Our best intentions

Like many other parents of our information-rich generation, Max and I started out on our parenting journey wanting to do things better than our parents did. This isn’t to say that we don’t appreciate the work of our moms and dads, only that we’ve had the privilege of watching and learning from them.

And so around Fred’s first birthday, Max resigned from his company to join me at home. Wanting to break the family cycle of absent fathers, Max was going to run a business from home and be there for Fred in a way that his own father never was. We agreed that we’d both work part time and thus share equal time at work and with family. Though we lost a second income, the flexibility for both mom and dad was important for our quality of life.

We’ve indeed been able to live a very family-centered life. Though work can get busy, because we work for ourselves we’ve never had to miss a meeting or event at Fred’s school. We’ve been lucky enough to keep Fred at home every time he was sick. We’ve also been able to pretty much eat every breakfast and dinner together for the last six years. There’s alot of togetherness and love and support and attention in our household.

But recently I began to wonder, is it too much?

You’ve read about my struggles with Fred’s anxieties over soccer. Well, they continued after my last post about it. For the first three weeks we went full force with a campaign to bring down his anxiety. We told him stories about Hellen Keller and the Wright Brothers, about all they’d achieved because they never gave up. I borrowed library books and DVDs like Kung Fu Panda about characters who conquered their fears. We gave him motivational speeches and lectures every chance we could. All of this would pump Fred up enough to run to the soccer field smiling but fall short of actually pushing him through an entire practice. His stress was still there. Then, last week, after having exhausted all our strategies not to mention depleting my mental reserves (I’d lost 4 lbs. from worrying about this issue), I said to Max, “How about just not caring?” It felt odd, but somehow right, to sit back in our minds and to just not care, to understand that if Fred decided to sit out half his soccer practice that he was not doomed to a life of failure.

So, last week, we mentioned soccer not a single time. No speeches. No stories about famous people who’d overcome the impossible. When Fred whispered “I’m nervous about soccer” before drifting off to sleep the night before, I simply said, “That’s okay. Just do whatever you’re comfortable with,” and his eyes closed and he immediately fell asleep in peace. The next day came, and for the first time since his program started, Fred stuck it out for the entire practice.

Max and I realized we had been coming at Fred in stereo. Sure, we’re supportive and we’re loving, and all the words out of our mouths have to do with believing he can do it and that he’s fabulous, words we never heard from our parents but which we were determined to shower on our own child. But I wonder if anything, no matter how positive, can be effective when it comes at you full blast? Whether it’s soccer or school or his friends, we’re on him like a hawk at times. Fred has our full attention and though we don’t mean to, we probably make him feel as if he is living under a microscope. We had gotten nervous when Fred started blinking excessively for a few weeks, and noticed that the only time he did it was at the dinner table. “Why?” I remember saying to Max. “Dinner is pleasant, it’s his down time, and we’re just chatting.” It was only recently that we realized that maybe dinner is not so pleasant for Fred. “My God,” I thought, “we are what’s stressing our son out.”

I can’t go back and undo the last four weeks or the last four years, and I guess I should be thankful that we figured this out sooner rather than later. Like my own mother, she couldn’t understand how I could be irritated at her when all she had done for me was out of love and with the best of intentions. And now it is our turn. In our efforts to be the most loving and caring parents we could be, we, too, have made mistakes, despite having this arsenal of information and resources, lessons from our childhoods and deeper self-reflection. But perhaps what we’ve learned to do, that maybe our parents’ generation didn’t do enough of, is to look in the mirror and to start from there.

19 thoughts on “Our best intentions

  1. Very interesting thoughts. I think you might like reading “Nurture Shock” – especially the section on how praise can be damaging to a kid. It has some of the same themes.

    • The title sounds familiar – I will need to look that up! Thanks so much for recommending that, and for reading and commenting!

  2. You are so much smarter on your first child, then I’ve become with our third.

    Seriously, parents get smarter with each child. I learned with Mr. Number 3, to just let it alone and not make it bigger than it is.

    I think things, and am quiet, and let him talk and I nod and I ask questions. But I’ve learned to just let him live.

    Just think how much more you’ll know by next year!!!!

    And P.S. PLEASE forgive yourself. You are the most dedicated, nurturing, accepting, loving, fun mother I know…Please see that??

    • Aah….not sure if I am smarter than you, Alexandra! Often you’ve set me on the right course with your perspectives. At any rate, the writing definitely helps me to process and “see.” Thank you for this, as always!

  3. Delurking to say, this is really insightful. We have twins, but sometimes still come at our kids “in stereo” as you put it. Good to remember – thank you.

    • Thanks so much for “delurking”! I really appreciate your reading, and am very happy if this post could’ve provided any insight for you. I don’t know 100% if my self diagnosis is correct, but it’s something to go on.

