Tuesday, October 10, 2006

On navigating parenthood

You all know it as well as I do. Sometimes, parenting is a crapshoot. No - scratch that - A LOT of times parenting feels like a crapshoot. We all make about 10,000 decisions for our kids every day (Mom, can I have a piece of cake? Mom, can I watch TV? Mom, can I go play in traffic?) and approximately 99 percent of the time, we're at least a little uncertain whether the decision we made is the right one. Sometimes, it really doesn't matter (a piece of cake here or there isn't going to kill them or render them useless adults some day), but then there are the bigger decisions where we agonize over whether or not we are stinting their growth, negatively impacting their emotional maturity, or just basically screwing them up real good. Will they need counselling some day if I never let them play with little Billy? Will they be fat lazy adults if I don't sign them up for soccer and hockey and gymnastics and swimming? Will their brains turn to mush if I let them watch too much TV? Will their boredom at school turn them into trouble-makers if I don't find a more challenging (read: expensive) private school where they are more intellectually stimulated?

One of the biggies for us is whether or not to let them drop out of some activity. We've faced it a couple of times already. Nikki developed a phobia at ballet lessons a few years ago and wanted to quit, but I made her suffer through until the end of the session because I didn't want her to think she could drop out of everything that scared her. Julie, on the other hand, didn't mind going to running club but didn't want to run in the track meets. I let her skip them, 'cause I'm not sure competition is really necessary anyway and at least she was getting the exercise.

The latest issue I agonized over was piano lessons. Towards the end of last year, just after we'd finally gotten a real piano moved into our living room, Nikki asked if she could quit piano. When I probed for a reason, it came out that she was afraid of her piano teacher. She said that every Thursday, when she knew she had a lesson in the evening, she would worry herself sick at school all day. She practiced diligently - mostly because she lived in terror of making a mistake and having her teacher reprimand her.

So... what to do? I knew that the piano teacher wasn't a horrible ogre and I was pretty sure Nikki was exaggerating when she said she "yelled" at her. At the same time, though, she was an older woman, with a fairly strict approach, who didn't like it if students wasted her time with a lack of commitment. Should I force Nikki to confront her fears and stick with it? Or was it more important that she enjoy music and practice for the joy of it rather than the fear?

This time around, I think we made the right decision. We switched piano teachers. I found a new one through a friend who sends her kids there. This one is young and hip and fun and says it's important to enjoy music. Tonight, after the lesson, Nikki told me she was glad we switched. She said she'd only thought about her lesson once today, and didn't worry about it. We have to drive a little further, but if it means that music is a pleasure instead of a duty, then I'm willing to do it. The girls are both more musically inclined than me, but Nikki in particular has always had music running through her veins. Even now, I can hear the sounds of the music drifting from her room as she falls asleep with it on. I think she started singing even before she could talk.

Whew! Every once in awhile, in this crapshoot, we play our cards right. I only wish I were more certain more of the time. Because with this decision behind me, I know I'll be faced with another one tomorrow that will throw me into another cycle of doubt and agonizing.

PLEASE tell me I'm not the only one who hasn't figured out how to do this parenting thing right. Or perhaps I missed that day when they were offering the "how to be a perfect parent in ten easy steps" workshop? If you were there, can you give me your notes?


Liz said...

Sorry, I missed that workshop too.

Nikki's piano teacher sounds a lot like the last one I had. I begged my mom to let me quit and she eventually did. Now I wish she had found another teacher for me. I'd love to be able to play the piano now.

Karla said...

Oye! My head is spinning.

Kids are so much easier to take care of inside your tummy than out. I'll make you a deal...I'll pay you to be next in line when you find the workshop for perfect parents ok?

Judy said...

Um. I actually KNOW parents who think they have been to that workshop, and I can tell you, you would NOT like them - nor their offspring!

I've three grown children, and no advice.

I remember walking into my sons room and announcing to them that I had tried EVERYTHING to get them to obey my simple command that they clean up their pig sty of a bedroom. All that was left for me to do was to kill them. I even found an appropriate Bible verse from the Old Testament to make my case.

They laughed.

And laughed.

And are, most likely, laughing still.

We did our best and prayed a lot.

wordgirl said...

Holy crap! I LOVE this new template! It's so poetic and warm! Keep up the good words...I love reading you!

Joyce said...

sooooooooooooo true.
Daughter number 2 wanted to quit swimming lessons after just one class. I said NO. She said- why did you let me quit dance last year? (I had my reasons)
me: "I made a mistake. I shouldn't have let you quit. Go swimming!!!!!"
God bless us all.
Lets mostly keep laughing, keep it real. Love the post.

Gina said...

Sounds like you definitely made the right decision!

As for the parenting thing, I've hardly been doing it for long, so I've got many mistakes to go, I'm sure.

Cuppa said...

I missed that workshop too! I have two grown daughters and would still like to attend the workshop if you find it though.

The only advice I have to offer is keep your sense of humour and take it one step at a time. Pick your battles- in other words, don't make mountains out of mole hills. Let them stretch their wings as long as it doesn't hurt anyone, ie. purple hair is no big deal. If it isn't immoral or illegal let them stretch and fly.

I have made many mistakes I know, but when I look back at what I did my motivation was always love and that is the important thing. Thank goodness the love manages to shine through all the blundering errors.

Accidental Poet said...

Sorry, H, you're the only. The rest of us are all confident, all the time.

Anvilcloud said...

Although it's a might late, I'm still figuring it out. The old saying, "You did the best that you could with what you knew," is comforting at times.

Coll said...

It is never easy.. and believe me.. it never truly ends. Even with grown kids.. there are still some tough decisions to be made. All we can do is what we feel is right and hope for the best.

Melissa said...

Heather, my oldest is ten and I have no idea how to do it right, especially with their dad deployed until February. I have the opposite problem - I never want my kids to do anything because my parents made me do everything. After they got divorced I was in even more things - I think so they could have a break. I don't know, I love them anyway and I think my kids love me anyway. It works itself out eventually. :)

I know it doesn't seem like that on the trying days, but it does. Please come by and tell me that on my incredibly awful days. I might pay you. Okay I won't pay you, but I'll leave you a nice comment. ;)

juniper68 said...

oh, this is such a great post. I'm really feeling at sea with my boy (4 1/2) right now - he's suddenly so grown up, but still needs so much. Some days, I feel like all I say to him is "no," other days are better. Anyway, great to know that even wise, experienced parents like you get that way too.

You did just the right thing for your daughter - as a girl I was taught to be nice to EVERYBODY, and never learned to pay attention to my instincts that told me to GET AWAY from a person I didnt like. I'm not saying she was in any danger from the teacher, but teaching her that her opinion matters, that she doesnt have to be nice to everyone, and that she can say NO is an awesome, empowering gift to give a young woman.

Whew, ok, off my high horse now. And Judy, I'm ROFL at your comment. Now if only I could find that verse, it would really help me out.....

Linda said...

You made the absolutely right decision this time. Music MUST be enjoyed-even the practising. Most people do not end up being concert musicians so the only option is for them to enjoy what they're doing. One good decision down, 286,907,345 left to go.