Semantics

April 16,2009
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.

I was at the pediatrician's office on Tuesday, for a quick check-up for T., and while we were waiting for the doctor to come in I looked up at the clippings and ads pasted to the back of the door and saw this: Somebody pinch me It seemed strange to me, this idea of "child management". When I think of the word management I think of other contexts: I manage my classroom environment; Scott manages the household budget, including the management of our car payment, mortgage payment, health bills. We manage deadlines, and the organization of family vacations. I manage the meal-planning, and we manage together who shops for what, and when, and how much we spend. We even, I guess, manage the once-a-month flea application on our dog, and the weekly water changes for our fish tanks, and of course we manage our time--every hour of it. But manage the children? This doesn't seem right to me. I think it's easy in today's busy, whirlwind, overscheduled, multi-tasking world we live in to fall into the trap of thinking that parenting is more about management that it is about, well, parenting. Even when I think about the aspects of parenting we do "manage"--like providing balanced meals for the kids, or helping L. navigate through a bad meltdown, arranging playdates for T., keeping L.'s homework folders organized, all of these things involve more than just the skills we use to manage other aspects of our lives. Thinking about how to get enough fruits and vegetables into the kids takes more than just following a recommended list. We have to think about likes and dislikes, strange food aversions, and of course, the Mood of the Day. And even though there are typical, comforting, useful techniques we have learned to use to help L. get to the other side of a meltdown, we still are parents in the end, and managing the moment is more about love and commitment and the ache we feel in our hearts than it is about following a prescribed set of steps. As I mentioned yesterday, parenting is not an exact science. Sometimes I feel more out of control than I do in control. Sometimes, in an out-of-body-type-experience sort of way I wonder what other parents (or onlookers) must think/judge about how we parent, and how our children are behaving based on the one sliver of time they might witness. Maybe they think we don't manage our children? Can't manage them? But it's important to remember that we will never be able to manage every moment in our children's lives. If we think that way we doom ourselves to failure, and do a disservice to our own kids. We don't manage children, we parent them; we manage all the day-to-day trappings of a life with them. We love them and nurture them and teach them right from wrong. Only then can we send our kids out into the world to manage their own lives as best they can.