When Our Parenting Insecurities Get the Best of Us

I was recently on the soccer fields waiting to pick up my daughters when a mom started chatting with me. She asked who my children were, and after I pointed them out she excitedly told me how great my daughters and the other two girls in the group were doing with the larger group of boys. I then of course asked who her son was and as soon as she pointed him out she began to ramble  on about how he wasn’t having a good practice today and they weren’t sure if soccer was his thing and he had a growth spurt recently so he wasn’t as coordinated as the other boys and he wasn’t as fast.  I could barely keep up with all the things she was saying, and I got the distinct impression she thought I had been watching how poorly her son was playing on the soccer field (which is a big laugh since I don’t know much about the game!)

What did I see? A cute kid kicking the ball back and forth with other cute little kids. He looked the same as everyone else.

I thought about that mom again when I took two of my three girls on a bike ride to the park. I ran into a mom I had met previously who has an adorable little girl. I smiled as I watched her chase her brother around the playground squealing his name. I turned to my new friend and asked how old she was. This is the answer I got:

Untitled design-2“She’s almost three but she has a speech delay so that’s probably why you may think she’s younger. We’re working on it but I know she’s hard to understand and I’m concerned with her going to school soon because other kids don’t understand her and I don’t want them to make fun of her although she’s made so much progress and…..” she went on and on.

I finally interrupted her to let her know that she didn’t need to explain anything to me because first, I couldn’t even tell that her daughter had a speech delay; but second, I got it. In fact, at one time I was her.

It’s funny how sometimes you can change the course of your own history in your head, but one small conversation can jolt your memory back to another time. I feel like my persona today is that I am very open about my parenting style and resolute in advocating in the best interest of my children, particularly when it came to raising my twins and the developmental challenges they both faced, one a little more severe than the other. Despite appearing like typical kids now, we have spent hours with physical, speech and occupational therapists to get them to this point. And although my mantra has always been that sharing my story could help someone else, in the beginning — when my daughters were under three — I did the same thing this sweet mom did. I was all about the preemptive strikes with other parents, assuring them that I was aware my kids were not the same as others.

Like when we went to our first two-year old Mommy and me class and my kids were not talking yet, couldn’t sit still, and spent more time gnawing on the books and blocks then interacting with the other kids. I made sure to let the other moms know that my girls were preemies and still catching up, because of course in my mind, all the other kids were behaving exactly as they should.

Or the time a grandmother stopped me in the grocery store and started chatting with my duo and I quickly told her that they had speech delays — because the fact that they were just staring wide-eyed at her face meant she could tell they didn’t have a vast vocabulary yet.

And the time a mom told me how cute it was that my daughter walked on her toes like a ballerina and I blurted out that I had already tested her for autism. That one was really smooth.

Let’s face it and call a spade a spade. I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed and insecure that my kids weren’t like everyone else’s, so I tried to make sure other parents knew that I was aware that my girls were different. Because yes, it was all about me, and although I wasn’t sure if they were judging my kid I certainly didn’t want them to judge me. So not my finest hour, and it is painful to admit this now.

But fortunately I’ve grown a lot since that time, and in fact, I think dealing with my kids’ developmental delays back then really prepared me for when things got more challenging later on with educational issues, team sports or even social interactions. And I recognize it in other parents now — that painful conversation you have with strangers because you are feeling insecure and in some cases, a little embarrassed.

Does this mean we don’t love our kids? Absolutely not. Does this mean we need to get a grip on our own insecurities? Absolutely. But how do we do that?

I had to realize that it is never my kids’ job to make me look good as a parent. It is never my kids’ responsibility to do things on the “typical” developmental schedule. It is not my kids’ duty to be the best at school, at sports, on the playground. The only job my girls have is to become the best people they can be — and my job is to help get them there.

When you let that fear of judgement go — essentially making it not about you — then you can actually start enjoying your child’s activities and their progress, or sometimes even be content at their pure joy in participating in an activity– even when they suck at it.

As the mom of two pretty competitive soccer players, my husband and I have worked hard to tone down our pre-game, during the game, and post-game coaching of our daughters. We took to heart what researchers Bruce Brown and Rob Miller discovered when they asked college athletes what their parents said that made them feel great when they played sports:

College athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame. Their overwhelming response:

“I love to watch you play.”

This also rings true for those of us who know we are not the parents of a future NFL pro or an Olympic athlete, and especially for those of us whose kids struggle at life just a little bit more than others…for those of us whose children’s achievements come in different forms, such as graduating from therapy, making their one basket in a season or learning a new life skill — even if it takes them a little longer than everyone else.

I love to watch you play. No matter what it is. So powerful and so liberating.

When you know your kid may not be the best on the team, instead of saying that you know he isn’t as athletic as the other kids we should just respond with: “That’s my son, and boy does he love to play!” When you meet someone new at the park with your developmentally challenged daughter and they ask how old she is, your first comment should be: “She’s three and I love to watch her whip around the playground!” And when a sweet grandmother comes up to you at the grocery store and starts talking in your daughters’ faces about how cute they are, the only response should be: “I know. Aren’t they delicious?”

Because our kids don’t need to be explained — and we have to stop worrying that we will be judged, even when judgement might be happening. They need to be celebrated. Every single one of them.

And I’m starting with mine.

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We started horseback riding lessons for my daughter to combat a mild case of CP in her lower extremities. Now she is a beautiful rider.

