We were lucky. When Heather and Saasha were small, we didn’t have time to worry. Oh, we had the usual clash with grandparents over parenting issues such as not potty-training them before they were 12 months old, or the fact we chose to move into a vacant church to start Raintree and live in two Sunday school rooms. “You are going to do what?” my parents said. “That’s the craziest thing we’ve ever heard!” But honestly, we were so busy creating Raintree we didn’t have time to worry or be fearful.
There were a couple of downsides to living in the school. We drove our daughters’ public school teachers crazy because our children were always late. Just getting to the car in the morning was challenging as little school “emergencies” always seemed to take priority. At parent-teacher conferences, there were always a pile of tardy slips to talk about. But our daughters were good students in spite of our unusual existence.
Heather and Saasha grew up caring for sheep, horses and the menagerie of animals we collected. They were the school’s first janitors and worked alongside us as we color-coded classroom materials. As they got older, they protested with us against the mall developer who tried to build a mall west of the school and against the South Lawrence Trafficway’s plan to overlap Clinton Parkway. Saasha even interviewed the city engineer at the time and wrote an essay about it for a high school government class.
There is something to be said for being busy and doing work you love. It keeps you from second guessing yourself. There seems to be what I can only refer to as “a fear factor” that hovers over parents decision-making these days. Technology has opened up the world to us, but it has inundated us with so much information, it can be paralyzing, especially when it comes to raising children. At every juncture from birth to adolescence and beyond, parents are caught in a web of second guessing. The list of worries and fears is endless. When should I start potty-training? Does my child have friends? Does he have a speech problem? Should I vaccinate him? Is time-out appropriate? What is bedtime for a 2 year old? Should my child have a bed time? Or a computer in her room? Should we be gluten-free? When do I buy my child a cell phone? Or should I buy my child a cell phone at all? Is my child involved in enough extracurricular activities? Should my children have chores? What about an allowance? My neighbor’s child was reading when he was 5. Why isn’t my child reading? And on and on.
Add to those worries, baggage. Each of us carries a certain amount of baggage from our own childhoods. That baggage may have originated generations before. The adult who never had the opportunity to take piano lessons may be hellbent on making sure his children take lessons even if the child has absolutely no interest. My mother, for example, was fearful of water because her mother had almost drowned when she was a child. Therefore, I was afraid of water and passed that onto my children. Thankfully Keith wasn’t, and he made sure our girls didn’t carry that baggage any further.
Many years after we had moved out of those Sunday school rooms and into an apartment, I had a bit of time to worry. Had we scarred our children because they didn’t grow up in a real house with neighbors and a garage and a driveway. In fact we never did. We still live in a small townhouse. Our children, on the other hand, own their own homes. Why all that worry? All that fear and guilt? Wasted energy. If you ask them, they will tell you they had an idyllic childhood. They were envied by their friends because they had horses, lived in the country and worked with their “cool” parents. Yes, a lot was required of them, but we couldn’t have succeeded without their help. Isn’t that what all human beings want, to feel valued and loved? That wasn’t our “plan” nor did we think, “How are we going to make our children feel valued and loved?” Good grief, we didn’t have time for reflection. We just spent time together and worked.
As we begin a new year, my advice is to trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid. When we are anxious or worried, children can sense it, and then they take on those worries subliminally. Misunderstood or misplaced anxiety can manifest as another parcel in that baggage they carry into adulthood. My recommendation is to spend time with your children. Go outside. Play games. Read to them. Tell stories. Make a pie for a neighbor. Shovel snow for that neighbor. Don’t be afraid. And raise the bar. Your children are capable of much more than you can imagine.