I’ve written about my childhood a time or two and I’m having another go at it. That was your warning should you have zero desire to hear about it again.
But for those of you that stick around until the bitter end of this column this one’s a little about parenting, too.
I’m no expert on parenting, or on childhood for that matter, but I have some experience on both under my belt and feel I have gained enough wisdom to offer some opinions.
An article caught me a few months ago and I still find my mind going back to it because Jen Hatmaker had it right in a parenting article for Today.
She talks a little about all the elaborate stuff that some parents do (and share it all on social media) for their children, and the inadequate feelings that produces in all the rest of us that don’t do those things. When she’s knee deep in the guilt of not keeping up with all the other parents out there, she said she often finds herself asking what her mother would do.
And it’s a great question to ask because what my mother and other caretakers did has turned out some sensitive, bright, funny, and loving human beings.
Hatmaker starts by calling today’s methods of parenting “precious,” but she writes it not as a term of endearment, but with a little disgust, I think.
Some of us do too much for our kids and I’m guilty of that myself at times. Some people put their children at the center of their universe, but what good does that do a kid?
My aunt likes to keep alive the story of a time that I apparently convinced my young cousin, who is three years my junior, to ride her Big Wheel down the steep front steps of my aunt’s very old home. At the end of those steps was a sticker bush, which caught my cousin full-on as she careened down.
I was too young at the time to remember that with any sort of accuracy, but I do have enough recollection to know that it happened. I only feel a little guilt, but it doesn’t go far because I was such a young kid, and I’m also not entirely sure that I was the one that made the persuasive speech that got that Big Wheel rolling (that sounds more like my sister’s thing).
But I wonder, did, does, my aunt feel any guilt that she wasn’t there to stop it, to snatch her child from the pain of what would happen?
I don’t know.
I do know there’s enough stuff that happens as a parent to make guilt a constant in our lives without attempting to gauge our parental worth by the parenting of others.
Shouldn’t I be able to find joy each night after tucking the little one in that she’s clean (mostly) and she’s healthy and she’s said her prayers and not committed any egregious fouls since waking up that morning?
Yes, I should. And she’s better for it when I do. Because if I don’t, then I find I want to apologize to her for not being as involved and attentive as some other kid’s mom.
And that’s part of it, isn’t it? I am me and the me that I am will dictate how I raise these kids in my care. And even if that is not as aesthetically pleasing as some of the all-involved stuff these other moms post on Pinterest and Facebook, so what.
My mom, and all those who also cared for us, felt free to tell us to skedaddle to the out of doors. And we did, and we loved it.
Part of my educational experience as a kid was all of us girls being outside, using our imaginations to create fun games. We entertained ourselves. No one hovered. We didn’t question that we were loved, because we knew it. We were safe. We were fed. We were pretty darn happy kids.
My childhood was chock-a-block with running amok, but in a civilized manner. We were pretty much ordered to remain outside during the warmer months, but we were just fine with that. We explored and picked pretty weeds and climbed trees and got scraped up and got plenty of bugs bites and are still carrying around some pretty awesome memories.
Hatmaker worries in her article about filling the summer hours for her five children, worrying over diminishing reading levels as young minds melt before the brightly lit screen of any given device and children’s brains not continuing to develop with continued learning, and so on and so forth.
I worry about that, too. But, when she goes back to asking the question about what would her mother do well, that takes a big load off. We girls weren’t always engaged in some academic pursuit, but were allowed to be kids. And we were allowed to fall and pick ourselves up.
So that’s the mothering mantra, what would my mother do, I’ll ask, and then take a nice deep breath.
Not too long ago my family and I, which included one of my childhood caretakers as well as my sister and my two cousins, sat around and chatted at a family picnic. As we did so our children ran amok, doing what kids do, and they had a blast.
Thirty years ago that was we four girls, running around like rapscallions in our most-of-the-time bare feet and our scrawny, scraped, and bug-bitten legs.
I saw the passage of time and the changed roles on that day as I sat on my bottom and watched the kiddos playing.
We didn’t smother them, occasionally I’d look around to see if I could at least lay eyes on my daughter, and I didn’t worry if I didn’t.
Nine kids in all, from teenager to toddler, ran in a screeching pack around the perimeter of the adults. We made sure they ate, and we made sure we could see them from time to time. That was it and it was grand.
I’ll never be able to keep up with those Pinterest moms, I know. But when I remember to ask myself what my mom would do, perhaps I’ll be able to shove off the guilt enough so that I can just be grateful to be a mom and know that by loving my kids, well, that’s all they really need isn’t it?
I found an older column of mine, one I wrote after walking barefoot in the rain last summer. In that piece, I lamented that my stepson and daughter, as far as I know, had never done that before.
Those are the things I’d rather feel shameful about not showing them instead of carrying around that heavy guilt because neither one has a completed photo album of picture memories decorated with cutsie cardstock cutouts of stuff.
I firmly believe that it’s not up to me to entertain these two kids and I believe that they need to learn to find their own ways through things, even boredom.
“A good parent prepares the child for the path, not the path for the child. We can still demonstrate gentle and attached parenting without raising children who melt on a warm day,” Hatmaker wrote.
I couldn’t agree more.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.