I think about parenting everyday. Sometimes I think about it with great reflection and purpose. Sometimes I think about just surviving it with a modicum of dignity. Yesterday I sat at the top of my stairs with tears in my eyes because Ellen was throwing a fit and being a nightmare. She is delightful and funny and bright and wonderful and sometimes, at least daily, a total nightmare. I’m starting to think that all kids—all people—are all those things.
In many ways Ellen is my “easiest.” Still, I sat there feeling awful because I tried to do it “right,” I’d tried “ignoring,” and I’d even gotten to the point where I didn’t care what she did, said, ate, or wore. Nothing worked. It wasn’t me, It was her. As I sat there I thought to myself, “People would tell me to enjoy these fleeting moments with my 5-year-old.” And they’re right. When she’s older I will miss 5-year-old Ellen. But it still felt awful sitting there helplessly while she screamed that she hated me. It’s like, I lose now and I lose later. But it’s not all bad. Yesterday she “made me a Crystal Light” in a tall glass with ice. She also changed her name to Violet.
I made a decision many years ago that my guiding principle of parenting would be to raise likable children. When you’ve got 4 kids and jobs and school and lots of stuff you find out that you can’t do everything. So you start making choices about how to spend your time. When I say likable I don’t mean popular. Think about the people you like. The people I like are good, interesting, nice, helpful, smart, competent, hard-working, and fun. That’s how I want my kids to be. I want them to be a pleasure to know and be around. You know those people you hate? You know those people who are hard to love and serve? You know those people who are frankly just a pain? I don’t want my kids to be those people. If you know my kids and you don’t like them— bear with me. I’m not done with them yet.
Read more about how I hope my kids turn out.
Before I had kids I think I would have said I wanted my children to be accomplished. Being accomplished is great. I want my kids to be accomplished. But it isn’t the only thing or even the most important thing I want. And as we work through their strengths and weaknesses, sometimes being accomplished takes a back seat to being likable. It’s what I’ve chosen. Maybe if you’re super-accomplished you don’t have to be nice. Maybe you can be super-accomplished in everything and nice. There’s more than one way to raise a kid.
Before I had my 15-year-old, Sam, I had a dream about him. We were standing in line for a ride at Lagoon. He was about 5 and he was wearing a red and white striped windbreaker that I used to wear when I was his age. Before we started the ride he looked at me with fear in his eyes and I looked back with fear in mine. We both nodded and I knew we were thinking: “Shoes on tight, pockets empty, seat belt on, this is scary, but it will be over soon.” He did turn out to be very much like the kid in that dream which is to say, very much like me. I don’t know why, but when he was little I made him take Kindermusik, soccer, piano, and gymnastics. We quit all of them. Last year he found his own way to cross country and track. And look at him go!
I like him. I like all my kids a lot. They aren’t Olympians. And we probably won’t ever have a family band. But I still think they are remarkable.
What qualities do you want your children to have? What do you care the most about?