Along with the chocolates, flowers and – wait, NOTHING FOR ME BECAUSE ALL MY BOYS DID NOT DO ANYTHING (insert sheepish apology from Husband here), Mother’s Day came and went with dozens of viral blogs and videos. They ranged from extolling motherhood as the hardest “job” in the world to lamenting the emphasis of mothering as the climax of being a woman.
Being a pretty vocal stay-at-home mom, I was tagged/forwarded/whatsapped many of these blogs which I so appreciated. This is a big part of who I am right now. I don’t get paid to do it, but I don’t get paid to do any other work either and so yes, it really does feel like mothering is my job. I do it all day while other grownups go to work.
But here is something I read in an awesome book by Gordon Neufeld few years ago, and its stayed with me despite all the mothering=job rhetoric.
PARENTING IS NOT A PROFESSION.
If only there was some amazing set of skills that would guarantee that your little munchkins turn out to be well-adjusted, vegetable-loving, human beings. Just when you have the little person in your life figured out, they go and change their strategy and you’re back to square one. I mean, you have to go through more training to serve cappuccino’s at Vida than you do to reproduce offspring.
But the truth remains.
Parenting is not a profession.
It’s a relationship.
Relationships are hard. Relationships are complicated. Relationships are something we can learn about, and improve, and grow more mature in. But relationships happen between people, not projects.
I honestly have to remind myself often that my kids are people. Maybe its because they both still poo in nappies and knock their heads on stuff a lot that I forget it, but these tiny little humans are people, not projects. I can’t get them right. I can’t make them work. And I’m not going to get marked on how well they turn out, because, well – I just don’t have that much control. Because they are people, not projects.
As far as parents go, I’m still pretty structured and disciplined with my kids. I told my friend this morning that if someone says I’m being “old-fashioned”, I’ll take it as a cue that I’m on the right track. So I’m not saying treat your children like mature, independent adults with fully developed brains. The pooping and head-bashing are pretty good indicators that they are not. But these two phrases – parenting is not a profession, and children are people, not projects – are helping me keep perspective.
Here are two practices that put these ideas into action.
1. Don’t make efficiency your priority.
“Wow, that was such a pleasantly efficient date with my husband!” said no one ever.
No one – not even a child – likes to be treated like they are part of a production line. By all means, make the To Do list happen. But in terms of how you speak, listen or play with your kids – don’t make efficiency your priority. Slow down, look them in the eye, and listen to what they are talking about. Its so hard to do this – especially when there’s so much to do and so little time. But chances are, when you slow down and notice whatever it is thats distracting them – they’ll probably get in the car quicker anyway.
2. Collect your child.
Have you ever noticed that when you’ve been away from your child – daycare, school or even a playdate – when you first see them they ignore you? So annoying. So frustrating. Especially when you just need them to HURRY UP. This shutdown-ignore strategy is apparently a normal response to separation for kids – kind of an unconscious punishment for leaving them. And professionals say the best way to respond is to “collect” your child emotionally. The goal of “collecting” is to make eye contact, have a connection, a laugh or a dialogue or something where they feel like you’re on their page. Don’t let them push you away. Keep working for that moment. It might mean turning off the radio on the drive home, or playing peek-a-boo with your toddler when you walk in the door. When Tom gets home, the four of us take a 15 minute walk around the block together. The best part is, the consequence of “collecting” is that they respond better to your”directing”. When you make relationship a priority, the work that needs to happen- happens easier.
I’m a firm believer in understanding how people work, how they think and why they behave certain ways. There is so much that can help us do relationships better – so this is not some kind of abdication of being intentional or strategic in how we parent.
But no matter how “good” we are at what we do…
Our children are people, not projects.
Parenting is not a profession, its a relationship.
And thank God for that.