So, I’ve had several interactions in the past few months that have left me with the unsettling feeling that either my kids actually are the worst (because of my parenting), or that the person I’ve just been speaking with is being, well, kind of a tool.
One thing about being an extrovert is that I thrive on positive interaction. People often assume that being an extrovert means that I am naturally great at being around people all the time. It doesn’t. It just means that I really, really want to. And that I really, really want it to go well. In parenting circumstances that translates into me trying to make my kids conform to ways of being that I think other people want or expect so that they will be happy when we are together (I really, really want other people to be happy. Really.). When I fail, when I can tell other people aren’t enjoying my kids, it (falsely) seems to boil down to either that I’ve failed at being a friend, or at being a parent, or both.
I don’t want to think that people I care about are self-absorbed or clueless (and even if that happens to be true for a second, we all have our moments and no one is just one thing). But it’s also entirely stressful to continually worry that my family stresses other people out or bothers them. So I try to make it better. Maybe if I just let them watch more tv, then I can have un-interrupted phone conversations. Maybe if I stop letting them watch tv, then they won’t ask for videos. Maybe if I let them eat whatever they want, they’ll just enjoy parties and other people won’t have to be weirded out by the crazy hippie mom. Maybe if I tried harder to keep artificial coloring out of their diet, they would have better impulse control and wouldn’t, you know, be kids.
Who is my parenting for?
Is it for the random people in the grocery store who make an irritated face as they have to walk around my four year old because she is intently looking at something in an aisle-way and didn’t realize that they were waiting for her to move (ahem-grownups, use your words…)? Is it for people who I can’t talk to without getting interrupted every minute and a half? Is it for anyone who has ever expressed frustration about my kids’ behavior?
The answer to all of these questions is no.
My parenting is for my children. That sounds cheesy, but it’s true. If I spend all this time and energy trying to make sure other grownups (even ones that I like very much) are approving, then I will ultimately benefit no one. I probably won’t even satisfy the person I am trying to please; so far my children, like me, seem to be themselves no matter what they try to do to fit in. If I try to incorporate everyone’s opinion into my relationship with my children, I will teach them that pleasing other people is more important than being clear about who I am. And if I teach them to please people all the time, they will not learn to be themselves in the world. Or, at least, it will take them a lot of extra work. I mean, learning to be who you are meant to be on the planet is hard enough without your mother muddling it up trying to make sure some judgy lady at the library can get to the magazine stacks faster. I am a person of faith, which means that as I go, I trust that God will teach me and lead me into truth. Sometimes that will be in the form of a friend sharing something true with me. Sometimes it won’t.
One final thought. Just to be clear, getting input from a variety of sources is great, and necessary. There is so much helpful information out there to be had. And so many wise people who have such great ideas that really can help me to be better. I welcome constructive idea sharing. It is how I learn and grow as a person, as a parent. I need to be challenged; I crave it. But I’m really kind of over trying to make sure that everyone I meet is pleased by how I parent my kids.