One of my favorite phrases is “by small and simple means are great things brought to pass.” I find great comfort in that, because I feel small and simple much more often than I feel great and powerful. There are days when even small and simple is a stretch. Miniscule and fragile would be closer. But I’ve finally begun to learn to recognize and appreciate small things that go right, especially when everything else is going wrong.
Last night I had the opportunity to spend some time with kids that I love that weren’t mine. These three children are special to me, because the oldest was in my very first preschool class, the middle is currently in my preschool, and the youngest will be someday. I’ve spent time helping them and teaching them in my home, so it was fun for me to spend time playing with them in theirs. Their mom is a good friend of mine and one of my favorite mothers, and I know it’s especially hard for her to leave her kids with other people. I wanted to share some thoughts with her and with all mothers about how last night went.
Our small children are the biggest things in our world. They take up the most space in our minds and hearts because they need us the most. Whether you’re a stay at home dad or mom, these little lives we’ve been given charge of fill our thoughts and prey on our fears and we can’t imagine life without them. That’s good. That’s healthy. We’re hardwired to care that much about our kids by evolution and design. But it’s a fine line we have to walk between nurturing our kids for them and nurturing them for us.
Last night we read books, played hide and seek, sorted toys by shape, then color, then size, and had lots of cuddles and hugs. I’m not mommy or daddy to them, and that was a good thing. Our kids need time away from us with people we trust. It gives them more confidence in themselves and in the world around them, because it broadens their experiences and teaches them that yes, sometimes mom and dad leave, but then they come back. That base level of confidence does wonders for their self esteem- look at all the fun I had on my own! I can have fun on my own and be safe!- and increases their appreciation for you. I missed you mommy and daddy, I’m so glad you’re back. And I’m learning that you always come back.
It’s good for you, too. You spent decades as your own person, learning about yourself and developing talents and tastes. Then you met, dated, and fell in love with a person who was also a complete individual. It’s easy to get caught up in the role of mommy and daddy, or in your role as worker at your job whatever your title there may be. Don’t let yourself get so immersed in that title of “parent” or “employee” that you lose “me,” that person you spent all those decades developing. The small and simple thing you need to remember is to take time to be you. Take time to be with that person you fell in love with and give yourself permission to be the person they fell in love with. That person was and is you. Not mommy/daddy, not co-worker, just you.
Because you doesn’t want to be forgotten. Your children are made up of you and your spouse, whether biologically or by culture and love, and they deserve to know you. Your spouse wants to spend time with the person they love. And sometimes you need to step away from every other role, including the one as spouse, and be you.
To all parents, I hereby order you and grant you permission to STOP FEELING GUILTY. If you feel guilty, that means you care. Good! Well done! Now knock it off and recognize that you’re doing your best. Call your best friend or an adult you trust and get them to watch your kids for a few hours. Then call another friend and make plans to go to lunch, go shopping, go see that movie you thought looked good, buy a new outfit, look for shoes, go paintballing, go rock climbing, get out in the world and do something that interests you as a person. You will be a better parent for getting away from parenting once in a while.
And your kids will be happier, more confident, and more well adjusted for surviving without you sometimes. Sometimes your kids have unusual issues or health problems. I know several children with speech impediments, slower development, or other handicaps. It’s harder to leave these, both logistically and emotionally. That’s good. It should be harder. Again, that means you care about your children and you’re doing it right. But you need the break more. Your child needs and deserves your patience and understanding, but these virtues aren’t limitless and need time to recharge and reset. Even if the best you can do is go out and leave them with your spouse, do it. You need the break.
Or find a responsible teenager, preferably an older teenager, and pay them to babysit while you are there. Train them. Let your child grow comfortable with them while you’re still there to supervise. Then get out of the house for a half hour. Go for a walk. Run to the store. And come back. You were close, the time was short, and everything is fine. Next time leave for an hour. There will be challenges and hiccups, but remember that this is something good for them and good for you, both while you’re separated and once you get back.
