I recently came across a meme on Facebook that struck at the heart of the parenting challenge I face with my three kids.
I can't describe it any better, so I'll just show it to you:
So much this.
I, at times, can be that double-talking parent who wants creative, independent kids who also do exactly what I say exactly when I say it.
Yet I have learned this truth as well: Most of the things I find frustrating and exhausting in parenting my children are the result of characteristics that will serve my children well in life.
I do want my children to grow up to be assertive, independent and strong-willed.
Being assertive will help my children stand up for themselves, and others, even when it's more convenient to stay quiet.
Being independent will help my children to make moral, difficult choices, even when the crowd goes another way.
Being strong-willed will help my children to fight through challenges in life, even when the urge to give up becomes overpowering.
Raising assertive and independent kids doesn't mean children "run" our house. We know that children aren't fully capable of making decisions for themselves, and that they need boundaries set by loving parents and caregivers in order to blossom. Hitting, screaming, breaking house rules—they're all never okay.
But all of that grey area? It's complicated. I want my children to be independent and capable, but sometimes I just want them to do what I say—and to do it quickly.
I want them to wear the adorable outfits that I buy them—and not choose to wear mismatched clothes—backwards.
I want them to play in a organized way—and not create messes we all have to clean up later.
I want them to listen to what I say the first time—and not make me repeat myself over and over again.
I want them to put their pants and shoes on and meet me at the front door—so we won't be late for school. Again.
But all of those wants? They're all about me.
Because when they're choosing their own outfits, they're confidently showcasing their unique personalities.
And when they're building robots out of 4,000 strips of duct tape and a tube of glitter (😱), they're igniting their minds in ways that will help them invent the future.
And when they're ignoring me because they're engrossed in a book or a project or a daydream, they're creating worlds of their own that will serve them well in life.
And when they refuse to be ready on time, as frustrating as it is, they're learning (sometimes the hard way) the consequences of making mistakes when their teacher gently corrects them and reminds them of the importance of being on time.
So this is what I now know: If I want to raise assertive, independent and strong-willed adults, I have to get used to confident, opinionated children.
Parenting this way can be exhausting. It often feels like herding cats. To some, it might even look like chaos. I mean, sometimes it feels like chaos.
But I also know that chaos is a friend of creativity.
And that messiness is a sign of playfulness.
And that strong opinions are proof of budding confidence.
And that beneath that stubbornness is an indomitable determination.
So instead of trying to control my kids, our schedules and our home, I'm learning to nurture and stand alongside them. I'm learning to find ways to coach and guide, instead of yell, punish and confront. I'm learning to embrace their unique points of view and, in fact, to cultivate them. I'm trying to let go of pre-conceived notions of how my kids "should" look or act or be, and gaze on them with eyes of wonder for the unique creations that they are.
We might look a little strange at preschool drop off. (#backwardspants)
We might be a little bit louder than your average family.
We might do things a little differently.
We might look like we're doing it the hard way—and sometimes it is. I don't always want to gather consensus from a bunch of blueberry-stained pipsqueaks.
But I know that if I want my kids to grow up to have minds of their own as adults, I have to embrace the minds they have now.
If I want them to be courageous, moral adults, I have to let them wrestle with hard choices now.
If I want them to succeed as adults, I have to let them fail now.
If I want them to ever learn to show up on time, I have to let them experience the consequences of being late now.
None of this is a guarantee of "success," of course. And that's okay too. But I'm working hard to journey alongside my kids and the ever-changing society they're inheriting.
Look out world, here they come.
If we can ever get there on time.