I assumed I’d have turnkey kids. In my mind, I was a turnkey kid. I survived the toddler stage, complied at school, and learned how to earn favor from decision-makers that nodded in approval when I was developing on par.
From my perspective, parenting didn’t seem tricky. As easy as 1-2-3.
1. You have the kids.
2. You love the kids.
3. You send the kids to school where they learn life and social skills.
This naivety followed me for an embarrassing number of years. I can do this, I thought. I can have kids, love them well, show them the ways of life, and essentially, teach them how to play the game.
Then I had kids.
You can imagine where this is going. It’s taken more blood, sweat, and tears than my parents let on. The favor I found was due to their persistent discipline and modeling. The game I thought I was playing was, in actuality, their strategic upper hand to reward hard work and respect. The independence I thought I had acquired on my own was their ploy to create a confident decision-maker. All this time, I thought I was in control.
Have you ever watched the sport of curling during the Winter Olympics? It’s a team sport in which players slide stones on a sheet of ice toward a target area. They use special brooms to brush the ice around the stone so the friction melts the ice and influences the stone to slide in a certain direction. The curlers cannot touch the stone, but their calculated efforts persuade the stone to pivot ever so slightly toward the targeted area.
This, too, is motherhood.
My parents must have been sweeping their little hearts out to guide my stubborn attitude to a place of empathy and thoughtfulness. I am only 10 years deep into motherhood, and my arms are already weary from sweeping. But they are also stronger. I have a new sense of purpose as I take my parenting off autopilot and into manual mode.
During my early years of being a mom, I was still working full-time. I would visualize slaying a full-time career while not skipping a beat as a homemaker and present mother. Motherhood is messy. We won’t always get it right. We can get better though.
Once I decided to throw out my original 3-step parenting plan, a new framework emerged, one containing guardrails to ensure I guide my children on their own pathways of life.
First, I ask myself, what is the target area? It would be a shame to vicariously live through my children and steal their ability to blossom in unique ways. Sure, we have basic parental obligations to teach character and respect. But my end goal may be different than what they were designed to do or be. Before mapping out what you think they should achieve in order to have a good life, be open to pivots and new trails they may pave on their own.
Second, who is sweeping? In the sport of curling, there are four team members and only two brooms. They have to work together.
Much of parenting is teamwork.
And we must be selective of who is on the team. Our children are faced with dozens, if not hundreds, of influences a week. Protect your children from being swept in the wrong direction.
Third, it’s not a competition. It’s been said that comparison is the thief of joy. If we approach motherhood as a competition, we are teaching our children that their worth is wrapped up in how they make us look. This will lead to a lot of joylessness. Boiled down, social expectations are arbitrary, albeit hard. Lighten up on yourself, and when you feel like you are failing as a mother, adjust your perspective to see the tension as an opportunity to grow.
My mom made it look easy.
As a family, we didn’t always get things right. With her guidance, we accepted our imperfections and learned a great deal about compassion and forgiveness. To this day, I still practice this grace and extend it to myself often. You can too. If you, like me, approached motherhood with a tainted filter, you can pivot. You can fine-tune. You can recalibrate. It’s never too late to do the right thing.