I have five kids and they are all perfect.
They never drop the F-bomb in preschool.
They always clean up after themselves:
In fact, they spend all their time being loving and setting up elaborate parties for each other.
And that’s why it’s so easy to parent them. Take homeschooling, for example. It’s so nice to be able to hand your seventh grader a long list of challenging assignments in the morning and have her complete them all independently by lunch. It’s so comforting to know that you’ve done such a great job raising a responsible, hard working, and honest child that you barely have to check in on her at all.
Of course, it’s also total bullshit.
I gave Zoë a math test yesterday. As in, I handed her the two page test that covered all the material she’s been working on for the last few weeks and she blinked at it for about forty-five minutes. Now, math has never been her favorite subject, but this was desperate blinking. This was “Holy crap, I’m totally busted,” blinking. Around minute forty-one I watched her war with herself, trying to decide whether I’d be more disappointed with a lying child or a stupid one. See, it turns out that she hadn’t been doing all that work after all. She’d done some of it, yes, but she’d been stopping as soon as it got boring. Zoë has about a five minute attention span when it comes to math so you can imagine how that had gone.
When she finally fessed up, I saw real fear in her eyes. Fear and also shame. She wasn’t scared that I was going to unleash my wrath upon her (though that wouldn’t be unheard of) or ground her forever or send her back to “regular school.” She was scared that I would be disappointed in her, that she’d be permanently lowered in my esteem.
And I was disappointed. In myself mostly. Somehow I’d forgotten that good kids are still kids, and good people are still human. I hadn’t checked her math work in weeks. I’d abandoned my responsibility because she’d seemed more than willing to do it herself. And yes, it was disappointing that she’d lied, that she’d failed to hold herself accountable. But that isn’t her job. It’s mine. I’d taken the easy way out. It seemed unfair come down too hard on Zoë for doing the same thing. Especially since she’s twelve and I’m, well, older than twelve.
So we sat down with the curriculum manual and highlighted every assignment she’d skipped. Each stroke of green was both an indictment and a relief. Confession. “God Mom, I’m so so sorry,” she said over and over again. “Me too,” I answered. As we went page by page (she wouldn’t be allowed any texting or electronics or free time until she’d made up the missing assignments) she told me that she thought she should do all of her school work in the dining room with us. “It’s harder down here with all the little girls, but it’s too tempting in my room to just skip things.” In other words, she needs some help holding herself accountable. Of course she does. We all do. It’s why we join gyms, and bookclubs, and go to church, and 12 step programs. Can’t nobody do it alone, no matter how “good” you are.
I gotta be honest. I’m not looking forward to doubling the amount of checking and grading I do. Like Zoë said, it’s going to be harder. But that’s okay. I’m starting to believe that it’s supposed to be hard, all this parenting, and teaching, and life stuff. Especially if you’re doing it right.