I remember it vividly, I was sitting at the school table in our home across from my child about to proctor the IOWA basic test. I had signed the legal documents allowing me to proctor this test stating I would not interfere with the results or testing environment. When my child slid the unanswered scan-tron back across the table with her two defiant fingers and put her pencil down, I was stuck. She was actually going to let time run out and not answer a single question. My anger burned. My concern for her academics soared. I felt failure. It was a shaping moment for me in her life and education. The kind of moment I tell about when she’s older and we laugh. At the time it sure wasn’t funny, but it was shaping.
How We Get There Matters
This was the beginning of the untangling of myself from my children’s academic performances. It was one of many lessons I had to learn, forcibly, they are their own people, with their own perceptions, values, motivations who aren’t easily controlled like I envisioned parenting to be, at least not mine. We had chosen to have their education fall on my shoulders for this particular season of life, so their progress, or lack thereof, was my responsibility, my job. As an achiever type personality, nothing says that I am doing a good job like progress and high marks. So if school wasn’t going exactly this way, I became upset. Upset at my children. Upset at myself. I missed the point that how we got there was just as important, in fact more, than the actual getting there.
Thinking back to my childhood, I don’t blame or give credit for my academic successes to my parents. I don’t blame my parents for my satisfaction with B’s in school. I deeply cared about the social and athletic portion of school. That was on me, not my parents. They held me accountable and made contracts with me to hold the line with consequences for what they deemed reasonable grades. Now in my own home with my four children, I have experienced four different people coming at academics from four different perspectives. I have one child who taught herself to read when she was three while another didn’t read until first grade. I didn’t take the credit for the three year old’s early success, but I took the guilt for the first grader’s delay. I still catch myself wondering if I could’ve done something more to help, maybe a different preschool or more read alouds or more library visits. I have to remind myself consistently that they are their own person on their own timeline, which usually aren’t mine or easily changed. So I have to watch how my children’s knowledge, or lack of it, makes me feel about myself as a parent.
Transactional vs Relational
My mothering should not be primarily transactional but relational first and foremost. This is hard when my personality profiles all remind me that I would choose projects over people. So I remind myself that my children have only one person in the role of mother, but they will have lots of teachers, coaches and bosses. Right now life’s demands right certainly beg to set the tone in my home of accomplishing other people’s to do lists, chores, and school packets. While all these need to be done, and done in a timely fashion, how I approach these transactions with my children matter. I don’t want to become the person whose child thinks is just after completed tasks, only correct answers, or the high marks. I want to be the place their heart trusts and can see the goodness of motherhood, family, my faith. It’s like focusing on the what’s important vs urgent quadrant as mentioned in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey (https://www.franklincovey.com/the-7-habits.html)
The Pressure Ultimately Rests on Them
Realistically there are things that need to be done. To balance all these to do’s from coaches and teachers, and from our own home, I use a method of writing down the urgent (school) and important (interests, values) for the day with allotted time amounts. I decided to allow them to manage their time according to their motivations or desire. Ultimately I want my kids to be independent, so this promotes them tackling their work on their own. Some of my children tackle their hardest stuff first, while another saves the hard stuff for the end. Neither is wrong, and I like seeing what their personalities choose because it shows me more of who they are. I have found allowing my children, even young ones, autonomy on when they work on assignments keeps them motivated and puts the pressure on them, where it belongs, instead of on me. It is their school work, their grades, their levels, their future, their career. All I have found I can do is set reasonable boundaries with consequences and encourage them to right thinking about themselves and their work. For example they may have until 2 pm to finish school work, or there will be no _____________ tonight, but the next day allowing them to try again to meet the deadline and then regain access to ________ .
Get Tangled Up in Arms
I can’t guilt myself if these days, especially these unprecedented days, are unbalanced. Some days are going to be on target, meeting everyone’s goals type of days, while others will be filled with all the things that seem like a complete waste of time. Both days matter. Love is not designed to be conditional. The not-so goal crushing off days need to be handled with care and foresight, firmly believing that off days don’t make me a worse mother or them a worse child. Untangling my identity from my children generally seems to require a lot of mental adjustment for me. Trying to remember the child has to choose to do the work and walk in the path I have tried to provide. I can’t get tangled up in their academic successes as an indicator of my parenting, but I can get tangled up in their arms as a reminder of the mysterious and great gift that motherhood is to me.