Maybe I'm not the perfect mother. Maybe if I were perfect, I'd be successful at accomplishing all those goals that non-parents swear they will achieve post-parenthood (ie. perfect children, always clean, always well-mannered, spotless house). And although I've never done a survey, I am willing to bet that the majority of parents do fail in at least one small area. If you're my sister-in-law, that failing is somewhere along the lines of "well, we wanted to create a working solar system that rotated at a similar speed to the actual earth and operated off wind power generated from the windmill we created last weekend... but, alas, we couldn't get the speed proportionate to the size..."*, but if you're me, these failings tend to fall along larger lines-- "you mean I'm supposed to feed AND bathe my children daily? I thought it was either/ or... whoops..."
When it comes down to it, it takes a lot of energy and brain power to master a focus on all skills necessary in order to create exceptional children. It turns out, much to my shock, that kids aren't just born perfect. They are born with natural desires to take what they want, scream if they don't get it, and leave behind that which they want no more-- for some one else to clean up. Despite my husband's wishes, children are NOT innately clean and well-behaved. Or, at least, mine aren't.
So, taking a page from the management book, I decided to draw up a list of goals for my children, including a SWOT analysis and strategic implementation design. And then, realizing that attempting to fix all problems simultaneously would make life miserable, I prioritized.
Now, prioritizing is easy, to some extent, when you can rely on a few things happening automatically. For example, despite my prior post, I have a relatively strong amount of confidence in the public school education here in Howard County-- so basic educational skills are taking care of and out of my hands. (ie. If I read to them nightly, that's only a plus on top of what they are already receiving. If I am too tired to read one night, they will still know algebra by the time they graduate from High School.)
So I really had to determine what was the most important skill to teach my children- the one area in which I absolutely did NOT want to fail as a parent. Initially I thought it would be good parenting/ marriage skills to include my husband in this project, but when, without even thinking about it, he said "CLEANING", I decided his opinion wasn't worth that much, and went ahead with my own theorizing.
Education is fundamental, but it's not an option in my family; so regardless of whether or not I succeed at teaching them "the importance of education", they are all going to college. Cleanliness and taking care of self and pride in belongings-- also important-- but is it the MOST important? (At this point in my musings I had to consciously ignore my husband screaming "YES< YES< YES< YES< YES" in my ear.) And I ultimately came to the determination that Compassion was the most important thing to teach my children. What I've discovered since then, however, is not that easy to teach.
Now, I've been told that I have sweet children-- something I directly attribute (for no real reason) to breastfeeding beyond the socially accepted time frame and my abhorrence for strollers and baby carriers, preferring instead to carry my children and look with pity on those poor toddlers sitting complacently (and unhugged) in their rolling 'ignore-mobiles'. (Are you picturing the hippy-mom from the movie "Away We Go"? "Why would you want to push your children away from you?" Yup, that's me.)
But sweet children are not the same as compassionate children. And that is my goal. After trying to enforce compassion in my children-- You WILL be nice to your brother, or else-- bribe it out of them-- I'll pay you to go read to Mrs. Patel for 10 minutes-- or demonstrate it to them-- see Mommy writing this big check to charity? (ok, not so big... but...), I've come to believe that a natural empathy with or sympathy for another person is something that is simply ingrained in some children and not in others. I'm not saying that everyone can't be charitable. That's just an action. But I think there is a huge chasm between "doing the compassionate deed" and "being compassionate", and I'm not sure how to (or if I can) force my children to cross it. And a part of me believes that it's not possible to truly have compassion for others until you can understand loss, pain, fear, absence-- something with which, gratefully, my children have no experience.
So, taking the approach that setting an example is the only way to encourage these actions now and true concern for others down the road, I continued to give a few dollars to the 195 exit couple and the Shell Station Santa Claus each time I saw them. I was careful to overemphasis my thank yous and pleases, and I took the children with me to visit my elderly neighbors, being sure to acknowledge and praise when they took the initiative to do something kind for someone else; and I continually preached "care for everything-- no matter how big or how small. Everyone and everything deserves compassion."
And then it all went out the window. We got a new pet. Our pets, I should say. Many, many, many squeaky, little pets (although I've only seen one, the signs speak to many more.) And all my "Care for other things. Be gentle. Be kind." talk went flying out the window with one of the dead pets as I gleefully jumped up and down screaming "I got one! I got one! YOU'RE DEAD, YOU BLOODY MOUSE! AND I'M GOING TO KILL YOUR MOMMY, YOUR WIFE, AND YOUR LITTLE BABIES TOO!!!!"
My children stared at me. Open-mouthed. Afraid to move. Afraid to speak. And then Kayton, with a tear in her eye, squeaked out "But, Mommy, you said we had to be nice to EVERYTHING!" I put down the broom I was swinging (a near miss to Mason's head), put my arms around my eldest child, and told her with all the compassion I could muster, "Honey, I love that you care so much for little animals. That's just wonderful. But you don't understand.... some things just need to be killed."
Unless, of course, she improves dramatically on her Recorder and can Pied Piper these things out of here.
*I am always extremely impressed with the sheer skill my sister-in-law (and her children and husband) have when it comes to projects. I envy her intelligence and ability (and patience).