I recently came across a Facebook meme that said, “You only get one chance to raise your kids right.”
My gut reaction to this post was, “Ugh. Well, I’ve already screwed that one up. Forget the college fund. I need to start a therapy fund.” The truth is that I get frustrated with my daughters, I snap at them, and yes, I have even been known to hide from them. (Only in the bathroom, and not for long, but yes, I was hiding.) I’m assuming that most of this does not count as raising my kids right.
Fortunately, I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing that crazy monkey who likes to bounce around inside my head, flinging his crap at every opportunity. I took a moment to shut him up, and then I thought about this idea that we only get one shot at this whole parenting thing.
And I decided it’s not true.
Actually, I don’t even know what it means. Is there a certain age by which we are done raising our children, and we can look back on how we’ve done and give ourselves some sort of grade? Is it when they turn 18? Graduate from high school? College? What if they move back home after college? Are we done raising them then?
And what does it mean to be done? Does that mean we can never give them advice or feedback again? That our role in their lives is totally obsolete? Or do we become their friends? And what does that even mean?
Finally, I have no idea how, and when, we know whether or not we’ve raised our kids “right.” Is it when they successfully finish school? Do they have to get straight A’s? What if they graduate, but it takes them seven years and they have crappy grades? Have we succeeded then? Is it when they get a good job or get married? What if they end up getting a divorce? Does that mean we’ve failed? Even if they eat kale and run marathons?
Ok, fine. You’re probably thinking about happiness. If our kids are happy, then we’ve clearly done our job. But how do we measure happiness? And do our children have to be happy every day? Most of every day? What if they’re not happy, but they volunteer a lot and make the world a better place? Alternately, what if they’re incredibly happy, but actually kind of rude and self-centered? (I know, you’re probably thinking that’s not possible, but who knows?)
Having said all that, let’s play devil’s advocate and assume that I’m wrong. (Given how little sleep I’ve gotten recently, this is not much of a stretch.) Here’s the biggest problem with memes like this one: they’re shaming and they leave us feeling stuck. The underlying assumption is that if we’re not getting it right on this, our only chance, we’re getting it wrong. The biggest, most important gig of our lives, and we’re likely getting it wrong.
Oh, how I wish life, and parenting, were just that straightforward. Black and white. Right and wrong. The reality is that nothing about raising kids works that way. (Ok, you shouldn’t hit them. And you should feed them. I’m pretty black and white about that. Otherwise, it’s just not so clear.)
The reality is that parenting is about muddling around in the gray, being as nice as we can while we do it, and hanging in there even when things get really awful. The other reality of parenting is that no matter how much we’ve screwed up, gone astray, or lost our tempers, we can always, always start again. We can always make a choice to get our grounding and reconnect with our children, which is what they really need.
I’m going to say it again, because it’s really important. We can always, always start again with our kids, no matter what.
(Don’t believe me? Take a moment to think about someone in your life with whom you have a difficult relationship because of the poor choices he or she is making. Wouldn’t it be great if they suddenly made some significant changes? Wouldn’t your relationship improved significantly? This won’t fix the past, of course, but wouldn’t you choose a better future if you could?)
So, the next time you come across some clever quote on Facebook about what kind of parent you should be, take a moment to notice what kind of crap the crazy monkey in your mind is flinging, and then let it go. If you’re still hanging in there with your children, waking up each day and struggling to do the best you can to connect with them even when it’s hard, then you’re raising your kids right. Whatever that means, anyway.