From today's Briefing:
The daily work of parenting doesn’t allow much time for self-evaluation.
The overarching goal each day is to raise healthy, safe, emotionally stable children who know they are loved and are inching toward responsible adulthood.
It sounds simple, but the execution is complex.
At the end of the day, I feel successful if everyone made it to appointed locations on time, if at least two meals were healthy, if there are no illnesses or injuries, and if any tears and/or outbursts are forgotten by bedtime.
And then we try to repeat it all the next day.
Weeks, months and years go by before I suddenly realize my shortcomings. This week’s harsh realization: My 8-year-old can’t tie shoelaces or ride a bike.
With that admission, I am imagining the full weight of judgment from parents who have handled these basic life skills, and from people who aren’t parents and can’t possibly imagine what I’ve been doing all these years.
It’s the same with classic music and books. I realize that my children and I haven’t watched The Wizard of Oz or read Little Women together.
I haven’t taught them the polite way to take a phone message. They’ve never heard me use the phrase “balance the checkbook.”
And that’s just the beginning of a long list of what I realize I haven’t shared. What’s on the list that I don’t even know about?
The first two years of a child’s life seem almost scripted. More resources than you can count offer definitive lists of what your child should be doing by specific ages. Grasp objects, roll over, crawl, stand, walk. Babble, blow bubbles, talk.
Super diligent parents can follow the timelines through age 5. And then it’s a big free-for-all. Children are completely at the mercy of their caregivers to provide guidance at the appropriate time.
The good news — there’s still time, even if it’s not as long as I would like. In six years, Cooper will be leaving for college. I’ve got a decade left with Katie.
I expect that with not much instruction, Katie will be tying the laces on her new sneakers before third grade begins. (That’s in three weeks, by the way, for all you parents who aren’t yet counting the days.)
We can build on her previous bike lessons and get her rolling down the greenbelt. We can knock out movies and linger over books. We can practice answering the phone. And I could perhaps attempt to balance my checkbook — not only to teach the kids but to actually, you know, balance the checkbook.
As soon as those tasks are conquered — or likely before — some new ones will crop up.
Lest I get overwhelmed with all that I’m not doing, I’ll continue to pay attention to what’s working well in our house.
At bedtime of the very same day I was feeling guilt about shoes and bike-riding, I walked through the kids’ hallway. Katie was at the bathroom sink, in the dark.
“Katie, why are you brushing your teeth with the lights off?”
“To conserve energy,” she answered. “And face my fears of the dark.”
Her kind heart and courage wrapped me in comfort, allowing me to shed a little bit of my self-imposed guilt.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.