Last Sunday afternoon, I had a stunning revelation: “You cannot have any needs that are bound up in the behavior or actions or personality of your children. When it comes to your children, you must be ego-less.”
This is not to say that, as a parent, you must be selfless. But your needs and desires must not be dependent on your children.
Even as this crystal clear realization came to me, I had a sinking feeling that this parenting principle would be the hardest one of all to follow.
As often happens when I’m writing this blog, I begin thinking that I’m talking about one thing and end up realizing somewhere along the way that I’m talking about something completely different. In this case, the original theme for this blog post was about being a pushy parent — and how much pushing is the right amount. However, by the end of Sunday afternoon, the day of infamy, my thoughts had moved away from pushing versus not pushing to something more challenging.
Our weekend was going well. We had a good family meeting on Sunday morning with everyone participating and in fine spirits. One of the things that was touched on (and had been mentioned earlier in the weekend, as well) was that Zoe and I would go running around Bass Lake in the afternoon. Zoe is participating in Girls on the Run, a program that promotes self esteem through a girl-power curriculum that integrates running and training for a 5K. I’m Zoe’s “running buddy”. While most of what the girls do takes place during a twice-a-week afterschool program, each child is required to have an adult running buddy to run the 5K with. Training with your running buddy is optional. When Zoe started the program about a month ago, we talked about running together on the weekends. She seemed receptive to the idea, and we have actually done it a few times (on a fairlly limited basis, as she is still not up to running very far at one time).
This past Sunday, I was looking forward to our run together. First, the weather was absolutely gorgeous — blue sky, sun, breezy, temperatures in the 70s, leaf colors still vibrant. I felt an urgency to get out and enjoy the day because it seemed it might be one of the last warm days of the year. I was also feeling that it would be a good opportunity to move Zoe along with her running, which seemed sluggish to me — and I was starting to wonder how she would ever run a 5K. Finally, I was looking forward to some physical activity, myself, and thought I could run a few extra laps around the lake and have it “count” as real exercise for me, too.
But when the time came, Zoe was not enthusiastic. She put on her running shoes, but refused to change out of her jeans, although I nagged her and pointed out how much more comfortable she would be in shorts, or at least stretchy pants. To no avail. After I dragged her away from the television, we set out for the short drive to the Moses Cone carriage trails near the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, we had not gone very far when the conversation turned in such a way that it became obvious that Zoe did not want to go running. For some reason, this absolutely pushed me over the emotional edge. I’m really not sure why, at that moment, I felt so disproportionately frustrated, discouraged, irritated, let down… My bubble had been burst, and I was strangely heart-broken. I did not handle it well. The words “guilt and recrimination” come to mind.
Initially, I thought about this incident in terms of pushiness. I know for a fact that I am not the pushiest parent in the world. One friend has told me repeatedly that her children are “required” to partipate in at least one organized sport a semester or face consequences. Another friend, who I think of as very gentle and low-key in her parenting style, expressed to me recently that she thought it was necessary to push children to do things so that they did not miss out on valuable experiences. I know other children who have been involved in such an endless stream of activities since they were very young that I can’t help but think the motivation has come more from the parents than the kids. So, if my pushiness seemed within normal range, why did I still feel so uncomfortable with my reaction to Zoe not wanting to go running?
In a moment of clarity, I realized that this was about something more profound than whether my child went running or not — or whether I was being too pushy. It was about my own ego and a vision I had (perhaps without even fully realizing it) of Zoe (as an athlete, ready and willing to work hard to achieve a goal) and of our relationship (mother and daughter, in sync, enjoying an activity together). Never mind that it was MY vision and MY goal. In this instant of clarity, I saw how many different ways my ego was tied up in my children and how powerful the desire was for them to fulfill my needs. It was sobering. But it gave me some important insight and, hopefully, a path for pursuing a more peaceful and contented relationship with my children.
It’s been almost a week since that fateful day — a busy, tiring week when I have not had time to write or reflect — and this blog post feels disjointed, since it was written in several sittings with my mood very different at each time. In retrospect, I can see even more how I overreacted to the running incident — but I hope some good will come from it.
Posting this amazing Sweet Honey and the Rock song (with words by Khalil Gibran) two ways http://youtu.be/HCVvoL_F5gA — check it out!