Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Great Expectations

"I want to thank you for letting me be myself." - Sly and the Family Stone. You read that right. Now go out and get your funk on!

Parents, we all have to chill out. Relax. Even those of you, those of us, who believe or claim they - we - are 'laid back.' In the immortal words of Nell Carter, "Gimme a break."

Or, rather, give your kids a break. They're toddlers. Leave them alone. Let them play! Speaking words of wisdom, let them be.

Stop wiping their hands all the time. Germs and dirt are their friends. Stop picking them up every time they fall. We're raising a nation of softies. And, most important, stop judging them!

I came to my revelation during a recent Little Gym class that I took my daughter to. She wasn't in the best of moods that day. Usually she participates in all of the activities and loves everything. This time, she was difficult. For whatever reason, she was having a bad day. We all do. She insisted on taking Lammie into class with her (we usually don't allow Lammie but I chose not to fight her this time - you have to pick your battles), she wouldn't join the rest of the class at the times we were doing group activities. She kept responding with an annoying and whiny "no" to everything I asked of or suggested to her.

My wife was sitting in the viewing area, watching all of this. Watching me jump in and out, over and through all of the obstacles set up throughout the room. She saw me almost cripple myself while doing three consecutive forward rolls, purely for the amusement and betterment of my daughter. This was her show: me trailed by my thumb-sucking, stuffed lamb clenching, no-way-my-mood-you'll-be-altering child. Picture a large fish bowl, but replace the pebbles on the bottom of the tank with gym mats and balance beams. Instead of a school of fish, you have a gaggle of toddlers.

I came out to state the obvious to her. "She's being a little bit of a nightmare today, " I sighed, before turning around and heading back in for more emotional and physical exercise.

But "nightmare," I guess, just depends on your perspective. The woman sitting next to my wife was watching her daughter as well as mine. Her daughter wouldn't leave her father's side. Mine would run around smiling, while ignoring me mind you, and flop on the mats and mimic my nearly-paralyzing somersaults. This mother told my wife that Penelope appeared, to her, to be having sociable, fun, and a generally enjoyable gym experience. She wasn't judging us or our assessment of our child. She was comparing Penelope to her own daughter, who was clinging to her father like a sock loaded with static sticks to your newly dried sweatshirt, and judging her.

This woman had an excellent point: Why are we so hard on our children? They are, after all, just babies. Why do we expect them to be perfect? They're not. They're little people who still have no idea how to express most of their emotions or communicate some of their needs, and as a result cry out of frustration. And as parents, we're not perfect either. We like to think we are. We like to hope we are. But we, like them, are - as Billy Joel says - only human whoo whoo.

Why can't we just give them a break? Let them be?

Here's my dime store psychological analysis: We are projecting our own insecurities onto our children, and in the process, driving them insane.

Instead of looking at our children and wishing what we would change ('she's too shy,' 'he doesn't sit still,' 'she's doesn't like that'), maybe we should all look at them and appreciate them and praise them for their strengths?

The next week at Little Gym all of the kids were bouncing like lottery balls on this big inflatable mat. Penelope chose to sit on the side of the mat and watch, thumb in mouth, Lammie in hand. Did I think to myself, "I wished she would participate?" Yes. Did I think "she would love this if he just tried it?" Yes. Did I also think, "she knows what she wants, and she doesn't want this?" Yes. Did I find myself being proud of my daughter for making an informed decision and refusing to conform to the group, instead of being disappointed in her? Yes.

Let's all be glass half-full parents. They're going to freak out in public from time to time. And any parent who is half awake half of the time and witnesses it will not think any worse of you. We've all been there. Let them be them. I'm not saying we should stop parenting our kids, stop raising them, stop disciplining them or helping them.

Just cut the cord. At least a little. If they fall, let them pick themselves up and dust themselves off from time to time, if not all of the time. If they're having a bad day, acknowledge it internally. Think of the last time you had a bad day and wanted your Lammie and didn't want to deal with annoying people telling you what to do.

Give your kids a break. They just might thank you for it one day.


  1. Yes. I completely agree. No matter how much wisdom we have acquired, and no matter how mature they feel they are, there is nothing we can say to alter their focus, their present heart. And we should definitely mind what we do say to them. Regardless of how old our children get, we can only show them by positive example how to pursue "happiness". Of course happiness is relative. Plant seeds and hope they grow strong and flower from your nourishment.

  2. looks like the temporary hiatus from FB may have given you more time to be thinking of the big picture...and i like it.

  3. Justin, Miss you on Facebook, but still love your blog. Penelope is getting so big. God Bless. Hugs Terry


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