Reflections By a Parent

May 13, 2016

The present cold and miserable weather reminds me of a “rule” enforced by my mother, one that causes me to struggle every spring. Last year, the struggle unfolded as I was getting ready for the May Show. I wanted to wear white shoes. My white shoes were more comfortable, and I think they would have looked best with the outfit I had selected. My mother however, objected.

My mother, who lived well into her eighties, passed away several years ago. Her advice, “rules,” and life lessons continue to live on in my memory. Some messages I have let go, some messages I treasure, and some messages continue to drive me crazy. Even though fashion designers and fashion editors world- wide have agreed that we no longer need to live by a “rule” dictating that white shoes should only be worn between Memorial and Labor Day, I could not wear white shoes to the May Show. My mother would never have approved. 

Parenting is a unique experience. Children grow and change. The world around us grows and changes.  Parents are supposed to have answers without knowing the questions. We are supposed to be firm when we want to cave. Enthusiasm is required. Patience is required. Perseverance is required. Sometimes we have all of the power, and sometimes we have none.

As a parent I have sometimes been frustrated that my role tends to be “all business.” My husband is spontaneous, and I’ll be honest, more fun than I am. When I look back, I realize this was true of my own childhood. My mother created the order and when there was an exception to the rule it was usually initiated by my father. As I grew older and became a parent myself, I could appreciate this balance.  Without routine and rules there can’t be spontaneity. A treat is only special if it’s out of the ordinary.   

When I announced to my parents that I was going to leave school and travel after my freshman year of college, it was my easygoing father who objected. His message was clear and concise. My plan to “take a break,” was not an option. It was vetoed without even being considered. I could travel all I wanted after I completed my education. I can still hear his words, “You can study whatever you want. But you will not leave school without a degree. Period. End of conversation.” Later, when we did have a conversation, he advised me to choose carefully and said, “If you enjoy your work, it won’t feel like work.” I did some soul searching, returned to school, and began working on my degree in Early Childhood Education. 

In a workshop I attended, Jeanine Fitzgerald remarked that parents today are burdened with a relatively new idea that our job is to make our children happy. This idea startled me. Why wouldn’t I want my children to be happy? She clarified by explaining her view: happiness is often achieved through working hard, overcoming frustration, solving problems, and learning how to manage disappointments. Her message was that the road to happiness is paved with ups and downs. Parents could consider the idea that the difficult moments we struggle through with our children in fact support their overall happiness just as much as the brighter moments of their days do. 

It is not hard to imagine that the day my father squashed my plan of taking “a break” was an unpleasant day for us. But I am now able to appreciate it as a step in the direction of happiness. Working with young children, teachers, and families has provided years of happiness. As my father predicted, I was also able to achieve my dream of traveling. Without my realizing it, through example my mother also taught me about happiness. From her, I learned the importance of taking a step back from time to time and appreciating things I could easily take for granted. Even on a difficult day, this ritual reminds me I have much to be happy about. 

As a parent I reflect on how much I learned from my parents. Most of these lessons weren’t clear at the time, nor were they appreciated. This realization inspires me to acknowledge parents this month.  Parents often express their appreciation and thanks to teachers. I would like to reverse the sentiment and send appreciation to the parents of LEAP. Parents are important teachers. The teachers of LEAP benefit every day from the lessons you teach your children. We appreciate your lessons of kindness, respect, and friendship. We appreciate the lessons of curiosity and wonder. We gain much happiness from the time we spend with your children. In closing, I wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms in our community, and looking ahead, a Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads. On behalf of all of us I say, “Thank You” to parents, for all that you do.