Team Fleming

Team Fleming trying to look tough

 

 

 

Four Awesome Things I Learned From My Kids

Like any parent, I think my kids are pretty awesome. But sometimes their awesomeness just blows my mind. And it’s even more awesome when they don’t realize that they are being awesome.

I like to think that I work really hard to be a good person, but I’m still a work in progress even at the tender age of 41 (did I just say that out loud?) I still judge when I shouldn’t, say things I wish I could take back, and let my fears stymie me from reaching my dreams.

That’s why I love being around children so much. I am constantly amazed at what we can learn from kids. Kids who are not yet jaded at the world; kids who see things so clearly; kids who have a pure heart.

So, I thought I would share some life-lessons my kids have taught me the past few years. I would like to take credit for these, but let’s be honest, kids are just good….usually until we mess them up, so I’m pretty sure it’s just their innate awesomeness shining through:

They see people. Kids see people, and I’m not talking about the creepy way that Haley Joel Osment did in The Sixth Sense, but they just see people. My daughter’s teacher recently went out on an early maternity leave. When I asked her to tell me about her new teacher, she excitedly said: “I really like her! She is nice and smiles a lot. She has four kids and she used to teach them at home herself. And she’s pretty.” I couldn’t wait to meet her, so I was excited when her grade had an open house later that week. I was pleased to see that her teacher was all those things my daughter said, and very qualified, but I also was surprised when I learned my daughter’s teacher was African-American.

Now, her color doesn’t make a difference in the world to me, but I was thrilled to see that it didn’t cross my daughter’s mind to mention it, particularly because unfortunately I wouldn’t call her school diverse. I was ashamed to even think that she should have told me about her race in the first place. She sees people as nice or tall or pretty — who they are. And as she should.

One of my other daughters switched seats in her classroom awhile back. On the car ride home from school that day, she told me all about the new boy she sat next to in class. He was hilarious, loved Sponge Bob, wore glasses and played mine craft. A few weeks later she told me about a game she played with her friend and his Aide.  I didn’t want to make a big deal about the fact that her new friend had an Aide by asking questions, but that very day her teacher sent a note home telling me what a great job she was doing sitting next to this child who apparently had Autism. The mother of the boy had contacted the teacher about how her son actually was talking about school for the first time, and mainly about my daughter. She was wondering if my daughter could sit next to him for the remainder of the year, but she didn’t want to limit her socially or seem pushy.

My daughter in one swift move did what so many adults just can’t (or won’t) do. She RE-labeled a child. In her mind, it is her hilarious friend, not her Autistic friend. And yes, I said absolutely that she could continue to sit by this young boy, for what mom would want to separate their child from a friend.

No fear. For as long as I remember, I get embarrassed when I do something new. I hate looking stupid, and no matter how much I convince myself that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, I still let it get to me. And I know that I have missed opportunities because I felt like I didn’t know how to do something (and didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know.) That’s why when I recently signed my daughter up mid-season for a tumbling class, I tried to reassure her before she went. At eight, she still can’t do a cart-wheel, but so desperately wants to participate with her friends as they tumble across the playground. I tried to remind her that the other girls in her group had been taking tumbling since September so she wouldn’t feel bad that she was behind, but I’m not sure why I bothered saying a word.

“I just want to get my cart-wheel, Mom,” said the sage 8-year-old. And she went into the class where the other kids were flipping all around her and did just that. Well, she did just that after four classes and falling about 408 times. But she never once got embarrassed, and the whole class cheered when she finally did it right. She clearly did not get that from me.

Lesson learned: I really need to get a grip and let go of my inhibitions. I’ve made a resolution to try some new things this year, and I’m taking her along to make sure I see it through. And I will no longer try to save her from any embarrassment. She is completely comfortable with who she is, and I’m not going to try to protect her from learning anything new. That clearly is my issue, not hers.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Last year, for the first time, someone was picking on one of my children. A classmate gave my daughter an F minus in an indoor recess art competition, constantly bossed her around, and pointed out to the class when she did something wrong. I wouldn’t call it bullying per se, but she just wouldn’t leave her alone — so much so that the teacher recommended separating the girls into different classes the following year.

I for one was traumatized. How could someone be so mean to my baby?!? I wanted to call the other mom up and give her a piece of my mind (and I will not share the not-so-compassionate thoughts I had about the other child.) But when I talked to her teacher, she explained that my daughter was just avoiding her and seemed fine. And more importantly, when I talked to my little girl, she said: “Yeah, sometimes she’s mean to me, but sometimes I like her. I just play with her when she’s nice or I just ignore her.”

Huh. How about that. No drama, no crying to me about her being mean to her, just ignore her. Thankfully I didn’t let my rage get the best of me and make what was a small deal to my daughter an unnecessary big deal. And since that time, I have tried to heed my daughter’s advice. Someone not so nice at the PTA meeting, I don’t engage, I just ignore her. Someone posting negative comments on Facebook, I just hide them. But when they are nice to me, I return the niceness. Because I’m not going to let anyone mess with my Karma.

Every day is the “best day ever!” I love this about my kids. A trip to Costco where they get cheesecake samples can be the best day ever. Or, a random playdate with our neighbors can be.  Or a day at Disney World. Or a regular day when I make ice cream sundaes.

Seeing the good in any day is something I have been really working on the past few years. Gratitude as an attitude is my philosophy, but it’s my kids that remind me to appreciate the little as well as the great things in our lives. And when you wake up in the morning with the thought that this could be the best day ever, well, that’s just pretty darn awesome.

What have you learned from your awesome kids?

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