Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pretend they're not yours

Last night I found a bit of parenting "gold" and put it in my pocket.  Just "pretend they're not yours," was the sage advice from Johann's future Kindergarten teacher.  The snow was falling, but the parent workshop was continuing anyway inside our son's cheerful and (thankfully) warm pre-school yesterday evening.  We had finished the workshop part of the night, and had moved into a more informal question and answer period.

One of the parent's asked "how do I remain calm when I'm really at my limit and I've already tried all of the tricks in my bag?"  A super good question, in my opinion.  

Michael and I had discussed this same topic just the other morning.  I said to him over our morning coffee something about "Remember when we were teaching, and parents would say, - Boy, you have a lot of patience."  And we would think, "Do I?  Yes, I guess I do." 

And then we had our own children.

And we realized, "Nope.  We don't."     We laughed, and then started talking about why that is.  Why we could teach 40 children a day without ever truly reaching our "limit" (although often getting darned close to it).   How I can sit and knit for hours and hours on end, one stitch after one stitch, thousands upon thousands of little stitches to make a sweater...  How he can practice the same notes on his guitar over and over and over and over and never tire... the patience "well" just keeps putting forth water....

and then came our own children. 

And within an hour of knowing us, these children, our children, just knew to the inch how deep that "well" was.  They knew

My children have me figured out and calculated to a degree that would boggle the greatest scientific minds of our time.   They work me over until I'm at my wits end.  My well's end.  (and I have a deep well.)

And then I explode.  I do.  I explode.   Followed by a bout of tremendous guilt.   (And then I apologize, because at least I have learned that most important of lessons.)  and we move on.

And I have come to think "I guess I'm not a patient mother after all".  My teacher training, and my musician training, and my knitting hobby did not prepare me for the reserves of patience I would need to be a good mother.  I am frequently dismayed.

But then - parent workshop night.

And Sue (wise wise woman) says simply, with a shrug of her shoulders... "You just pretend they're not yours."

And it clicked.  And I felt like the Grinch, on the day his heart grows two sizes.  Of course!!  If these were the neighbors kids, and not mine, (and I frequently do wish they were the neighbors kids, or that I could just nonchalantly drop them off at the neighbors and let them have a go at it for a couple of days)  I would be different.  I would handle it differently.  After all, I know this works, because I was a teacher.    And I was patient.   Infinitely patient. 


they were not my children.  I had an emotional distance.  And that is the gold that I put in my pocket.

From now on, when they drive me to the edge,

when I am staring into the abyss,

when I am clenching my fists and feel the lava rise...

I will say  

"Who are these children?   What do I need to do here for these strange children who have come into my house to ransack, to destroy, to all but set it on fire  - for they are most certainly not my children and yet this must be dealt with."     and I will find my well of patience not dry, but still a little bit deeper then it had been before.

***  and it works.  I tried it last night when I found Johann in bed at 9:00, wide awake, with a pair of scissors, calmly cutting out all of the pages in a book as if he were clipping coupons at the breakfast table.  ***

1 comment:

  1. Book cutting is a totally appropriate action at that age. Better than newspapers I would say because then he might become a hoarder (I'm totally making this up).

    You and Mike are fantastic parents and teachers, the kind I hope I get a chance to be someday. I would like to make a comment about how these are your kids so you can beat them if need be and how because their your kids you want them to be better than the neighbors kids so that's why you try so hard. But the latter is a joke and the former doesn't get you over those emotional explosions which believe me, parent or not, patient or not, everyone has. It's just one of the simple faults of being human.

    Remember to reward yourself for being patient. Fruit from the garden, completed scarves, scales mastered are just faster rewards than the amazing kids you have that you will one day see turn out to be great humans. Pat yourself on the back every now and then for making discretion the greater part of valour and if temporarily disowning them helps you from having your own melt downs then I can't critique you on that one.


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