(Mental) spring cleaning - FamilyEducation

(Mental) spring cleaning

January 30,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

It's the end of the week, and I can safely say that through all the rushing back and forth, the meetings, the staying up late to work, and the pressing deadlines, I did apparently squeeze in time to clear out that mental closet of mine. In fact, I cleared it out so much that I have bags of stuff at the curb, waiting for trash pickup on Tuesday. For instance, this is packed into one of the bags: When people ask me in the walk-up line whether T. will go to L.'s school next year for kindergarten, I will no longer worry about providing some sort of explanation--which of course I don't--for the reason we're still on the fence about this. I swept THAT notion right out of my closet. It took me a while to realize this, though, so I would bumble through something about kids being different, T.'s neighborhood friends, school schedules, etc. But then it occurred to me that I didn't have to justify anything; ultimately you, the parent, needs to make the decision that's best for your child, and no one--no one--knows your child better than you--the one who lives and breathes them each and every day. (I did feel a sense of reaffirmation about all this yesterday when I talked with one parent in the walk-up line about that very issue. She's got three kids, and is looking at sending all three of them to completely different schools. "Won't that drive you nuts?" one parent asked. But she shrugged, with that practical you've got to do what you've got to do kind of wisdom about it all. And sometimes you do, really. In an ideal world you would send all your kids to one school, keeping the thread of continuity running throughout. But sometimes you can't do this, and you just make it work.) I also opened my mental closet, peeked inside a bin marked "parental guilt," and realized that it's okay to let go of the feeling that you have to make things all equal all the time for two kids (or three, or four). I learned that sometimes, in meeting the needs of one child, you just can't help but feel the other is slighted. You still rush around trying to adjust the balance, even the scales, but sometimes you can't give both kids 100% equal opportunities and attention seven days of the week. This is just like that old advice your pediatrician might have given you: It doesn't matter how much your child eats at one sitting--instead, count how much they eat over an entire day. When your child looks at you and says, "It's not fair," you can't worry about it all the time. Sometimes you have to shake your head and tell them, "No, it's not fair," even if it hurts your heart to say it; it sometimes just needs to be said. I will not feel guilty or feel that I'm pushy or nagging or unpleasant when I'm being an advocate for my child. I will not. I will not. I will not. (I had to double-bag that one when I took it to the curb.) I have a big, bulky storage bin in my closet where I keep all the things I worry about at night. Some of them I can't throw away right now, and I'll have to work that out on my own. But I did toss this one right to the curb: I stay up some nights stressing about my children's emotional futures. I spend time wondering if I can predict somehow what my kids will be like ten or twenty, or thirty years from now, and if parenting mistakes x, y, and z that I think I made (we parents are our own worst critics) might take root in them, and come out to haunt them later in life. I worry about whether they will sustain some intangible injuries to their psyches that will cost them lots of dollars in therapy appointments as they work out their own anger/guilt/rivalry issues. But as I dug through that bulky bin, I realized that while you can't possibly safeguard the future like that, you can safeguard the moment and the love; and enough moments and love add up minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, year-by-year--until you realize that it's the love that counts, not that closetful of worries. Now--go clean YOUR closets! Happy weekend...