By: Dr. Lucie Pentz
A few summers ago my husband and I were vacationing outside of Bar Harbor, Maine. We took a nice, leisurely hike up Flying Mountain and were enamoured by the beauty of coastal Maine. Once we reached the summit, we found a comfortable spot to sit down and bask in the quietness that only nature can provide, that is until our little silent nature party was crashed. The peacefulness was suddenly disturbed by a loud conversation, though, to be honest, more like a monologue, specifically an apparently well-meaning mom giving a lecture to her two young children. Her intended audience seemed more interested in digging in the dirt than listening to her oration on the intricate structure of a centipede. The mom’s lesson went on and on and on. My husband leaned over and whispered into my ear, “She’s not talking to them (referring to her children); she’s doing that for our benefit.” I cracked up. He was probably right. As parents, we’re always trying to prove, defend, perform and convince. We think we’re on an invisible stage or trial. We are trying to prove that we are not just good enough parents, we are striving for perfection. We’ve all been there when fellow parents are overhearing our conversations, and we hope to sound appropriately parental, striking just the right balance between not being too much of a pushover but still validating our children’s feelings. We’ve all been there when our children are openly (and maybe proudly) misbehaving in the middle of the supermarket after we’ve given them a hundred of gentle reminders. Suddenly we find ourselves thrust under a gigantic spotlight with every shopper in the store (or so it feels) anticipating our next action. We’ve all been there when our child picks just the perfect time to ask us about a sleepover in front of his friends, and we have to decide in split seconds how to react. That’s what I call on stage parenting. It gets even worse. The actor and the critic are in one body. We are our own worst critics. In the world where good enough is no longer good enough, we have bought into the lie that perfection is attainable. I honestly don’t recall my parents losing sleep at night soul searching whether my math grade truly captured my mathematical potential or whether my play date with my little friends went according to parents’ expectations.
But on stage parenting requires lots of mental rehearsing, revisiting, stressing over and environmental engineering. In those moments of stressing, we all need an arm around us that will say, “Listen, you’re doing your best. It’s not like all of a sudden your child will morph into a monster. Trust the process. It will all work out. Sooner or later.” It’s not really about the individual moments, but rather the patterns and the trends of our children consistently bearing the good fruit of our parenting labors. Growing children is like growing a garden. Sure, it takes a lot of attention and care. But it also takes a lot of patience, acceptance that there are elements of the weather that we can’t control, and recognition that all our consistent care taking is going to pay off in the end. Just remember that sometimes it takes a few windy storms to strengthen the roots. We ultimately enjoy the rewards of what we’ve produced, and it doesn’t require winning a blue ribbon at the State Fair!