(Andrew going to kindergarten, he is now in 8th grade. In a blink of an eye.)
Here is a timely repost for August, originally postedhere, with a little extra at the bottom.
A couple weeks ago I had to go to a quick meeting after school for a first grade activity that involved a family feast. I was assigned to make a part of a meal and we volunteers all met with the teacher for a quick “go over”. I sent my older kids home on the bus, just for routine sake, and because they are old enough to be home for a few minutes. Of course I had my trusty helper Patrick by my side.
One of the moms there had a little baby in a car seat, 2 little ones, and was picking up her first grader. The baby had been peacefully sleeping, and some of the other kids (like kids do) woke him up to “see the baby”. Her little toddlers were being little toddlers and she tried to keep track of them and attend the meeting at the same time. She look frazzled, tired and overwhelmed.
It brought back SO many memories, because that was once me.
I remember the amount of work it took to organize naps and nursing times, to show up for a meeting at school or someone’s house, or to drop off a snack that I was signed up for, or to show up in a classroom. It hardly ever seemed to go smoothly for me and never as easy as I thought it would be.
It often meant that the entire nap/nursing/snack/dinner schedule was thrown off for the rest of the day, or sometimes even days. It meant I had to find something decent to wear, and find the time somewhere to put on some makeup and brush my hair. It meant that I had to make sure each child had a snack in him/her, to prevent breakdowns. It meant I had to look at my watch all morning long. It meant that I usually ended up sweating buckets carrying a 40 pound car seat, and a toddler who refused to walk, into a stuffy classroom, or drive across town to someone’s house.
I always felt very obligated to do all I could to help…I didn’t want anyone to say, “Oh she never does anything.” I felt like my kids would have this huge gap in their childhood if I wasn’t participating regularly at their in-school activities.
As I added my 4th and 5th child to the family, I let ALL of that go. I gave myself permission to NOT sign up for things, I gave myself permission to be OK with letting school be school, and not a parent participation contest, I gave myself permission to know myself, and know my babies, and know my family…what I can’t handle, what is too disruptive for our little thriving schedule, what I just don’t want to do…it’s all OK.
Here’s what I want to tell my younger self, and all of you who may be experiencing the same struggles I did:
1. Whether you have one child, or two, or five, remember that their are times and seasons of your life, where you are “allowed” to step back and just survive day to day without adding more to your plate.
2. Be confident in having the knowledge that only you and you alone can decide when your family can handle any extra committments.
3. Learn to say no without guilt. Offer to do what you can do easily…that means with no stress.
4. Don’t compare yourself with others. What one person seems to handle with ease (notice the “seems” part), is maybe not what you can handle. We all have different talents, and we all have different stresses and thresholds. We also all have different support systems behind the scenes.
5. Be kind to yourself and in spite of what the world tells us all today, do not underestimate how much work it is to be a mom, just by itself, without all the extra things we feel pressured to do today.
A few additions:
School has become very different from what I remember growing up. Rare was it to see a parent at school. Celebrations were very simple, far and few between, and not all day events. The school was very learning-centered and teacher-centered. I am not knocking at all the ‘school community’-building and supporting parents getting to know parents, parenting helping in classrooms and supporting teachers (as the teachers see fit) and parents supporting the school with educational pursuits, etc.
But I will also say that many things I see today encompass a whole different level of commitment from all involved and often I end up feeling like the teachers, who today have enough stress in the classroom, bear the brunt of a lot of parents “good ideas”. (I often picture a well-meaning parent dropping off a huge tray of fluorescent frosted cupcakes, soaking in the ‘hero’ moment, and then heading out the class room door while a teacher is left to deal with a bunch of kids (literally) bouncing off the walls filled with high fructose corn syrup and Red Dye #40.) A very smart education consultant that I happen to know was once approached by a group of teachers she was counseling, begging for help (with tears involved!) with “taking back their school”-all these extra “good ideas” were just really wearing on them, and taking away from the purpose of school. They were majorly stressed!
I also know that “good ideas” by one parent can cause many other parents to do a lot of work-it’s like a train gaining steam and parents being pulled onto this crazy train that sometimes can run for years and decades before someone says, “Why are we doing this again?” Maybe it’s time to step back-I don’t think much will be missed-and I’ve heard from so many parents at all different schools, that the last thing our kids need in their life is another celebration-by the time we get to the holiday itself, the kids have burn-out!
One day I was listening to an awesome speech by a favorite author,Meg Meeker. She referenced this “crazy train” and said it takes some courage to jump off but the more parents who see others being brave, they too question and reject the pressure and the fast paced ‘busy’ that is natural to these extra commitments, and ease off that train themselves.
When time does open up for us in our lives to have outside commitments we can choose carefully, paying attention to the right fit for our strengths and weaknesses and season of life-but there is no rush (see above.) How will it help our children if we are snappy and tired from doing too much elsewhere outside the home in the “name” of their education? How will any activity help our children if dinners together are constantly compromised or we stress our marriages by always running out in the evenings, or being exhausted or distracted when our husbands are home? There is little if anything that can be beneficial to our children’s growth besides these things-a good marriage, dinners together, calm parents, a “rested” educational environment, and a dependable protected home routine.