A couple got married. They became two parents who had two kids. First, a boy, then four years later, a girl. They all lived in a big house with lots of room for the boy and the girl to grow and play. They read lots of books. Played music. Shared meals. There was a cat and a dog. All of the things that make up the classic American Dream.
Sounds perfect, right?
When we become parents, we are told not to compare our children to one another. Just because one walked at a certain age does not mean the other will walk at the same time. Just because one could be comforted back to sleep quickly with a dot of Orajel during a night of teething discomfort does not mean the other will do the same. Just because one of them learned to read and write and tie shoes before Kindergarten, does not mean the other will too.
When your first child comes along, we can’t see anything
The big house had four bedrooms. One for mom and dad. One for the boy and one for the girl. One for extra space. There was a playroom too. It was filled with lots of toys to play pretend. There were puzzles and blocks to build things and a play kitchen too. An alphabet poster with letters made out of cartoon animals adorned the wall. And oh the books in every nook and cranny.
When kids meet milestones to check off the list, we act so proud. We tell the grandmas and the grandpas, the aunts and the uncles, the cousins, the friends. We tell everyone who we think might give a shit that junior can pee-pee on the potty. And the princess knows her letters. We are blinded by the adorable blue eyes we see on the boy. We are deafened by the giggle we hear from the girl. And when the day is done and they’re tucked into their beds, we watch them. Their little chests move up and down. Their eyelids flutter. We watch their angelic faces while they breathe and drift into dreamland.
Dad went to work everyday at a very good job. Mom stayed home and took care of the boy and the girl. She played pretend and sang songs and read stories. She cooked and cleaned when they napped. Life was perfectly perfect it seemed.
When they are little and things are so smooth, why on earth would we worry about things like high school and college and jobs they might like to do? Sure, we know that junior is shy and princess is friendly, but we don’t worry that they are that different. Yet.
I recently read an article that really sparked some thinking. In, “Trying to Be ‘Perfect’ is Killing Our Teens and We’re to Blame,” by Melissa Fenton, a mother writes about the effects of the pressures placed on teenagers in society today. They are made to feel like perfection is the only way to succeed. Academic pressures have heightened and the push for college over other options has increased. References are made to the increasing amount of mental illness that is seen in young people today. The struggles with depression, anxiety
A few days later, I read a Facebook post from someone I know. A teacher who is also a mother of a daughter the same age as mine. She posted a plea for prayer after having a candid talk with her daughter about the mental struggles that have become so common amongst her friends. My own daughter has also talked to me about this very thing about people she knows at school.
What is going on? Having two children of my own, I sometimes question how and why they are so different from one another. My boy and my girl have had the same opportunities presented to them throughout school. One rebelled. One is thriving. And why is this wrong? Why do we as parents feel bad when our kids grow up to be different than we expected? Why does guilt present itself to us as though something is our fault?
My 20 year old struggles. School was stressful and he did not always have friends. He was emotionally behind his peers and he never wanted to go to college. Today, he is a young adult who is trying to find his way in the world. He is looking into options, but hasn’t figured it out yet.
My 16 year old is thriving. She is an overachiever extreme. So much that I have to remind her at times that it is perfectly okay with me if she makes a B once in a while. But that won’t work for her. She is determined to stay at the top of her class. And even with two more years of high school remaining, she knows what she wants.
Most days, I am proud of them both. They are becoming their own unique individuals. All days, I love them and always will. A lot of days, I struggle with the things that have gone wrong. I wonder what has been my fault. What I could have done to make it easier for them. Or better. Maybe I was not confident enough when they were little. Or I did not socialize them enough. Or maybe I wasn’t compassionate enough. Or I didn’t make them play outside a lot. Or do many chores. Or, worse yet, maybe it was because my marriage to their father wasn’t great. And ended in divorce.
I know there are a lot of moms out there who ask themselves questions like these too. But why? When I slow down to really think about things, I see that it takes more than an imperfect mom to shape a child. When my boy and my girl have been given equal opportunities for everything, they reacted differently. The results are different. I have to remind myself, it is not my fault. It’s not your fault either moms.
It is a culmination of things. Life is hard. We have to stop beating ourselves up over things that society tells us are inadequate. Who decides what is the best path for our kids to take? Why should we feel like bad moms if we don’t make our kids load themselves down with advanced classes? Why isn’t it okay if a child doesn’t have a lot of friends? Or doesn’t go to college? Or thrives from competition?
Something needs to change. Kids need to know that they have value even if they aren’t an academic overachiever. Even if they choose not to go to college. We need to realize that what works for one, does not always work for another. There needs to be a way for kids to get through high school without feelings of inferiority because they do not choose the “perfect way.”
We should stop feeling like something is wrong when it is just different. We should stop comparing our children to other children, siblings or not. And how can we blame school pressures for being at fault when some kids thrive with the opportunities they are given? We can’t. We can’t blame someone or something else when our kids do not fit the mold that society tries to put them in.
It’s up to us to know how our kids feel about things going on in their world. Let them talk to us. Listen and guide them in the direction that fits them. If they don’t know what to do after high school, offer options. But don’t make them feel like less when they don’t want to follow the majority.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all in life. I don’t have the answer to the ongoing problem of kids being too stressed out. But I do know this. It is our job as parents to pay attention to all of the details that are going on with our kids.
And don’t ask mom if she thinks it is her fault when something goes wrong. She already feels bad enough. And she is trying the best that she can.