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.