05 AM. Parents did not yell to rouse us out of bed, nor did they make our lunches, approve our clothes choices, or check our homework. At a young age we were taught to do things for ourselves. In order to discover answers we were forced to ask questions and assert ourselves. My parents did not email teachers, call my counselor or volunteer in organizations to advocate for me. In college we had been bitter as we heard of the diverse lives of our fellow students. It was easy to blame our lack of parenting for putting us at a disadvantage.
But that really isn’t true. We have both come to realize that our parents gave us the opportunity for growth. Our work ethics, our independence, our successes and failures, lie upon our own shoulders. They had prepared us. I find my parenting style has become all of the things I had not had as a child. I’m not sure this is entirely good.
I contemplated this as I sat in a PTA meeting listening to the discussion of how to spend funds for our school. I was aghast at the extra funds available to spend; I being the product of a Title I school. The girlfriend above teaches at one of the best districts in our state; a small wealthy enclave of the metropolitan city nearby. We parent like the suburban parents around us; quickly forgetting where we came from and still feeling inadequate. Should we enroll our kid in this after school program to catch-up? What sport should they stick with? What instrument should they learn to play? What service club should they join? I listened to the parents at the high school discussing advanced placement (AP) coursework and adding more classes to an already rigorous schedule. There are not enough periods in a school day to accomplish the goals of becoming the best of the best; the well-rounded individual whom colleges will beg to walk through their doors. I found myself getting sucked in; the same trap I just worked through in June.
When my son’s schedule had a glitch, I reverted back to the helicopter parent that lies within. His schedule has been an ongoing topic of discussion since February of this year. He grabbed his gear out of my vehicle and walked away. I’ve got this, Mom. The helicopter in me wanted to walk with him to the counselor’s office, to advocate… but for whose cause? I silently watched him walk away, waved to the parents nearby and jumped into my vehicle. I have to let him go. He knows what he wants.
Upon arriving back to work I read the lengthy article advocating music education. This son had chosen music over AP and, to my consternation, I still struggle with this. I learned piano at age five. I began playing the saxophone at age nine and continued through my four years in college. I still play both. But I want him to juggle it all, for the world to be his oyster. The problem is, when one is good at many things, you cannot be great. This is the root of my problem, good at most things, great at none; my own inner demon that I struggle against. Because my definition of being a good parent is creating children who surpass you. I want my children to be great! A Depeche Mode song comes to mind.
I need to get the balance right.
“What is the most important priority for all parents? THE FUTURE HAPPINESS OF THEIR CHILD! Mothers and fathers around the world dedicate their lives to creating an even better life for their children. In a highly competitive society they want to see their sons and daughters have every possible advantage in their educational climate, their chosen profession, and their selected community-of-living where, once again, the cycle will repeat itself with-and-for the next generation. The complexity of society’s evolutionary standards (some favorable, some not) puts responsible parents “on alert” 24/7.” ~Lautzenheiser, Tim. “Why Music? Why Band?” LinkedIn. Marketing Vision Partners, LLC, 29 Jul 2015. Web. 12 Aug 2015.
I struggle as I stand among these parents; knowing the academic pathway narrows. This will be my struggle in these next few years, to not live my own ideals through my children. I reduced my volunteer activities, evaluating the reasons why I do them. The ones that remain are causes that I continue to believe in, not just for my children, but for all that is served by these programs and organizations. I’ve come to realize that, maybe one day, my own sons will take up causes of their own; not for self-serving reasons, but because they are worthy. The helicopter blades are clipped but are always ready to take flight. I continue to learn to hand over the controls and let my children find their way. I constantly need reminders, to save me from myself.
All he wants is a mom that accepts his choices.
The son, yesterday morning, shared how he likes when I support his choices. When I don’t go all crazy on him with the ten thousand questions. He asserted his points and reminded me that all he wants is a mom that accepts his choices. He can’t wait to drive. And with a wave he jumped out of my vehicle, quickly walking to make it to practice on time. School hasn’t even started and I’m already having issues. I need to work through them and figure it out. I stand alone fighting the crowds, trying to gain some ground.