Your Kids are Fine — MOMF
I was asked to write about MOMF’ing around parenting, but let me be clear. This is not meant for families whose kids are abused, have too little to eat, no shelter, no stable home life. This is for everyone else. It is an important topic because, as a society, I think we have gone waaaaay overboard in trying to get this parenting thing just right. It has gone so far off track that parents don’t trust their instincts anymore. I’ve been known to say that nothing makes you feel so incompetent as a human being as to have children. I’ve also been known to say that I believe you have to significantly screw up over a long period of time in order to do lasting damage with your kids. With that said, relax a little.
Nature vs. Nurture
Books only tell you so much, and honestly, I find a lot of it to be bullshit. Piaget had it right. So much of what he learned was from studying his own kids. Before I had kids, I thought 60% of how kids turned out was due to nurture (the environment). Now that I have kids, I think 60% is due to nature (born with it). I mean how can one kid come out gentle as a teddy bear, and the other one comes out like a honey badger? My point here is that I do believe we influence our kids, but sometimes, it is just pre-programmed.
Just because they have a hard time with attention at the age of 8 doesn’t’ mean they are destined for lifelong disorganization. Their brains don’t stop growing until 25! Give it a minute. Kids go through stages. When they are obsessed with death, it doesn’t mean they have death issues. When they argue back with you excessively, it doesn’t mean they will turn out to be the Menendez brothers. When they yell, “I hate you!,” it doesn’t meant that they really do. They tell us they hate us to get what they want, and it works.
Get Over It
We are over-thinking the parenting thing to the point of paralysis. I had a parent approach me with an activity her child did at school. It was a fill-in-the blank, and the child wrote I wish…. mom would spend more time with me. This statement was not a referendum on the mom and how little time she spent with her child. I saw it as a wonderful compliment that the child wanted to spend more time together. Instead, it became the source of guilt and a resulted in a whole conversation with the child, who was left confused. I’m not saying that you should not care, but I am saying chill out. Worst case scenario is that your child turns out to be a psychologist because he is trying to understand his childhood.
Your job, as a parent, is to meet your kid where she is (as their genetic program unfolds) and help her master (by encouraging independence — not fixing) the developmental task she is facing. (FYI, arguing is a sign that they are testing their cognitive skills. You just need to teach them to be respectful about it.) If you get nothing from this blog, know that the ONE, MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do for your kids is love them and show love for them. That’s it. Your instincts will guide you. How can your child trust you if you don’t trust yourself?
The problem is that we get so focused on what others are doing. Let’s be real. That’s why kids are in extra-curricular activities every day after school, and why parents run their asses off. We are too worried about our kids missing out on something. Our guilt about never doing enough, never being enough, never having enough is causing us to do more harm than good. Time to Move on Mother Fucker. Your kids are fine, and they continue to be fine. In fact, I truly believe that teaching our kids to be still, to use their imagination, and to creatively use free time without having another activity or event leads to stronger cognitive abilities. It will teach them to solve the problem of managing their own free time and boredom. We’ll see how that pays off in about 10 years.
So, I Yell Sometimes
I recall one day when I was shopping in a super store with my 4 and 5 year old sons. They were both in the cart becoming increasingly loud and obnoxious. I was doing what I normally did. Usually, I would ignore their escalating behavior until I would explode into yelling like a crazy bitch. This time, I was going to do better. I calmly said to them, “Okay, don’t make me go there. Don’t make me go to the place where mommy is screaming and yelling and acting crazy.” My five year old looked at me with earnest curiosity and pride. He said, “Home mommy? Is it home? Is that the right answer?” Wow. Yep. That’s how they saw me, and it was kind of accurate. I laughed for days and still do. I MOMF’d. I decided that it is okay for kids to see mommy lose it occasionally because that is what happens when you don’t follow re-direction for the tenth time. They get to see normal human behavior. I never called them names. I was never mean, but I yelled a lot. I got to the point where I could transcend and see myself yelling at the kids. I would burst out laughing mid-yell because it would seem funny watching myself flail my arms, red-faced. The kids might glance up from what they were doing, unaffected. I was the only one who was worked up. This illustrates the concept of the second arrow. Something can happen that isn’t good — like our kids misbehaving — then we make it worse by overreacting and getting jacked up. That rarely helps. It is what it is. Stop. Accept. Reflect. Let go. MOMF.
What’s the End Result?
The point to all of this is that I believe we are creating a generation of kids who has never lost, who sees family life revolving around their sports and activities, who don’t hear parents yell. I am afraid that the kids we are raising don’t know how to deal with adversity. They lack the skills necessary to live in the real world. The real world gives honest feedback. The real world doesn’t have someone there to clean up all the messes, and the real world doesn’t think their special just for showing up. I believe that all of our parental guilt and worry about self-esteem and never giving critical feedback is misplaced. We worry way too much about getting it right. In the end, all you have to do is love your child, and love them enough to tell them when they’re wrong. Love them enough to let them solve their own problems. Let them feel pain so that they can tolerate it. When your kids come home from school telling you that another kid treated them badly, don’t jump in to “fix it.” Rather, ask them how they feel and how they handled it. Ask them how they would like to handle it. Be there as a resource not a savior. Listen to your head, which is telling you the truth. Ignore your heart, which is feeding you fear.
My son recently said to me, “Mom, I hope when I grow up, I never make any mistakes.” I replied, “Well, I hope you make a ton of mistakes because that is how you will learn to be wise.” Let your kids make mistakes. When they’re hurt, ask them what they need instead of jumping in to save the day. When you fix everything, you communicate that you don’t think they can handle it themselves. What builds self-esteem is accomplishment — not words –not overprotection. All this, because one day you hope to tell your kids to move on out my friends.
Here’s the punchline, give yourself a break. Do the best you can, and be good with that. Love your kids. Show love, and be good with that. When you find yourself ruminating about “well, maybe I should….. maybe they should…..So and so is doing…..” MOMF. They don’t need the latest and greatest technology. They don’t need to be in every sport. You can’t be perfect, and they won’t be perfect. And that, my friends, is what makes the world so wonderful. They will turn out just the way they are supposed to turn out, and we are all works in progress. Show your kids how to be confident and stop second guessing yourself. Move on Mother Fucker.