My goal in raising my girls is to get them to the point that they don’t need me – that when they leave home or when I go home, they will carry on and move forward. There will be no question of how things will get done without me because they will already know how.
One way I work to make sure this is the reality is by showing them that for every event in their lives, no matter how seemingly trivial or monstrous, there are two things that can be found – a lesson and laughter. The coolest part about teaching them this truth is that I didn’t even know I was doing it. I didn’t physically write out my goal. I didn’t mentally note it. All these years, I’ve just been trying my best to not screw things up for them. And in the process, I’ve been teaching them what I know, which isn’t much but just might be enough to keep them thinking, using their own mind, forming their own opinions, and making their own decisions.
There is a lot that I don’t know how to do. There are things that I could do if I had to. And there are things that I know we’ll all be better off if I pay someone who knows what they’re doing to complete my task.
Sewing, for example, yeah I know the basics. (Learn more about my sewing potential in Write that Down.) When my daughter brought clothing to me and asked me to sew it, I showed her how to get started and then I let her go. And when she completed it, she was pretty proud of her accomplishment and showed me what she’d done. I, of course, said, “You’re welcome.”
The smile dropped from her face pretty quickly as she argued that she had sewn it, not me. She said I didn’t even teach her, I made her figure it out. I was like, “Yes, exactly! So you do understand…” In not doing the work, it made her work to figure it out for herself. Now she not only knows how to sew but knows that she can learn to do the things she needs to do on her own.
Then there’s math, ugh. Math is a class that I learned I could pass with flying colors, but I had to sit up front, take notes on everything that was said and demonstrated, do the homework, and then practice it all again before the test. Using this method, I received A’s in college. But, give me the same test a year later, and maybe I’ll remember it. Give me that test today, and I am certain I will laugh. It was a good test for my short-term memory, but being that I use words not numbers, it didn’t make the cut to my long-term memory. At least that’s what I thought.
So when my daughters bring in math homework that they are struggling with, I have to relearn it. I study the practice problems and actually go online to get a few refresher lessons to remind me of the steps. I do eventually remember. It is all still up there in some dusty filing cabinet that almost never gets opened. I remember just enough to be able to ask them enough questions to get them to understand what they need to do to solve the problem. And really, that’s the goal of everything I do as their mother. I ask them questions to get them to think, and hopefully in the process I am teaching them to always ask questions to figure out the problem and then to figure out the solution.
Even after she got it and no longer needed my help, I asked to still see her work in the future so if she needed my help again, I would be caught up. It was a nice idea, but I think neither of us were prepared to dedicate our time to something that wasn’t absolutely necessary. And because I know all those math folders are still sitting in an old filing cabinet somewhere in my memory, I suppose it will do me good to have to search them out again some day.
So let’s see, I’ve done teaching by doing; teaching by asking; then, of course, there is always teaching by example. And the best thing I can say for my skills in that area is they can learn two things from all my bad examples: (1.)Perfection is not a prerequisite for parenting. And (2.) You have the power to change – to become better and to do better. “This is just who I am” is an excuse, not a reason.
My girls laugh about how I hand out life lessons for every scenario that comes their way or mine. (I share quite a bit of my daily life with them.) I like to think that sometimes it registers with them even if they pretend like it doesn’t. Maybe in the future, they’ll be going on about their lives and then suddenly something I said will click and they’ll get it and they’ll realize that I really was trying to make a point and it’s not just crazy mom stuff (*insert eye roll*).
They call me out on some things, which I appreciate even if I don’t really appreciate it in the moment. I think they have a right to question the things I do. And it gives me a chance to explain something they might not otherwise understand. Other times, it shines a light on things about myself that I need to work on.
And I do work on improving myself – my actions, my thoughts, my words. I tell them about the things I am working on because I want them to know it is a conscious decision and that I expect them to work on their selves as well and to know that self improvement might very well be a life-long endeavor.
So yeah, I’m not the best example. But hopefully they also see the things I do well or right or at least really try to do well or right. It’s important to me that they know me not only as their mom but as a person. They get mothered by me, but they know who I am, and even if they don’t yet totally understand why I think the way I do or what motivates some of my responses, they know that it all comes from the same place. They know that I want the absolute best for them – not necessarily an easy life but one that they can look back on and be proud of the decisions they made, regardless of the outcomes. I want them to laugh, and I want them to learn.