March 7, 2011 at 6:00 am
I had a parenting moment a few weeks ago, that started me thinking a lot about being an “organic parent.”
I was at the dentist’s office for a 6-month cleaning, with two bored children in tow.
We had brought things to do — a felt board, a stack of books, paper, crayons … but far more intriguing in that tiny cube of a room was the tray of the dental tools.
As I lay there, completely helpless and feeling utterly unable to parent, I heard a noise.
Some of the tools had gotten bumped, or tipped — I’m not really sure, but they went flying off the tray and I could sense they hadn’t flown off on their own.
I immediately went into hyper-parent mode. I simultaneously corralled children and apologized. I tried to reset order. I felt my pulse and my blood pressure having a foot-race.
As I continued with my gushing apology, I saw the way my dentist was looking at me:
“Kara,” he said calmly. “Stop. It’s OK. We see kids here all the time. We know kids.”
And I knew then that I had done it again. I had not just lost my calm in an effort to protect my children, I had turned into a bit of a lunatic.
My dentist has raised three kids. I can imagine he was a cool dad: he’s certainly the coolest person I’ve ever paid to oversee my dental care.
So as we were packing up he asked me if I remembered the stuff a few years back about Lenore Skenazy.
After writing an article in The New York Sun about letting her 9-year-old son ride the subway alone, she was called “America’s Worst Mom.”
Instead of letting the critics take her down, though, she began a parenting movement she calls “free-range parenting.”
By her definition, free-range parenting is about keeping your kids safe (seat belts and bike helmets are encouraged) but also letting them experience the world without an overbearing parent “helicoptering” around them at all times.
She still has critics. She also has a lot of followers who believe that as a culture we have become paranoid and over-protective and are suffocating our sons and daughters.
I know I feel like I am doing that sometimes. The Yes Day I wrote about a while back stemmed from feeling not only like I say no too often, but also that I hover more than I’d like to in an effort to protect my kids from other people’s reactions.
I mean honestly, who really cares if kids talk a little above a whisper in the library or get up to move around at a casual restaurant?
So those were the thoughts in my mind as a spent a few weeks trying to let my kids be — just be — who they are.
“I want to tell you something,” my dentist said as we were walking out. ” I’ve raised three kids, and they are the same people now that they were at 5.”
It took me a car ride home and a couple of days to process that. What I eventually came up with was that is was a kind way of saying: Maybe don’t try so hard to control your kids — maybe back off, because they are good kids, and these little things that you worry about now they will outgrow, and the big things are a part of them, so just love them, Dummy.
It is worth mentioning that I am reading Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves right now, which is all about not trying to control your kids, and instead controlling yourself and your reactions.
It’s about a lot more than that, but I’m only half-way through. I have to take it in little bites because it is so opposite of how most of us were trained to think.
Most of us grew up another way — a way that says that if you are a good parent, your kids will not throw their sippy cup across the room. They will not run when they are supposed to walk. They will be good … which translates not to actually “being good” (because children just are good), it translates to acting a certain way all the time, but especially in public.
And so it was with all this stuff in my head that I went about a week trying not to hover and not to force, until I got a nice little parenting slap in the face.
Remember what I said up there a few paragraphs ago — that thing about “who cares if your kids talk above a whisper …”
I was reminded within just a few days of my experiment that the answer is A LOT of people. Including people who don’t have children of their own, but think they are entitled to judge the parents they see in restaurants and museums and anywhere else where kids and parents go to have fun, and be together, and hopefully not be glared at by strangers who think that children were meant to live in basements until they mature enough to know not to pick their noses or drop french fries.
It happened so quickly — my experiment came to such a grinding halt … And it wasn’t because of anything anyone actually said to me or my children. It was something that a friend said in passing, and yet was enough to shake me …
If he thinks that about strangers’ kids, what does he think about my kids? I found myself wondering.
If he truly believes that kids who run, or cry or scream have bad parents — what does he think of me?
It has taken me a couple of weeks to write this post.
It took me a long time to think this out and try to come up with a way to share how I am feeling.
The truth is that parenting is hard. And parenting the way that so many of us choose to is even harder. So many of us are not just biding our time until our kids are grown — we are active, in-the-trenches parenting kids in a world that is judging us.
I often say that I was all set to be a perfect mom until I had kids. Now, I am just figuring it out every day. I’m getting by. I’m doing my best. I’m learning — right along side these little people.
I make stupid mistakes. I freak out at the dentist. I forget to be resilient when everything seems to be going wrong.
But I do know that in these weeks of reading, and experimenting, and stewing about this subject, I’ve come to a few conclusions:
- The first is that until you have experienced parenting – until you have truly loved someone more than you love yourself and yet have learned that sometimes you can’t make that person behave a certain way at a certain time, even with a pacifier or bribes or threats or shaming or dirty looks or singing or time-outs or distractions, then it isn’t really fair to judge others who are just trying to do their level best.
- And the second is that there are thousands of parenting books and philosophies out there. There are so many experts (or even parents who think they are experts), who love nothing more than to disagree with each other about how you should raise your kid. But the truth is, none of them know your kid like you do.
So on our best days, we can try really hard to be the best version of ourselves for our kids and accept them, even when they are crying, or whining, or throwing, or swearing. And on our worst days, we can just love them.
Maybe for now, it’s as organic as that.
Ever been judged for being an organic parent — that is to say one who follows instincts and what feels right? Unload here — I’m listening, judgement-free.