Why I’m Not Concerned About My Kids

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Before I became a parent, I was warned about many of the aggravations of parenthood. I knew I would be tired. I knew I wouldn’t sleep as soundly as I had prior to being responsible for two tiny little people. I knew (intellectually, if not as completely as I do now) that my house would be endlessly dirty, everything covered in marker and crumbs and applesauce fingerprints. I expected the diapers, the vomiting, the poop.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that the biggest frustration and most discouraging aspect of parenting would not be the trail mix of Goldfish crackers, barrettes and dog hair collecting in the corners of my couch.

I didn’t realize that the fastest path to losing my focus and goals as a parent would be all of the unnecessary parenting concerns. All of the shoulds and all of the nevers. They seem to be able to change the lens through which I view my children for the worse.

Unnecessary concern has the power to poison my attitude towards my child faster than almost anything else. Suddenly, I don’t see the brilliant, clever little person in front of me, but instead, I see all the ways that I must describe them as deficient and lacking, often based on some arbitrary standard or unrealistic expectation.

Both of my children were late to talk, though I don’t remember ever struggling to understand them. They were both over a year old when I heard them say their first words, and because I chose to become a mom through foster care, I was still deep in a stage of wonder, awe, and simply getting to know the tiny little people in my care. Like any new mom, I was entranced by their every action.

They are five years old now, and if I’ve learned anything in the admittedly short past four years, it’s that the feelings of awe and wonder that I had watching them when we first met haven’t faded, but they are increasingly threatened as they get older. By concern. 

Concern about their safety. Concern about their development. Concern about behavior. Concern about the future. Concern about what other people think about all of those things.

And unnecessary parenting concerns tend to lie. I’m starting to recognize it.

Concern tends to take some familiar forms and tends to say the same things. It says things like “will never” and “but what about when….” and most often, “SHOULD.”

It starts early. So much measuring and comparison before they are barely competent at walking. Potty training — “He’ll never stop having accidents!” “But what about when he goes to kindergarten?” “She SHOULD be potty trained by now!”

School, often long before school is even on the radar — “She’ll never be able to succeed in school” (never mind that “success” isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing, and it definitely doesn’t have a time limit), “But what about when he reached [whatever] grade? But what about college?”, “He SHOULD be able to write/read/sit quietly at this particular age.”

Concern tells us that our children have already failed before they have even begun.

But that is a lie. They haven’t. You can’t be behind when you haven’t begun.

My children — all children — are the same wondrous, creative, awe-inspiring little people that they were the day we brought them home, whether that was when they were a few days old or a few years old. They are immensely capable, determined, and they often know quite well what they need. They deserve our trust in their strength and abilities, and our support with their goals, even if those goals don’t match the made-up timetable of “should.”

For me, so far concern and worry have a pretty terrible track record, at least from what I’ve seen as I’ve watched my children:

  • Concern tried to tell me that they’ll never be potty trained. They are. I never really did anything about it. They wanted to try the potty and they did and for a long time they wore pull-ups “in case” until one day they didn’t, and now it’s been years and apparently, it worked out.
  • They’ll never be able to draw. As someone who loved art and drawing as a very young child, this was something I hoped they would share. My son, who at three was a perfectionist who refused to draw anything on the basis that it wouldn’t “look right,” can now most often be found at the table, drawing endless robot creatures and superheroes. It just happened.
  • They’ll never be able to handle kindergarten. Though I didn’t care about “kindergarten readiness” or the academic piece for the reasons above, I was convinced a full day away from me would be impossible for my kids. They struggled when I left them with relatives for a couple of hours. Surprise, surprise — they WANT to go to school on days off. My daughter still tells me every day, “I missed you!” but now she says it with a smile — yes, she missed me, but she still had fun.

I want to be clear, however — I’ve listed their victories because some of these are victories I genuinely questioned that I would ever see. But even if things had not worked out this way, I don’t believe that caving in and listening to the concern or worry, and fretting would have benefited any of us. Not me or my children — no one learns best under stress, and no one learns the same skills on the same timetable.

The only measure of a child’s success should be based on that child alone, not based on their siblings or their classmates. They are learning and growing in their own time, and it is no less wonderful or awe-inspiring in the days when everything was new. (And to them, everything still is new). But as they grow we get blinded by the way things “should” be.

Concern, with its shoulds and nevers, has been the biggest drain on my parenting so far.

Unlike the dust-covered Goldfish and the assortment of car Cheerios, it has no benefit. The snack debris at least tells me my kids are being fed. The concern just tries to tell me that my kids, or I, am not enough. It robs me of seeing my children for who they are and it sucks the joy out of parenting.

And they are enough. I am enough. You are enough. Your kids are enough, and where they are now is not where they will always be. Some things will get easier, some things will get harder. They will succeed in ways you never imagined and they will struggle in ways you never could have foreseen. They are, and will still be, worthy of celebration and support more than unnecessary concern.

 

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Sarah has lived in the Columbus area her entire life, despite spending winters longing for tropical beaches. She always knew she wanted to be a mom, so once she had the space, Sarah chose to become a foster parent, a decision that led to meeting and eventually adopting the greatest kids in the world, her now four-year-old boy/girl twins. Together they enjoy exploring playgrounds and parks around central Ohio, having dance parties in the car to Koo Koo Kanga Roo and The Shazzbots, and repeated viewings of Moana.  Sarah somehow completed a master’s in education while her kids were toddlers, though she still isn’t sure how. She previously worked in higher education, however, since becoming a mom her interests have shifted to early childhood, as for her, one of the greatest joys of motherhood has been watching her children play and grow and rediscovering the world through their eyes. Sarah enjoys finding the joy in everyday moments through photography, finding the right words to express feelings and ideas in writing, and finding the most ridiculous items possible at thrift stores. She is a hoarder of information as evidenced by her lengthy library reserve list, though more often than not all her library books are returned unread -- the siren call of Netflix is too strong.