When I was in middle school, I made a promise to myself to never forget what it felt like to be a kid. I remember adults telling me that how I was feeling and what I thought wasn’t important. They said it would all pass. They said one day I’d learn that all this “middle school stuff” wouldn’t matter in the bigger picture of my life. I swore at that early age that I would do things differently than my parents.
Because it did matter. It mattered a lot to me. It felt like everything, not “nothing”. And those experiences still impact my life in big and small ways. That promise I made to myself has stuck with me and has inspired me to try new ways of parenting in an attempt to be a different kind of adult.
It’s been many years since I was in middle school. I’ve traveled a long journey, raising two of my own children through their experiences of the middle school years. I didn’t have any mentors or positive examples to follow in my search to “do it differently” with them, but I kept my promise. I didn’t forget what it was like to be a kid. That promise evolved from a promise to myself to a promise to my own children. Everyday I try my best to trust them and their feelings and I allow that to guide me as a parent.
After 22 years of parenting I can honestly say that I have a great relationship with my kids. I can even say I enjoy my kids company. But for so many American families, the positive feelings of dreaming for children seem to get lost after birth, leaving parents feeling burdened by their offspring. Most parents I meet ask me how to fix their kids, how to get time away from them, or how to eliminate undesirable behaviors.
Why is it that the majority of parenting stories seem to focus on lack of sleep, crying, constant neediness, all day whining, SO. MUCH. STRESS, or the search for good child care? Of course, we tell the stories of how proud we are of good grades, sports accomplishments and “advanced” achievements. But this is always quickly followed by the disappointment of the lazy-not-trying-hard-enough-teen, the won’t-go-to-bed-toddler, the clingy-preschooler, the picky-eater, the won’t-sit-still-long-enough-to-bring-out-in-public-wild-child.
When will we stop being ashamed of our kids because they’re kids? What would it be like if instead we stepped out of the way enough to see who our children are striving to be? How would life in a family feel if we let go of control enough to create the space needed for everyone to feel valued? What would it look like if we lived in a community that encouraged kids to be seen and heard? Imagine a generation of kids who teach and inspire us.
That’s what I strive to do. I learn from my kids every day; they inspire me to be a better person. How do I do this you may ask? Well, it is a work in progress. There is no one answer. There is not a map. It started with a simple promise to never forget and has evolved into an everyday learning adventure of trust. When I set out to do things differently I wasn’t sure what exactly I would do, but at the very least I knew I didn’t want to leave my kids feeling misunderstood, undervalued, or scared to share their feelings and their truth.
I’ve tried a lot of things over the years and haven’t been successful at doing everything differently. I’m finding the things I value about the way I was raised, and leaving the rest. I’ve searched the internet, read many books, taken many classes, seen therapist and healers, taken my kids to doctors and naturopaths, all, again, to take what worked for me and my kids and leave the rest. And over time, with trust and allowing, a beautiful relationship has unfolded. My children are now young adults who are, very honestly, my favorite people on earth.