By Melissa Stefanec
How would my kids be if they had different lives? Lately, the hyper-analytical side of me has been unrelenting on this topic. I’ve been thinking a lot about the classic nature vs. nurture and, as one of the main nurturers of my children, I’ve been introspective about the less-desirable facets of my children’s personalities. To put it plainly, I’ve been blaming myself for my children’s shortcomings and wondering how I should have done things differently.
Unfortunately, I think a lot of parents do this (and then do it some more). Every time our kids fall short of our expectations, we wonder what we did wrong. It’s silly and irrational, but seeing as children are both of those things, it makes perfect sense.
Two problems have been plaguing my thoughts as of late. The first step in solving a problem is to identify it. So, here they are (with a proposed solution that I will have to repeat as a daily affirmation).
Problem No. 1 — Beating myself up for not having myself or my husband stay home with the kids.
My husband and I work outside of the home. My son spends the bulk of each day with a small group of children at an in-home daycare. My daughter splits her time between kindergarten and the same daycare. They are very well cared for and very much loved by my daycare provider. They also have a core group of daycare friends whom they have spent most of their young lives around. Of late, one of my most nagging questions is how my children would be if one of us stayed home. One thing I especially dwell on is my son. He has very much become a stereotypical little boy. He loves horseplay, trucks and dinosaurs. He acts how little boys are supposed to act because he spends time at daycare with little boys who act like quintessential little boys. I am intrigued by how much different my son might be if he wasn’t exposed to that. Maybe he would be very close to the same; maybe he would be drastically different. The thing is, I will never know, and that drives me batty.
Solution — Although I don’t think it’s uncommon to ask how our children would be different if they had different experiences, there is nothing to be gained from such thinking. I think it’s all right to look back at our mistakes or missteps and learn from them so we can be better parents in the future, but anything more than self-reflection is just indulgent and dangerous. To put it another way, I need to stop looking back and start looking forward. I need to drop the guilt about my kids spending most of their waking hours at daycare. That’s my family’s reality. It’s worked out well for us; I need to stop contemplating how I could’ve possibly painted a rosier past.
All decisions result in consequences, and I will never know if I made the right decisions for my kids. So, I just need to keep on keepin’ on and make all of my parenting decisions with equal amounts of love and prudence.
Problem No. 2 – Taking responsibility for my kid’s shortcomings.
I think a lot of parents blame themselves for everything. We look at our children’s undesirable traits and wonder what we did or didn’t do to bring them out in our children. We blame ourselves for the nature, and we blame ourselves for the nurture. When my children bicker with each other, I wonder if my husband and I bicker too much. When my children fail to exercise self-control, I think about all the times they’ve pushed me to the brink and made me lose control. Have I taught them to do the same when things get really tough? (Which, let’s face it, is about every five minutes for young children.)
Solution — I am going to look into the mirror each morning and I remind myself that I am not perfect, I shouldn’t expect myself to be, and my children don’t want me to be. We are all hopelessly flawed, and no amount of effort will change that. It isn’t really a matter of whether or not we are going negatively impact our children; it’s more a question of how. When my daughter displays her inherited sass, I will remind myself of how much sassy women are needed in this world. When my son wants to be independent to his detriment, another passed-on affliction, I will imagine him doing his own laundry when he is 9 and taking control of his life. When my kids bicker with each other, I will remind myself how great it is that neither of them stand down easily. When they display a trait that I just can’t put a positive spin on (e.g., whacking one another for stealing a toy), I will chalk it up to kids being kids, issue an appropriate consequence, and remind myself they are their own beings.
So, next time you want to blame yourself for every toddler or teenage rebellion, cut yourself a little slack. Although parents undoubtedly contribute genetic and environmental influence, our children are still their own people. We are not solely responsible for their actions. I will console myself with the fact my kids got my good habits and my bad habits. And, sometimes, it’s our bad habits that make us strong, resilient, amusing, humble and, most importantly, human.