Giving Ourselves a Break

Accepting and embracing who we are as parents

By Teacher Autumn

I used to be addicted to parenting workshops and classes and lectures. And every time I went to one, I came home with renewed confidence and determination to be the Best Parent Ever. I planned to adopt the new strategies I discovered at the aforementioned events and prepared to be amazed at my newfound effectiveness as a parent.

After a few weeks, days, or in some cases, hours, my enthusiasm always began to wane. I quickly tired of being so present, so engaged, so responsive. Effective parenting was exhausting! I desperately wanted to curl up in a pile of blankets and eat cheesy popcorn while watching reruns of The Office on my laptop, with a Do Not Disturb sign hung on my bedroom door.

When my son, Justin, was in kindergarten, I remember listening to a particularly inspiring lecture on raising a resilient child. According to the speaker, we should let our children suffer more. We should welcome opportunities that require them to struggle, flounder, and fail. And we should never do anything for a child that he or she could do for themselves.

I remember coming home that evening with renewed vigor. I excitedly reported to my partner all of the strategies I could not wait to use. I was going to raise the most resilient child the world had ever seen! He nodded and smiled and then changed the subject and started talking about how great it is that I also know how to be balanced and moderate.

He overestimated me.

The next afternoon, my son asked me to make him a snack after school.  “Make it yourself,” I replied and continued folding laundry.

He later yelled for a towel while in the bathtub. “Get it yourself!” I hollered from the sofa while watching funny You Tube videos of cats climbing into vases.

“Mom, can you sign my permission slip?” He handed me a form one morning after breakfast.

“Sign it yourself,” I replied with a mouth full of toast.

Wait. Maybe I was taking this a bit too far….

I realized then that there was probably a middle ground between having my son raise himself and treating him like an invalid. And that maybe the next workshop I needed to look into was one about how to Give Up on Getting It Right. 

So, since that time, I have done my best to be mindful of two things; the first is giving him space and the second is giving myself a break. I’ve tried to give him space to make mistakes, figure things out, and offer up opportunities for him to step outside of his comfort zone. I’ve also tried to go easier on myself, to recognize that there is no perfect way to parent, no “right” way to do it all, and to even give myself permission to completely screw up along the way. And then, when I do, to dust myself off, apologize when necessary, and try again. This way, I am modeling for him that it’s okay to make mistakes, that we don’t have to let them define us or incapacitate us. So it kind of feels like even when I fail, I win!

I know now that even if my very specific and premeditated attempts to cultivate resilience in my son fall short, I am raising a strong kid. After all, having a mom who attends too many parenting workshops means that he is learning how to roll with the punches.