My children are all teenagers now and when I recently stood still to look back and focus on what is happening right now, I looked at all the ups and downs, the very difficult and the easy moments, the moments of joy and the ones of deep sadness.
Life is not a long fleuve tranquille , we all have our challenges to deal with. What helps me since my own teenage years is Nietsches’ What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. – I admit that sometimes I wonder how strong does one need to become?!
Fact is, that I am very proud of where we are now. – Be prepared, this is a long post…
We parents learn a lot from our children
We learn more from our children than from any parenting book. This is something I love about being a parent! It is the hardest job and it doesn’t come with a course book, or a guarantee for success. It is the most amazing journey but also the most daunting one. It is a 24/7 job.
Our children teach us to slow down, to focus on every-single-step, they actually teach us mindfulness, and they teach us to question our values and beliefs (over and over again!). What I love the most is that they teach us to be flexible and coherent at the same time. It seems impossible but it’s not!
Every step our children take, we have the great chance to admire and enjoy it. Unfortunately, many of us parents tend to get caught into a rat race, where it is more about whose child speaks first, walks first, eats solid food first, gets into the gym team (first), has higher grades, gets accepted into the most prestigious University, has the best job, earns more money etc.
I say unfortunately, because we risk to loose our children along the way.
We think what is good for them and tend to guide them with such a determination that they naturally follow our lead.
It starts with putting them on the jacket (maybe I’m warm…), choosing the right shoes for them (I prefer the other ones…), convincing them about the importance of maths and science (there are other subjects too…!), that it is good to try out numbers of sports (and if I don’t like sports, or those you suggest?…), be consistent in one (why only one?!). And no, we’re not helicopter parents.
“We just want what is good for our children” is what many parents say.
But, honestly, how do we know what is good for them? What makes us be so sure that the path we see (and choose!) for them is the one that is good for them? Who are we to make them do things they are not ready or prepared for, or willing to do? – Whoever says that we’re doing this because we want that our children don’t have to experience certain situations, is not doing them any favor!
Our children will make their own experiences, at their time, with their pace and with their consequences.
If we, parents, recognize patterns in situations or behaviors, that can lead to consequences that were hard for us: it was about us, not them!
I don’t mean that we don’t learn from experiences, we do, and we learn a lot from history, from the past – I am the first to say that history is one of the most important subjects taught at school (and beyond) – but we have to take experiences as what they are. They are things-that-happened-in-certain-circumstances-with-particular-consequences: they are not universal law. They are somewhere on a continuum from objective to subjective that is very difficult to define and to sum up in a post. And this is exactly what makes parenting so difficult: when should we draw the line between our experience and the one of our children? How much should we guide them? And what does this even mean?
I’m one of those mothers who don’t push their children.
In the past, I let my children decide what jacket to put on, I don’t push so they go to the highest maths group, and I don’t push them to go to university.
I don’t care what other parents think. I don’t care what my parents think about the way I’m raising my children. I make many mistakes, but I have no problem to own them. I apologize to my children when I do. They know that I am not perfect and that I don’t know everything. Since they were very young I would say “I don’t know, let’s find out together”, and I am sure this made them not consider adults as know-it-all – and lead them quite often to question adults (teachers and educators too).
I spent days (and nights) thinking about what kind of consequences my decisions might have, and what consequences my childrens’ decisions might have.
I’m not a laid back mother. I worried a lot in the past, especially because I didn’t have parents who would take care of our children. We live too far away and my parents are not the kind who would offer to take care of our three children so that my husband and I could have some time “off” parenting. I know many expat families can, but we couldn’t.
I know now that I was anxious at times, and that this reflected in my parenting style. But what I recently discovered is, that my anxiety wasn’t coming from me, it was coming from the expectations of our society, our community, our extended family and friends. When I realized this a few years ago, I decided to let me guide by my children.
I am growing with my children
Yes, I am literally growing with my children. They show me the way. They show me what they like, what they dislike, what makes them happy, what makes them anxious (yes, we dealt with some serious anxiety issues in the past) and what helps them recover from setbacks.
What I have learnt in the past years is that the more I let my children decide and deal with the consequences, the better we all are off. We discuss a lot about the decisions. But instead of anticipating our children with possible consequences of their decisions, we ask them what they think a consequence could be, we explore them together and we let them make their own experiences.
Sometimes it is better to not mention a negative outcome, because we could spoil the opportunity for them to actually have a very positive experience!
The growing with my children also means to let them go. The first steps that took them further away from me/us when they were toddlers are now leading further and further away, but I am happy for them that they have the confidence and the capacity to do so.
I also grow with them because I don’t want to grow apart from them. My lovely three teenagers show me every day what they can do, what they want, what they fear and what they love: and this changes regularly.
This flexibility is healthy for them and for me. I don’t like putting people in boxes, define them based on their capacities, preferences, etc., so, this flexibility helps me to always consider all the options my children (and I!) have. – It is an amazing journey that my husband and I are very grateful to be able to experience!
(This was in 2019…)
Update in 2021
We have had a surreal year, determined by the many uncertainties of the pandemic, many losses and many moments of frustration, loneliness and desperation. As I mentioned before, our children should be allowed to have the opportunity to make their experiences, make mistakes, be happy, sad, fail and get up again. This past year has asked a lot from all of us: to be patient for what seems an eternity, to follow rules (when rules were not respected by others), to stay positive (although “staying negative” with regards to the pandemic meant to keep distance from friends, family etc.), to “soldier on” (whilst nobody could give any direction where we were and still are (!) headed).
What seemed something that could end in a few months, is not going to end soon, and our children have changed a lot due to the pandemic. They have learned what being lonely is.
They have learned to adjust to the ever changing expectations from school: on- and off-line teaching, teachers struggling with the all so many online channels through which they transmitted (or thought to transmit) their knowledge, they did their best to understand that the curriculum seemed more important than their sanity, tried to make sense of time tables changing every few months. And then there was that uncertainty concerning final exams in the middle of all of this.
Our friends changed: there are those who still check in with us, and those who have become oddly silent. For us adults it is easier as we have “been there” (i.e. been teenagers), but for our children it’s not. They should be making their experiences themselves, and instead they watch Netflix series about it, discussing about what they would do if… in a future (“far far away…”) they were in a similar situation.
This pandemic has taken away a year of healthy social interactions for our children in a phase where they shouldn’t stay home all the time. Someone compared it with times of war, but it’s not comparable. In times of war, people would still be able to see friends, hug, form relationships etc. It’s not the same now.
This past year I have experienced so much wisdom from my children. They reminded us to put on the mask, to stay one more step away from the neighbour, to wash hands. They are very conscious and disciplined. They have also suffered when seeing peers meeting in groups whilst numbers of infections were getting up. Realizing that this world is full or irresponsible people is not reassuring for a young adult! On the contrary. It makes you doubt about the world’s sanity. In those moments we looked at the broader picture and actually wished so many times to live in a more group oriented society, where individualism, the individual’s right wasn’t the first thing people would think of. We looked at history, how people have dealt with this kind of situations in the past, how it would have been different if this had happened only 10 years ago. We learned to keep being optimistic and to not let us distract from what others do, how others think about it and what other people’s expectations are (with regards to their personal freedom).
We have learned a lot about ourselves and about our family. Our children have grown, matured this year, but managed to balance their sadness and lonely moments with moments of joy, shared silliness and laughter.
What about you? How was it for you this past year?
What are you learning from your children? – Please let me know in the comments here below!