When you grow up, what would you like to be?
A mother or a father with a fine family?
You could fly to the moon,
Or perhaps to a star,
Or simply be loved for whatever you are.
When you grow up, what would you like to do?
Have all the things good fortune brings, when wishes come true?
You could win worldwide fame,
Or perhaps be a star
Or simply be loved for whoever you are.
Willard A. Palmer.
I was sitting with Sammy a few days ago as he did his piano practice, and sometimes I like to sing along the lyrics to the melody my boys are playing. I must add, they do not like me doing this. At. All. But hey, that’s what comes of having a mummy who used to do theatre for a living. Tough luck. Yer stuck with me boys.
Actually Peter says he likes having an unconventional mum who is slightly bonkers, and breaks into song at any given opportunity – I feel his enthusiasm might waiver in the next year or two as we approach the tweenage years…
Anyway I do have a point, which I will get to shortly…
So I’m sitting with Sammy as he plays the melody and I start singing along the lyrics. Typically, at this point, he elbows me in the ribs a couple of times and gives me the usual “Mum you’re putting me off” at which point I usually hit an off key vocal top ‘c’ for maximum effect and leave him to it, but this time he didn’t. This time he said
“Mummy, listen to the words…”
So I did. And when he’d finished playing, and I’d finished singing, we sat.
According to his website, Dr Willard A Palmer was something of a musical virtuoso. He was respected and revered worldwide for his accomplishments both as a pianist, accordionist and composer during the 1950’s and 60’s.
I suspect the above song was not one of the pieces, which gave him worldwide acclaim. But as far as Sammy and I are concerned, this is the song which should clearly have established him as one of life’s genius’
To simply be loved for whoever you are.
Is this not the bottom line?
Is this not the simplest truth?
Our simplest truth?
Our simplest yearning?
We live in a world driven by the pursuit of success and acclaim, where busy-ness and exhaustion have become some kind of status symbol to aspire to.
We measure a persons worth by how much they have, how much they achieve, whether their name is up in lights, how many followers they have on-line, or how big their salary cheque is.
We are a world of striving, competitive, over worked, under nourished, stressed out, adults.
But worse still,
We are a world of striving, competitive, over worked, under nourished, stressed out, parents.
In my 11 years on this Kamikazi road trip called parenting, I have not met a parent yet who looks upon their role and says,
‘Parenting? What’s the big deal? Its no biggy…walk in the park… yeh, I’ve totally got it nailed…”
For most of us, parenting feels something like this.
I am walking a high wire, with absolutely no safety net underneath. I am holding my breath. I am terrified of losing my balance. I am petrified of missing my footing, and I feel completely alone.
It ain’t for sissy’s.
But I do wonder, if we could all just clear some space… take a step back… stop… look…listen… re-evaluate… Breath…what would we change?
Is parenting from a place of fear, judgement and loneliness really the best we can offer our kids?
Next school year peter makes the transition to secondary school. He will lose a large percentage of his year group, because here in Malawi, traditionally there is a trend for sending kids to boarding school in South Africa at 11.
Parents want their kids to be in a more competitive environment, in schools where academics soar and competitive sports programs build competitive high acheivers. They want to provide their kids with the highest scores possible, to give them the best prospects possible.
Competition = high achievers = success.
Many of the kids thrive in this environment, and I am not here to criticize, the truth is I have no experience of this type of schooling, and therefore have no right to an opinion, other than that I think it’s a shame Peter will lose so many class mates.
I too believe in a healthy amount of competition.
But I do worry about the messages we are sending our kids.
Competition = high achievers = success = what exactly?
Our approval? Our love?
Undoubtably, it is easier for me to have these conversations from Malawi. I am not living day by day in a highly competitive society.
My kids play football, rugby, are on swim team, take drama, and ballet, write for the school newspaper, play piano and guitar. They do lots. And its all for fun.
And I am aware that my children will make the natural transition into secondary school without the pressure of SATS or 11 plus exams. I don’t have to worry about them making the grade and being allocated a space in the ‘right’ school. In September Peter will simply cross the campus to another part of the same facility, and there are no decisions to make. There is no choice.
But I do know what it like to parent a child who is considered to have great potential. I am not sure what exactly the term ‘gifted’ means, and to be honest I am not keen on the label, which I think is an unhelpful choice of word, but I do know what it means to parent a child who, apparently, has an unusual capacity for learning. I do understand how much of a responsibility that feels, and I do understand what it is to wrestle with ‘are we doing the best we can for our child?’
And I do know what it is to parent a 10 year old who is defining himself on getting straight A’s.
So here are the questions that Bails and I ask ourselves on a regular basis.
- Are our children happy?
- Are our children learning in a positive environment, and therefore developing a love of learning?
- Are our children empathic and do they have humility. Are they learning compassion for others?
- Are our children learning to take risks, and developing resilience?
- Are our children learning that everyone is different. That everyone has a special super power, and are they learning to embrace those differences and gifts in others?
- Are our children playing and creating enough?
- Do we feel connected to each of our children, or do we need to clear more space in the diary to enable this?
And most importantly; and here comes that bottom line,
- Are our children fully aware that they are loved for who they are, and not what they achieve?
Do our children know that they are enough, for simply being who they are?
Do we, their parents, know that we are enough, simply for who we are?
Ask yourself that again.
Do, We their parents know that we are enough, simply for who we are?
Or are we just grown up versions of our little ones, hustling for worthiness In a world that tells us that our happiness lies in achievement, success and acclaim…
Are we actually modeling what we want our children to know?
Or are we so busy ‘pushing’ ourselves; ‘pushing’ our kids, to be the best, terrified that they won’t make the grade, make the team, get the part – and believe me, I know all about ‘pushing’ kids under the beguiling disguise of a slightly manipulative:
“I just want him to be the best he can be, for himself”.
Bullshit. Been there, bought the t-shirt and trust me, all it does is teach your child that his best will never, ever, be good enough.
How can we be happy if we feel that our best is not good enough? How can we be happy if we feel who we are is not good enough?
With all my heart, I want my children to know that who they are is enough. Period.
Parenting is a walk of grace in this house. But I want to climb down off that high wire and start to trust that my unconditional love will be enough to raise the kind, empathic, wholehearted, compassionate and happy individuals that I long to see my kids grow into.