Why Does It Have To Be So Hard?
Following the week-long Passover break and/or spring vacation, we should all be coming away with a new glow. We have just spent 24/7 with the loves of our lives, our children.
We said to ourselves before the break, as we often do, “When I have undivided time with my children, we will play games, throw a ball, go on field trips together. I will get to finally give them some of my attention and they will be so grateful. I can just see their smiles and rosy cheeks, the shine in their eyes. I can’t wait.”
Then it happens. We get the time we’ve been looking for— and instead of cooperative play time, there is competition for our attention. Where we were hoping for peace, there may be whining and arguing. We do our best to navigate and redirect, but somehow we come away feeling like failures. The kids fight with each other, they are impatient to go — even without snacks, toys, and drinks — and they don’t appreciate the effort it takes us to pull an outing together. If you have teenagers, there may even be resistance to wanting to go out with the family. Like, anywhere.
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. As parents, we want to enjoy our time with our children. We have a sense of how important our attention is to them, and in our quiet time, we are overflowing with love and tenderness for them. If we are thoughtful, we might be aware of our sense of guilt at not being able to give them what we think they deserve: an ever-patient, wise, thoughtful, aware, perfect parent. We wonder what we are doing wrong that produces the kinds of behaviors that make us want to run for the hills instead of embrace our children.
The short answer is that we may not be doing anything “wrong.” Perfect parenting (if it were to exist) does not necessarily breed perfect children. Even if we could handle every situation well, we might still have a child who whines, fights, and manipulates. That’s because we focus on our parenting as if the person our child becomes is about our choices. In fact, it is about theirs. As parents, it is difficult to acknowledge that our kids are little people who make their own choices. Even the smallest baby demonstrates that it will eat, or not eat, when and what it wants. (Have you ever tried to shove pureed peas or broccoli into a baby’s mouth?) At times, we admire their “spunk” and encourage them to be independent minded. In fact, we coach our kids on how to make good choices in their lives. Then, they exercise that independence on us and we don’t appreciate it nearly as much. When we are in our calmest head-space, we can acknowledge that we have no true control over the outcome. We do our best to guide our children toward a life of values and commitment and then watch as they develop, praying all the way.
But, there is another reason why we might feel like failures — we are too hard on ourselves. I have met and taught many parents who are overcome with guilt for not “doing it right.” The “it” varies from not handling a particular issue well, to yelling too much, to not getting morning/bedtime routines to run smoothly, to not sending them to the right school or camp/signing them up for the right extra-curricular/getting them the right or enough playdates, clothes, or vacations; you name it, parents feel guilty about it.
But, here’s what we all need to know. We are the best parent that we can be at this moment. We are doing everything we can for our children — and more. G-d gave us these children because we have everything we need to raise them. They challenge us so that we will grow and become our best selves. And, in turn, we do the same for them.
Parenting is a marathon, and not a sprint. We don’t know, long-term, how a child will turn out. But we can be sure that we are up to the task and we will continue to do our best — which is all we can ever ask of ourselves.
-----Originally published in Kol Habira May 18, 2017------