It wasn’t my finest parenting moment. In fact, it was one of those moments which I would rather bury in my compost heap and pretend that it never happened. Except that it did.
I was preparing my eleven-year-old daughter, Vienna, for her Grade 1 piano exam. She had begged me to teach her myself rather than sending her to a “real” teacher and I had agreed on the condition that she behaved herself and put some effort in.
She really wasn’t keeping up her part of the bargain and after a particularly unenthusiastic session, I snapped. There was lots of yelling on my part, lots of tears on hers and when it was over I felt terrible.
I felt like a failure as a parent.
I felt like I was never going to be able to teach this child anything, that it was all too much and I had bitten off more than I could chew, that my children all had issues of various sorts and I wasn’t keeping up with them all. That I was never going to be good enough. It all felt so hopeless.
She went off to do her dishes duty still crying and hiccuping, so I called her over and gave her a big hug. I told her that I still loved her and that we would talk more about piano tomorrow. She went away looking a bit happier.
Inwardly, I wrestled with myself. Should I get her another teacher? The new teacher probably wouldn’t be impressed with her lack of progress this far along—I was nervous about that. What was the best strategy to teach her going forward? How could I motivate her to do well? Where to next?
The following day, still with no real answers coming to light, my daughter sat down at the piano to practise. This was a different child than the one I had taught yesterday. This one tried her best, talked to me civilly and asked questions when she got stuck. We went over the same material as the previous day but the results were thankfully quite different.
The lesson over, I pondered. Yelling at her still wasn’t a good idea. But it was clear to me that she had needed a wake-up call. Probably I shouldn’t have let it get to that point and spelled out some clear consequences earlier, but I was struck by the fact that, after a day of feeling defeated, there was now hope.
The following day it was Toby, the eight-year-old’s turn to try my patience. He empties and loads the dishwasher each morning but decided on this particular day it didn’t suit him. There was lots of moaning and complaining. Eventually he was put in time-out, screaming that life wasn’t fair and I didn’t like him, and generally being awful.
Once again, I felt like I was failing, that the situation was hopeless, that my children just weren’t developing the skills and attitudes I was trying so hard to teach them. Then he was told that if he didn’t do the dishes before he went to school, there would be no TV on the weekend. That did the trick.
The author and her family, “little lives that are learning, growing and changing”.
Shortly after, Vienna appeared and voluntarily started helping him unload the dishwasher. Together they finished it in short order and went off happily to play. And before he left for school, my son left sorry notes on his sisters’ beds with a pencil for each of them. My faith in the humanity of my children was restored.
Somehow, in the madness of attempting to raise four children, I find it too easy to get lost in the “now”. And when I look at what is happening right now, its effortless to get caught in the trap of thinking there is no hope. Then things like this happen: One child helps another, someone apologises, they give it their best shot and I realise that beyond the now, these little lives are learning, growing and changing. That the things I have tried to instil in them might eventually surface, even if it seems like what I’ve taught them has gone straight over their heads.
There are times when they amaze me with their insight, their kindness, their courage, their joy.
Of course, sometimes my amazement is of a different type: When they put a dirty container in the dishwasher with the lid still on, when I ask them to take their dirty clothes off the floor and they put them in the drawers instead, when I tell them not to do something because they will get hurt and they do it anyway (and get hurt of course!).
But then I remember the times when they have seen me looking tired and offered to help, when they have played with their little sister because she was feeling lonely, when their eyes lit up because they tried their utmost and mastered a new skill. That’s when I know that there’s hope. That while I will never be a perfect parent, I must be doing something right. That although I might not be raising perfect children, I am raising wonderful children who should turn out all right. That if I look beyond the seeming hopelessness of the current situation, there is hope that one day I will look back and realise that those moments were all part of the big picture of raising children, they were part of the process, not the end result. And that it’s all gonna be ok.
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