The little secrets we won’t say out loud

mother and child Image by Nimfolb

We all come to parenting green. There’s no training, no “practice run with pretend children.” You are thrust into the love affair quite unprepared for the consuming demands on your time and heart, even if you’ve read a library’s worth of parenting manuals in advance.

The twin tugs of responsibility to raise a child “correctly” and abject powerlessness in the face of a child’s pain and struggle, leave us ambivalent and self-doubting. Add the privilege and burden of home education to the mix, and you’ve upped the stakes one thousand percent!

As you fashion a philosophy and prepare your practices, your children defy you. They hate your organic, steamed, smashed vegetables that you grew in your garden, they refuse to sleep at convenient hours, they have an endless supply of giddy and slap-happy to express in quiet library lines and doctor’s offices. They bait their siblings into tickle fights, and then scream at you that their brother or sister is mean.

They ruin perfectly good toys—the ones they wanted for half a year.

They leave a trail of food, plates, glasses, and half empty stale boxes of crackers—then complain that there are no clean dishes and nothing to eat (though you returned from the store an hour earlier).

Certainly they cuddle and surprise you with smiles and reward your care with endless entertainment. But the experience of ongoing “otherliness” that comes from parenting creates relentless low-level anxiety that we don’t credit with depleting us. Yes we are physically tired. But we are also living with chronic chaos—nothing stays where it was put, and no child stays the same for long.

Just as you solve one problem or adapt to this stage of development, Bam! The next one is ushered in, with all of its mystery and complexity.

Education—the balance between learning that comes naturally and from curiosity, and the skill-building that comes from direction and an awareness of what that child will need for a diploma or adult-living—becomes the testing ground for your success as a parent.

Enter: frustration, exasperation, exhaustion, confusion, doubt, comparison, assessment, desperation, pressure, tears, arguments, battles, loneliness, fear, worry, and what feels like failure.

Children will lead you to the edge of yourself. Guaranteed. You will say what you promised you’d never say—and usually those words get shouted.

You will require what you never expected to require.

You’ll forget love and feel loathing, and then loathe yourself for letting that feeling come to the surface.

The unfathomable tenacity of a child to resist what you have explained so well, so patiently, so clearly for his or her benefit, even with all your offers of help, will level you. Your feelings will be hurt!

How can this child not hear how much you want to help?

Why can’t this child simply cooperate and try?

How can this request be THAT difficult? Really?

You will be unequal to the force of a child’s unwillingness to do what you ask at some point in your parenting career. Not even spankings and groundings and lectures and the intimidation of a bigger parent will cause the child to reverse course.

The inevitable question follows: Now what?

When every offer of help is refused, when every punishment and reward fails, when you can’t bring the mountain to Mohammed, what should you do? Where do you turn?

I suggest: perspective.

Sometimes the tears and the anger are a necessary part of the growth. Try not to take it personally. So she doesn’t want to get dressed (and she’s 2 years old!). This isn’t about you; it isn’t really about her. She’s 2! She’s going to grow out of this exhausting phase. Some days you can skip dressing and leave her in her pajamas, and other days she will dress. On the days you have to leave the house, you will wrestle her into her clothes. With tears. With your own irritation fully available to you.

And one day it will all stop. You’ll look back and think, “Huh. I wonder when she decided to dress without drama?”

This same feel applies to every area. With writing, it’s much like this. We don’t want to push to the point of tears and anger, but we do sometimes. I certainly lost it with Noah (he was the oldest, after all!). His resistance to being made to do what he didn’t want to do is legendary in our family.

But time and again, with opportunity to grow, with calm conversations about what Noah needed for his future, combined with both moments of requirement and many more moments of easing the pressure, he emerged into his competent writing self, his mature wonderful adult self.

You will toggle! There may be a day where you are certain that writing must happen and your child will throw up an Armageddon of opposition.

Do you battle through to eke out the words, and you wind up exhausted and disheartened yet secretly glad you have something to show for English in your homeschool file?

Or instead, do you wave the white flag and make brownies, telling jokes, tickling him out of his mood?

Do you stop writing all together for a while until you get the nerve to bring it up again, hoping he’ll mature out of this phase by then?

Or do you simply do most of the work for him just to get it over with, and off your back?


All of the above.

That’s what parenting looks like. You will do all of these.

Some magic fairy comes along as the years unwind, and combines these acts with the sincerity of your love for and enduring commitment to that child, and turns it all into an education and a relationship. Memories come from this magical combination. A lifetime of healthy, happy and whole is possible from these raw parenting excursions.

You are learning as you go. Give yourself some grace to push, to pull back, to try again, to do too much, to not help enough. In that mix, with this child, you will find a groove. It’s not too late (never too late). It’s okay to put stuff on hold and let it be for a good while. It’s also okay to push at times when you know it’s the right thing to do.

I remember I wouldn’t let Jacob quit saxophone lessons because I knew he’d love marching band in high school. Since he was homeschooled and not in a band, he had no way of knowing he’d love it so he got bored with lessons. But I knew differently. I knew he would love marching band and kept him going with lessons despite his resistance. I was right. He was glad. In the end.

This is parenting—the push, the pass over, the support, the help, the letting go, the requirement, the acceptance. You’re doing it right, if you are doing all of this, and asking the questions, and modifying your practices, and paying attention to your connection to your children.

You are! Don’t let anyone tempt you into thinking there’s one right way. We try it all, and then…

…keep going.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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