When I realised that Kiara, my almost five-year old daughter did not care about reading or writing, I immediately bought a parenting book that promised to reveal secrets on raising geniuses. Alternatively, I could have taught her the alphabets but who cares about that. I felt smug being seen with that book. In the first and all of the ten pages I managed to read, it talks about pretend play and its importance in the development of young minds. Unfortunately, I think it is a significant part of adult life too, especially parenting.
The moral high ground
According to Kiara, being an almost five-year old and being in the ‘Dancing Dolphins’ class translates to her knowing everything. She really means everything. From deciding what I should wear to when her little brother should drink milk, she has an opinion on everything. Since I obviously do not want to wear my polka dot pajamas to church, I am very often at loggerheads with this tiny human being.
One of our frequent arguments have to do with cleaning up. I would ask politely, she would refuse, we go back and forth and then I would say ‘Your grandma never had to tell me to clean up my toys’. After regarding my face for thirty seconds she will quietly pipe ‘really mama?’. In actual fact, my mother had to come screaming and charging at me, bellowing threats along the lines of throwing my toys away, putting me up for adoption (you get the idea) before I would budge. However, I thought that pretending to be someone I was not was a crucial part of me being a good parent. The result of this conversation ended in one of the following,
- Kiara yelling ‘not fair’ or something else and storming off
- Me yelling about her being ungrateful for her toys or something
- Kiara sulking and cleaning up
Whether or not she cleaned up, I never felt good about these three outcomes. I wanted her to take pride in her chores and yet I was clueless on how to motivate her. Then the answer came to me, why couldn’t I simply be truthful?
So, the next time we had the same argument, instead of taking a moral high ground with her, I let her in on how my mother used to be annoyed with my toys being everywhere. Once the initial shock of her supposedly perfect mother doing something wrong wore off, she not only listened intently about how I used to get scolded but was also keen on knowing how I cleaned up. I used the opportunity to talk to her about overwhelming situations and how breaking up challenges into smaller steps help. She was receptive to my suggestions and then proceeded to clean up with me with a smile on her face. At that moment, I felt like I won a gold medal in parenting.
It is commendable that we try to be the best version of ourselves for our children. However, does it really help them when we paint a perfect picture of ourselves? Instead if we let them see us in all our imperfections, let them in on how we deal with challenges, allow them to see us fail and try again, we will be allowing them to gain invaluable perspective.
Fear of being judged
I will not speak for everyone but when I am in view of others, I try to say or do things that I assume to be the most socially accepted. For example, I usually allow Kiara to take off her shoes while playing in the playground. I find that without her sandals, she has a better grip, therefore she is safer and has a fun time. However, if there is another mother there and especially if she is armed with wet tissues and a hand sanitiser, I would say ‘Kiara please don’t take off your shoes, the playground is dirty’. My fear of being judged as a bad mother who is not prioritising personal hygiene takes over all my brain function. This again results in conflicts with Kiara and ends with the both of us feeling frustrated. In hindsight, it is a completely unnecessary situation. I know what is best for my child and I have allowed her to do certain things. It is my parenting style. Why do I then change it for fear of how a stranger may or may not feel about me?
Essentially, I am demonstrating to my child that it does not matter what she believes in because she needs to change her practices to suit another person’s opinion of her. Is this the sort of mentality I want to instill in my little girl? I don’t think so. If I want her to grow up to be a strong woman who stands by her principles and values in life, I should then be able to stand my ground about taking shoes off at the very least!
Kiara takes the school van every morning. Given that I only wake her 45 minutes before her van arrives, mornings are rather busy for us. I hate to be late and therefore will keep trying to listen for the sound of the van engine. As far as I knew, you could not see the van from our home. One such day as I was rushing her, my patience running thin, instead of wearing her shoes Kiara ran into one of our bedrooms. I stormed into the room, ready to give her an earful for not wearing her shoes. She moved the curtains aside and said with a bright smile ‘See mama, the van isn’t here yet. You don’t have to rush, we have time to carry Aarav along.’
If one stood at a particular angle, you got an unblocked view of the pick-up point. I never knew! At that moment, I felt so little. I not only misunderstood her actions but I was ready to punish her for being resourceful and considerate. This time I managed to stop myself in time. However, there have been other instances where I have not been that fortunate. To make matters worse, despite the realisation of having made a mistake, I would pretend it was not a big deal and brush it off. Not because of any particular reason but more because I did not think it was important. That begs the question, how then can I expect my child to own up to her mistakes and make rectifications?
Saying sorry to our children does not make us terrible parents, neither does it diminish our value in our children’s eyes. All it does is to show them that everyone makes mistakes and that it is possible to make amends.
I am not a terrible parent and neither are you. We have embarked on this journey with our little ones and in our efforts to be the perfect parent, we set unattainable standards, we neglect feelings, we lose teachable moments, we pretend. Let’s drop the pretences and instead embrace our children and ourselves for who we are. Imperfections are beautiful.