I was exactly the type-A, straight A student you think I was. If given a project I’d usually come home and get to work immediately, completing it within a day or two of being assigned. I’d stress and stew over it and make it perfect. Mine was almost always the outstanding project of the class.
I was unaware that other people don’t necessarily operate this way.
And then I became a mom.
My children are not of the get-it-done-right-away-with-your-very-best-effort mentality. They operate more like the just-slap-something-together-at-the-last-minute variety.
And as hard as this is to watch, we’ve decided as long as the homework is completed and turned in on time and their grades are decent, we let them own their own work. Which goes against my very nature!!
Parenting can be so hard!
Almost a month ago my fourth grader received an assignment to make a movie poster about a book he read this year. Include title, author, a picture depicting a scene, 5-7 sentences about the plot, a list of characters, and critic reviews. Make a plan! Make it eye-catching!
Sounds pretty easy, right? Fun even?
I could’ve completed this poster in one night. I wanted to dive right in!
But then I remembered the part about how I’m the mom, not the student.
I remembered the part about how we are trying to teach our boys responsibility and let their things be THEIR THINGS.
I casually dropped a few hints last weekend. Something like, “You’ve got a pretty busy week of sports coming up, you might want to get started on your project while you have the free time” or “Hey I happened to be at Michael’s so I picked up a couple pieces of posterboard for you” or “I’ve got my Cricut machine out…want me to cut any letters for your project?”
Finally on Friday after school he wrote a quick rough draft of the plot and characters. He started on the drawing but didn’t like it and crumpled it up. That’s as far as he got.
We were busy this Saturday with game after game and evening Mass. Sunday morning Dan took the boys skiing. And just as I predicted Sunday afternoon around 3PM…
“Eli, how’s your project coming?”
He was pretty crabby about it. This was NOT how he wanted to spend his Sunday afternoon…especially with football on TV and six inches of snow in the yard calling his name.
I steered clear. I practically had to go sit on my hands. I considered a piece of duct tape over my mouth.
He huffed and fussed and threw a few things around. You know that tactic, right? The mom-come-rescue-me-and-do-this-project-I’ve-been-putting-off-for-three-weeks sounds of a frustrated fourth grade boy?
He ended up with the most half-assed poster of all time! I was horrified! He literally glued on the scratch paper pieces and crumpled drawing from Friday and called it a day. He added a cartoon smiley face to the man in the picture…who is in a prison cell! There was only a small semblance of plot line minus the capitalization or punctuation. All written in sloppy pencil. He glued an ‘a’ in the title on backwards! He didn’t even include the author of the book, or his own name!
It was definitely not eye-catching!
In my most neutral voice I said, “Eli is this what you’re turning in? For a project you were assigned over three weeks ago? Is this really your best work? I think you can do better.”
“Mom, its fine.” Then he headed for the snow.
My head almost exploded.
I wanted to demand he start over. I wanted to say things like “This is unacceptable! You are going to make a good poster or you will not be playing video games or eating dessert or going out with your friends for the rest of your life!!”
But I keep hearing a similar theme in my millions of parenting books…
Something about how we are not responsible FOR our children’s choices. We are responsible TO them for things like food and clothing and shelter and an environment in which they can learn and grow and be themselves. We set an example. We give them safety and support and unconditional love. We make rules and impose consequences and allow for the natural consequences of the rest of the world. But there are some things we cannot, even if we scream and cry and fuss and demand and manipulate and control, MAKE them do.
I cannot MAKE my baby sleep through the night.
I cannot MAKE my preschooler poop in the toilet.
I cannot MAKE my fourth grader produce a poster consistent with his abilities, especially when he doesn’t really care and just wants to go play in the snow.
And I have to be willing to let them fail.
So I kept quiet. I decided to let his teacher determine the consequences of his lack of effort. I considered emailing her to tell her I’d fully support a D minus but decided that would also be intervening. So I moved on with my day.
Why is parenting so hard??
I paused at the window for a while and watched him playing in the snow with his little brother. They ran around and laughed and wrestled and threw snowballs and made a snowman. His ears were red and cheeks flushed under all those freckles and dimples and my heart absolutely filled up with pride.
This boy of mine.
He is smart and strong and witty and funny and walks through life with this quiet confidence, like he can just do ANYTHING. And he does. Everywhere he goes. He’s the kid who shines at any sport he plays. He’s the kid with straight A’s since kindergarten. He’s the one who makes a friend in any situation. He exudes joy!
So often I try to tell him how to do it or what I think or the way things need to go. And despite all my unnecessary meddling and suggestions (which he usually ignores) he is amazing anyway! They all are!
I should just be quiet more often. I should just get out of the way so they can all shine in their own way.
Sometimes I forget.
I forget that I’m not raising little robots or the world’s next elite race. I’m raising little humans. Humans who have their own quirks and different challenges and beautiful strengths. Humans who are trying to figure out the world and their place in it. Humans who are moving at their own pace. Humans who will try and fail and stumble and fall and learn and grow. Humans who are walking their own path that, for only a little while, intersects with mine. Humans who mostly just need parents who believe in them.
Parenting is so hard. I mess up so many parts.
That poster was truly awful but so small in the giant scheme of things.
I’m so grateful I kept my mouth shut and didn’t ruin our sunny, snowy Sunday.
I think an afternoon in the snow with his little brother was exactly what he really needed. And just what I needed too…an afternoon watching my little poster boy so full of life.
I stood there for the longest time just watching him shine!