I got this job. I’ve never, ever done anything remotely like what I’m doing now. I am brand new. So I get to my work place all ready to do this job and I don’t realize it at first but I kinda have no clue as to what I’m supposed to do, or how to accomplish it. I am enjoying myself but my boss is constantly rushing me, yelling at me, telling me I’m in the way whenever I mess up. The thing is, each time I start something it’s my first time doing it…and even after I’ve done it a few times, I am still mastering the skill. My boss isn’t always patient. He’s brought in all these tools and plans for me, to help speed up my progress and teach me to work on my own. Thing is, I’m not so sure I’ll be ready to work on my own…I don’t feel too secure that I know how to navigate the office alone. I really like my job but I wish I could work at my own pace. And I really wish that my boss would take the time out to get to know me, and ask me what I need to work at my full potential. When I make a mistake, he sends me away to “think about” what I’ve done. I don’t need to think about it, I did it! I need him to talk to me, help me to not make the same mistake again. I’m stressed, man. This job is supposed to be fun but being on the bottom of the totem pole isn’t ideal when the people above you have forgotten what it’s like down here. Oh well, at least I have a job, right? But, why did they hire me if they didn’t want to teach me the job? My boss claims the company wants to expand and grow, but can anyone build an empire on a company of unhappy, unguided employees? I suppose one can, but it would assuredly be in a sorry state.
Sound familiar? It should. It’s mainstream childhood. Expectations are heaped upon children from the time they are formed in the womb. Do this during your ultrasound because it will be cute; look like Daddy; mimick Mommy’s gait; crawl by this age; walk by this age; where are all your teeth?; when are you going to sit up?; how come he’s not walking yet?; he’s only walking, what, too scared to run?; count to ten; ride the bus alone; sleep with the light off; wean from that breast!; show me all the colors!; can you spell your name?; you should tell time by now; use the potty now; you’re too big to sleep in Mom and Dad’s bed; you’re old enough to tie your own shoes; you shouldn’t be afraid; did you make the grade?; are you on the team?; do you have your license?; did that college write back?; are you a successful adult?
In our world, a child’s success is measured not by the skills and abilities he’s mastered as they pertain to his own developmental needs, but as they relate to making the lives of adults easier – more convenient. If your baby sleeps through the night he’s a good baby, not a selfish, waking-every-two-hours, attention hog. A toddler who obeys instantly is being raised well, she’s being taught respect, she will not be spoiled. A 9-year-old who cannot keep up with his peers is constantly offered advice, without first being asked if he needs or wants it. We are told to sleep train and feed on schedule and wean by one and stand them up and offer solids and teach babies to read and put them in school and supplement with this and give him this book and to push, push, push our children – there is too much to do, so few hours in a day, parenting is but one task on the list of the average adult’s full life. Don’t let them slow you down, let’s get them to adulthood. Teach them independence; make them independent. Society needs self-sufficient adults, not sensitive followers.
But can we build a successful civilization on families of unhappy, unguided children? I suppose we can – in fact we have…and surely, the state of our world could be aptly referred to as sorry. I reckon it depends on how we measure ‘success’.
Having children is not supposed to be convenient, work is required to raise them well. They are a complement to our lives. They complete our ideal life. That counts for a lot. And in the capitalist nation I live in, you can’t get even a little without some serious effort. It is okay to struggle with being a parent. It’s okay if your child says “no” to you once in awhile or once in a half-hour. There’s no shame in shouting, “WHAT AM I DOOOOOING?” while you’re making eggs for breakfast, wearing a nightgown your toddler ripped during a breastfeeding assault the previous night. It’s alright. You aren’t a manufacturer, your child is not a robot. You are an opinionated human being, and you were another opinionated human being’s vessel, in his journey to Earth. We don’t need special plastic tools or expensive coaching to unlock the treasure all children harbor from birth. We just need to be available, and open.
One thing I love about discussing parenting issues is that parenting is a topic which is broad yet specific. So many of us are parents but the ways we parent vary from region to nation to city to family to couple. There are probably a million factors that separate us. The important point we have in common, though, is that we are rearing children. So the one tool we can all use regardless of our age or beliefs or color or social status, is the art of connecting with our children. We are all capable of learning to communicate with our children in a way that best meets their physical, spiritual, and emotional needs; specific to each age and each stage within. Our society needs to change; but the people who will be in charge will not be able to devote concern to the suffering of others if their own basic needs have not been met. A child who is left with gaping spaces to fill will become an adult on an endless quest to complete himself, not to be the change our world needs. It is up to us as parents to prepare our children to live fulfilling lives as adults.
Let’s stop pushing our children. Let’s let them be. They will learn when they learn, if we allow them to do it at their own pace, in whatever manner best suits them. Love them for who they are, not for who you feel they should be. Parenting is not supposed to be easy or convenient. Nothing that is authentically satisfying ever is; we enjoy most what we have put the most of ourselves into. Those undertakings we can remember sweating and crying and bleeding to get right – those are the ones that, when called to mind, make our eyes water for the sheer pride and contentment they bring. Don’t follow a practice for the quick results it promises or even delivers; take the scenic route – remember the journey is where the fun is at, the destination means it’s over. You’re done. When your child is grown and you stare into his eyes, what would you like to reflect on? Spanking, pushing, and shaming him to independence? Or will you be able to recall journeying with him hand in hand; the strong, loyal shield he needed by his side as he learned to do his job as an amazing human being? Why do we have children if we don’t want to take the time to teach them to live well?
Parenting is not supposed to be convenient. It is a billion wonderful feelings, it is a billion heartbreaking ones as well, and it deserves every bit of our best selves. Please enjoy it while you can.