Parenting was always hard work.
Except, perhaps, in Betty Draper’s world, where you hired someone to cook, clean, and raise your kids while you mooned about in your house dress.
That Mad Men model of parenting never appealed to me, though. I like being involved–hearing what my kids are thinking, helping them solve problems, exploring the world together. I’m certainly not advocating for a hands-off experience. Still, when did parenting become so fraught with pressure and competition? When did my goal to raise happy, healthy children devolve into sheer panic that my children will never achieve their full potential because I failed to be the perfect parent. I admit:
a) I didn’t wait list my children for a competitive nursery school before they were born.
b) Those eighteen-dollar, über green metal sippy cups from Switzerland that I gave my toddlers contained bisphenol A.
c) I’m monolingual. Mostly.
e) I avoid PTA meetings like the plague.
f) The robotics workshops for 3rd graders were completely booked up before I figured out how to log onto the registration site.
What’s going on here?
Am I really stressing out that my kids’ summer day camp might not be academically rigorous enough? Do I really believe that a single parenting misstep will impede their potential progress forever?
Worst of all, I worry about their school. Why is that? The basics are completely covered, and my kids are doing well. They have amazing gardening, art, dance, and computer classes. They have science fairs, field trips, carnivals, committed teachers and parents. Yet, whenever I talk with parents of children at other schools, I feel my blood pressure start to rise. I get school envy. Your kid’s class has launched a website? They are learning Italian? They went on a field trip to China? I am driving myself crazy. I keep losing sight of what is important here. These are kids. They are learning. They are creative. They are happy and growing confident.
At the end of the day, isn’t it more important to teach them to think for themselves and enjoy life? Isn’t that a greater gift than a childhood resume cooked up by parents hell-bent on making sure their child has no leisure time whatsoever? Play is important, too. Extended periods of unstructured time formed the basis of my childhood, and those were the times that I could choose my direction of inquiry; I could develop as the author of my own creative world.
Last year, I was weirdly elated when I dropped my girls off at a camp I like to call: “Lord of the Flies.” It’s just a hundred kids running amok, loosely supervised by pre-teens sporting color-coded bandanas. Campers are singing inane and vaguely inappropriate songs, making endless lanyards, and building forts out of fallen branches.
I think it’s fabulous when children are immersed in another language, taken on a trip, introduced to science, opera, and history. We seek those opportunities and seize them when we can. But in the meantime, let’s not forget to take some time to play and enjoy each other’s company. Life is good.