Walking through the woods with a friend on a recent spring afternoon, I lamented the lack of progress my son has made on the organizational front. Like many tweens, his frontal lobe is barely half-baked, and his ability to master the demands of middle school lags behind his teachers’ expectations. Despite strategy sessions and elaborately-laid plans, his backpack and locker continue to function as, in his words, “a Tardis gone wrong” for all things essential and time-sensitive.
My friend listened, made some supportive, empathetic noises, and then reminded me of how far he has come over the span of years rather than days. Her lovely point flitted past, well over my head, as I trudged through the muck and mire of my self-pity.
Later on that day, when I was done feeling sorry for myself, I realized that, of course, she was right. He has made progress; maybe not as compared with yesterday, or the week before, but in the long view.
Parents tend to ignore the long view as we race along in our listicle-driven lives, fueled by the promise of “Five Steps to Tantrum-Free” and “Thirty Days to a Happy Kid.” Those timelines and linear progressions mean nothing to the toddler mid-tantrum or the tween mid-sulk. Tempting as the shortcuts may be, they are mere sideshow attractions and distractions from the real work of raising our children. Parenting is, after all, a long-haul job.
I have no problem keeping this perspective at work, when it applies to the education, care and feeding of other people’s children. As a teacher, I am practiced in the art of the long view, in measuring the cumulative skills and knowledge that constitute an education over days and months and years, even as they wander off course, fall behind, and have to sprint to catch up.
When I call a parent at home with bad news, or deliver a worrisome progress report, the long view is often the best hope I can offer. Fear can cause a parent’s perspective to shrink to an anxiety-dense singularity, but a glimpse of the long view can bring just about any parent back from that point of no return. I promise them: given time, space and distance from this moment, your child will be fine.
I don’t blame parents when this happens, because I know that even seasoned parenting and child development professionals lose perspective when chaos strikes at home.
Dr. Laurence Steinberg, father and adolescence expert, offered me reassuring professional advice in one breath (“All parents go through rough patches with their kids, but sometimes the best thing to do is to take a deep breath and remind yourself that this too shall pass”) but admitted in the next that he has failed to maintain any sense of perspective when it comes to his own children (“Our son went through a period where he was inconsolable; I thought I’d lose my mind”).
Jennifer Senior, mother and author of “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood,” answered my emailed plea for perspective with: “One of the most problematic aspects of modern parenthood, I think, is that we believe — falsely — that we have more control than we do. But what if the answer is simply time? Patience? The child who worried you 10 seconds ago will dazzle you 20 minutes later. Imagine that logic applied to the whole arc of a life.”
Finally, I turned to Launa Schweizer, one of the wisest educators and parents I know. Because she has taught her middle school students since elementary school, and has raised two magnificent teenage daughters, she is my Jedi Master of the long view, the friend I turn to when I’m bedeviled by the details. I asked her to Jedi mind-trick me back to sanity, to re-acquaint me with the virtues of time and patience. She sent me the following paragraph:
The boy who loved subways who becomes a theater tech whiz. The quiet girl who started learning English in fifth grade and goes on to win the science award. This year’s graduating seniors, kids I met 10 years ago when they were 7 and 8 years old, now heading off to become artists and engineers.
And just when I was writing back with the news that I was nominating her for sainthood, she copped to the following in a subsequent email: “But just this morning, my husband and I had a full-on screaming fight with my daughter over a bra strap and combat boots. I completely lost sight of the long game: her growth, and how little this moment would matter. Luckily, our mistakes, like theirs, come out in the wash.”
Children don’t take a direct path to adulthood; they wander. They are less concerned with our elaborate timelines and checklists than the fairy houses and climbing trees they spot along the side of the road. This June, as we race from concert to tournament to parent-teacher conference, get reacquainted with your rear-view mirror and look behind you for a moment. I promise: that grumpy, disorganized tween in the back seat, texting about her horrid, nagging mother and a C in Algebra, is going to be just fine.
Source: Free News Headlines World Motherlode Blog: Parenting, Not for the Moment, But for the Long Haul | Credit Jessica Lahey