I overheard a mom this week tell a friend that her son was in the process of being diagnosed with some severe learning disabilities. She was clearly experiencing a lot of pain—it was palpable in her conversation, wondering aloud if she had done enough of the “right” things or too much of the “wrong” things.
It struck a chord in me, as I imagine it would for all of us. I often wonder if I’m doing enough of the right things, or too much of the wrong things. Personally, I see some similarities in the challenges we each face as parents, despite the huge differences that there may be in those challenges. Let me be clear: I’m not trying to suggest that I have any real idea of what it’s like to be a parent who deals with a child on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. Nor am I suggesting that having a kid who is addicted to drugs is anything like having a child who struggles to get along with his or her siblings. Plenty of unique situations present themselves when we look at the wide variation in the experiences we have as humans.
What I do mean to say is that, at least speaking about the parents and caregivers I know, no matter where our kids are, we all want them to be successful (according to however we may define that). We love them fiercely, even in those times when we don’t like them very much. We worry about them when we see them struggle. We do our best, at any given moment—and sometimes, that “best” falls far short of what our children need. We make mistakes (as my father-in-law was known to tell his kids, “It’s hard raising parents!”). The emotions that we share as parents, then, are the same—in the good times and the bad: fascination, gratitude, calm, ecstasy, optimism, apprehension, numbness, agitation, outrage, discouragement, envy. The details may differ; the reasons that we feel those things may vary. Even still, anyone who loves a child (or, frankly, who loves another human) is bound to share those feelings.
Much of my job here in writing for the studio blog is to talk about all the ways that Kindermusik benefits our children. And I believe this passionately. I could talk about it for hours.
However, does that mean that if your child is struggling, that you haven’t done enough Kindermusik? If Kindermusik has all these great benefits, what if your son or daughter still struggles to read? Or fails to follow the trajectory of a neurotypical child? What then?
Brené Brown, one of my all-time favorite women, has this to say about shame and vulnerability in parenting—that question of whether we’re doing enough of the right things, or too much of the wrong things.
“Most of us would love a color-coded parenting handbook that answers all of our unanswerable questions, comes with guarantees, and minimizes our vulnerability. We want to know that if we follow certain rules or adhere to the method espoused by a certain parenting expert, our children will sleep through the night, be happy, make friends, achieve professional success, and stay safe. The uncertainty of parenting can bring up feelings in us that range from frustration to terror.
“Our need for certainty in an endeavor as uncertain as raising children makes explicit ‘how-to-parent’ strategies both seductive and dangerous. I say ‘dangerous’ because certainty often breeds absolutes, intolerance, and judgment. That’s why parents are so critical of one another—we latch on to a method or approach and very quickly our way becomes the way. When we obsess over our parenting choices to the extent that most of us do, and then see someone else making different choices, we often perceive that difference as direct criticism of how we are parenting.” (Daring Greatly, pg. 216)
In other words, the question this mom had was universal and stemmed from the very difficult truth we experience as humans: everything in our lives is transient. And so is there something more we could be doing as parents? What if we asked ourselves, instead, “Am I treating myself with as much love and compassion as I want my kids to have for themselves? Do I believe I’m worthy of this journey?”
Pema Chödrön, Buddhist nun, says it like this:
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” (When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, pg. unknown)
So what is the answer? How do we find the balance of striving to create as rich and nourishing an environment as possible, while still holding compassion for ourselves when we don’t get the results we were expecting or hoping for? In my heart of hearts, I believe that THIS is the work of parenting—modeling for our kids how to respond to the joys and frustrations of life without allowing the pain to consume us.
It probably takes a lifetime to master.