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Day 92: Not My Sport

I’ve been listening to The Parenting Junkie Show (podcast) for over a year now. There have been a lot of good topics and episodes, but my favourite by far was Avital’s comparison of parents to olympic athletes.

Her point was that nobody expects an elite athlete to be good at every sport. Of course all athletes are physically fit, but nobody criticizes a sprinter for being bad at swimming, and no skier spends time frantically trying to get better at bobsledding. Every elite athlete focuses on one event.

Parents, on the other hand (myself included here), feel like to be good (or amazing) parents we have to be good at all the things parents are supposed to do. It doesn’t feel like enough to be amazing at planning travel and outings with the kids; We also need to be able to plan birthday parties, do crafts, help with algebra homework, instil discipline, enforce bedtimes, discover and nurture the children’s talents, and foster social skills. Oh, and get a nutritious dinner on the table (and into their tummies.)

Anyhow, Avital pointed out that as parents, it’s okay to have a specialty. I tried to get my head around this philosophy (I don’t have to be good at everything? But I’m the parent! I do have to be good at everything because it all falls to me!) but as much as I’ve tried, I can’t help feeling like a failure when I bump up against one of my weak spots.

Last night I jokingly told Mr. December that I’m considering having a fifth child just so I can feel competent again for a couple of years. You see, I’m really good with babies and toddlers. I get them. I can handle the crying, the constant holding and rocking and shushing, the diapers, the feeding, the spontaneity and the need for flexibility. I understand what they need, and I love providing it. I don’t know if I’d call myself an elite athlete in the baby event, but I’m pretty darn close.

Then those babies grow up and go to school, and it’s not my sport anymore. I mean, I’m not a delinquent by any means, but the school years seem to require so much more organization and consistency, which are two of my weakest areas. I can create systems and organize supplies beautifully, but enforcing the systems consistently? Nope. Not a snowball’s chance in hell.

Do you know why my kids’ school agendas were never signed? Because I only remembered to ask for them once a week at best. Yes, they should be responsible enough to remember to get them signed in the first place, but my point is that I couldn’t consistently reinforce that at home. When my kids were at Montessori they used to bring home a portfolio of their work every Friday, to be returned empty on Monday. After a few months the teachers started giving my kids their homework in a paper envelope; they’d figured out that those plastic folders weren’t coming back. For reasons unfathomable to me, I just couldn’t return them.

All of this to say that these days I’m constantly feeling like I’m failing, or like I should do better or be better, and I suspect it’s probably as frustrating as a swimmer being told she has to pivot and become a distance runner. I could do it, but where all the other marathoners were running, I’d be walking (and then limping) to the finish. And yet these things need to be done, and by and large I’m the one who needs to do them. I have to teach these kids consistency and discipline even though my own is sorely lacking. It doesn’t help that Mr. December is nothing if not organized and disciplined. I look pretty darned incompetent in comparison.

But we’re not supposed to compare ourselves to other parents, right? We’re supposed to have our own events and focus on our strengths. And yet… it’s lovely that I can design a house, build furniture, sew quilts, navigate all sorts of medical issues with aplomb, comfort most crying infants in mere seconds, lead singalongs, plan a fabulous road trip, and read stories with all the funny voices; still, the truth is that right now (for the past three months if not more) none of those skills are in demand. So what’s a mom to do?

2 thoughts on “Day 92: Not My Sport

  1. Sarah, this is so well written and gets exactly to the heart of what many parents feel. Reading it makes others feel not alone in these feelings, because we all (or most of us) have the same feelings of incompetence because of our desire to be competent at everything.

    Perhaps it is our era of the internet where we are overwhelmed with the number of parenting blogs and tips from parents who seem to have everything perfected, and websites with milestones and tips for success from so many sources that make it seem if we’re not tracking then we’re not good parents.

    I also think it’s important to note that for all of history, parents have raised children as a community. Extended family, neighbors, friends would all help a parent raise a child, and even parents would help raise each other’s children. But today we are so insulated we don’t do that, and so we dont get the benefit of other people’s expertise in areas where we aren’t the olympic level parent. So we try to be it all. I read your piece today and wanted to reach out and say “Let’s help each other! I stink at the baby phase and I’m scared to do it again. But I rock at the organization, logistics, and reinforcement skills, and love the school aged years. Let’s move in next door to each other and trade!”

    Our society used to help each other. Perhaps we can find one or two like minded parents who want to get back to that.

  2. No one is perfect all the time at everything. It is a gift to our children to demonstrate this and talk about it. Share the loads. And, being honest to our peers about all of this is so helpful and normalizing and wonderful.
    THANK YOU.

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