I know I’m going over to that house to sit again in a few months. The second time will be a little harder, because the novelty will be gone and the tension will be slightly higher. The second time is always like that. The second week of teaching is the hardest. The second day of working out is the hardest. The second time is harder because you’ve done it once and it was fine, great, even fun, and so you’re expecting that same newness and excitement again but it’s just the same. Know that going in. And because I know that, I know how to combat it when I go back. I’ll bring some new games from my house. I’ll bring new kids music for us to dance and learn along with. And my good friend who is a great mom gets a break. And after her kids go to bed, I get time to write! Wins all around.
I mentioned the book “Outliers” in my last post (I think I’m going to skip blogging on Wednesdays pretty consistently, that worked well for me). I’m going to mention it again. In the book the author, Malcolm Gladwell, postulated that people who are successful at something are the ones who are given the best opportunity for success at the beginning. His first example is about hockey players. He was watching a jr league finals game and looking through the program. He noted that most of the players on both teams had birthdays in the first half of the year. Now Gladwell knew that where he lived, hockey leagues were determined by year of birth and the kids started playing the year they turn five.
The kids who turned five in January were playing against kids who turned five in December. Who do you think was better at it? Those who were better, bigger, and faster were given more attention by the coaches. Parents saw their child being better and more coordinated than the children they played against gave their child more time on the rink and more support in the game. Those kids got more practice time and parents paid for better equipment. They were more likely to stick with it. And they were the kids who were chosen to participate in these all star teams.
Were those January babies actually more coordinated than their December peers? Yes. By 11 months. Were they naturally more talented? Likely not. But because of the way the hockey system was set up, it was weighted in heavy favor of older, larger kids.
What about school? The criteria is largely the same- eligibility is determined by birth date. Once in school, kids are expected to interact with other children of various ages and backgrounds and follow directions by people who aren’t their parents. Not just their classroom teacher, but PE coaches, librarians, computer lab teachers, lunch ladies, principals, and other school staff. Now you can do nothing about your child’s birth date, but you can do everything about their readiness for school.
Last year I had a girl in my preschool whose parents decided she wasn’t ready for kindergarten, even though she was old enough. After meeting her, I agreed with their assessment. Socially she was awesome; friendly, outgoing, and kind. Intellectually she was great too, already knowing her letters and sounds and being able to write her name. But she had a difficult time with self control. Sitting down and being quiet were especially hard. In kindergarten she would have been an issue for the teacher, who would have twenty other students to worry about and teach. In preschool, she was just like all the others, learning to sit down and hold still.
What is the downside of waiting? Your child will be older than the other students and will be more physically and emotionally prepared. So they will receive more attention and more opportunities from their teacher. Not a bad thing. They will be able to make friends more easily than some of the others. Again, bonus. There may be an underlying assumption of the “held back” stigma- they weren’t smart enough or had problems- but by being older, more coordinated, and being given more and better opportunities for education, those silent assumptions will vanish. Let them start school when it will give them the best opportunity to shine, not just because they’ve passed an arbitrary deadline.
Life is harder than I expected. I never assumed it would be easy or simple, but I did expect that there would be peaks and valleys, times of plenty and times of hardship. Instead it seems that those always happen- there are always good things and bad things going on and the trick is to focus on the good while fixing the bad. I’m not capable of that all the time yet, but I’m learning how to cope. My health issues are measured by “how bad is today,” and the goal is to get me back to a semblance of normal. I don’t get to be “better,” I fight for “good enough.” But small happinesses abound, and even if I have 3 huge things wrong in a day I’ll have twenty little good ones. Some days those little good things are the preschool kids. Some days less so.
Your children are the small and simple things in your life that will bring great things. It’s your job as a parent to make sure they have the best chance at success in life and success, remember, doesn’t mean money. It means happiness. Your children will be happier if you are happier. Take a break and be yourself. Give them the chance to grow on their own. Trust your children and rely on the people around you to help. We’re not in this alone, and you are never only one thing.
In your life, you are everything. Including the hero. Give yourself the chance to win, and the permission to take the time you need to be the best person you can be. I’m rooting for you.