  4. I think Cecilia that it all comes down to wanting to do the very best for your child and setting sail on a course that you believe is right, but then having to change tack along the way when you see that you’re sailing into choppier not calmer waters. I also think that this happens because every parent is different, but also every child is different. Some children would thrive on the attention and support you have given your son and without it would falter. With your son, you have tried that approach and now see that for him, less is more. All credit to you as a parent then for seeing that and adjusting, and learning.

    • Flexibility is key, eh? Not being too proud to change course as needed. I somehow find this age harder and more humbling than any other stage so far! Thanks Jane.

  5. Interesting how blinking became an eye – opener! The signals we get, the ones that net us, always amaze me (as a parent). I’m never sure if it’s for better or worse, but we (at least I) do tend to mimic our mentors. My teaching style mimics my favorite HS French teacher, my coaching philosophy dictates the same as my most influential running coach, and my parenting? Well, I am my parents, and thankfully that is for better, not worse. Alexandra’s words speak my case (above). I’m the youngest, by a 5 year gap. My parents were laid back by me – the let me go, and thus grow. I always felt guided but independent in that perimeter.

    It sounds like you have a balance, though. You and Max went to create the flexible environment that you didn’t see growing up. Now you sound like you are questioning the pressures – the same ones you may have felt growing up (?)? I don’t know the answer to that, and I’m not presuming that is the case. However, Fred is his own personality, thanks to your and Max’s nurturing. He has developed expression and reaction thanks to the attention you give him, and how available you are to him (at dinner, at the drift off to sleep time). I wouldn’t assume that the past 4 weeks (or 4 years) were made up of undo pressure, but just a different approach. Fred felt out the recent shift in strategy just as he did every Hero and Panda story along the way.

    Thanks for your perspective. I always enjoy reading your reflections, and applying them as lessons in my own trial and error routines!

    • Hi Kathryn, thank you for this! If only I had more than 700 or so words to say all that I wanted to say…I am guessing the stress came from a number of sources. I hope we had not unduly pressured him. The good thing about all of this is is that our children do find some ways to communicate to us their feelings or their need for us to really look at them, whether it’s through words or tantrums or some eye blinking!

  6. I feel like this is a lesson I can’t seem to keep in my head. Often my daughters misbehavior starts (gasp) with my own. I forget to be polite and she does too. Stopping for a look in the mirror is tough, I don’t always want to see what’s there. But letting our kids find their own way can be amazing.

    • It’s really amazing at how much they mirror us! And how a little change in our behavior can alter theirs too. At the same time, kids are also smart, and I know that sometimes I acted the opposite of my parents and I am starting to see my son call me on things as well. Hang in there. It’s so hard to be a parent!

  7. This was very insightful of you. Hopefully, your son feels a little calmer now?

    I tend to do the same thing, I think, by putting a lot of pressure on my kids for grades and behavior. I’ve tried to remind myself to just spend some time supporting and loving them, instead of trying to motivate them.

    Being a parent is hard. We do the best we can, but inevitably we make mistakes. The best kind of parents see those mistakes and try to change.

    You are obviously the best kind of parent. All of your actions are motivated by love.

    • Thanks so much for this warm comment, Mrs. Mayhem. It’s really hard to walk that line, eh? I am realizing that now now that my son is a little older and I don’t necessarily *have* to be on top of him for everything. Anyway, I know you are doing your very best too.

  8. Have you ever killed a house plant by watering it too much?

    It’s OK for kids to grow like weeds, and that means neglecting to water them sometimes. It’s not evil or unloving neglect, it’s more a not anticipating every need before the weed-child even knows he/she has a need so that they get the chance to be a bit assertive about expressing their needs.

    A little loving neglect is good for a kid. Soccer is supposed to be fun. If it’s not fun for your kid then let it go.

    • Your plant watering is a perfect analogy, and I completely agree. As a relatively new parent it’s been hard to know where to walk that fine line, but I feel like I am getting a better feel for it now. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  9. First, it’s never easy to know how much is too much and enough is enough when it comes to love. We all have the best intentions for our kids but sometimes it’s fogged up by all the love and well-meaning that we lose sight of the kids’ own pace and space. As parents we’re going to make many mistakes but I think it’s important that we know we are just as prone to errors as the generations before and after us so that we’re open to finding new ways in which to help guide and connect with our children. Just like you did here.

    You know, as parents, I think it’s always the best intentions that are our undoing. But at least you’re able to rectify the situation and eventually find the right course for all of you, including Fred.

    I love that you and Max decided to work part time so you can stay home more for Fred. He’s a lucky boy! And I’m sure you already know how fortunate you are to be able to experience your young son’s life like that. I only hope I can be where you are someday.

  10. Thanks Justine! As for being able to spend more time with our kids, I know that you have very important reasons for needing to work full time right now, and I have faith that ultimately you will be able to find a way to make things work the way you want. It’s amazing what motherhood will drive you to do (I mean, in terms of being creative and coming up with a plan). Otherwise you already sound VERY present in your daughter’s life.

  11. Pingback: Our best intentions - Mommyhood NEXT RIGHT

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