Faith in Vermont: First World Parenting Problems

<table border="1" cellpadding="1" cellspacing="1" style="width: 200px;"> <tbody> <tr> <td> <img alt="" src="http://picklepatch.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/guiltyparents.jpg" style="width: 400px; height: 518px;" /><a href="http://johnsforbiddenplanet.blogspot.com/2011_01_01_archive.html"><em>Photo via</em></a></td> </tr> </tbody></table><p> As winter becomes spring in an ooze of mud and slush, it&rsquo;s that time of year again: time to sign up the kids for spring (and summer) activities. And signing up means gathering information, pre-planning, and lining up &ndash; three things that exhaust me just thinking about them.</p><p> <a href="http://www.addisonindependent.com/201301faith-vermont-five-reasons-raise... written before that I&rsquo;m grateful to live in a place with limited options for children&rsquo;s activities</a>; lack of choice helps keep the overwhelm at bay. On the other hand, lack of choice also means competition for limited resources. I&rsquo;m still shaking from my first attempt to register a child for the Middlebury Parks &amp; Recreation gymnastics program. Gymnastics registration is held at the town gym on <em>one evening only</em>, on a first-come, first-served basis. Thinking, &ldquo;No problem, we live in a small town,&rdquo; I arrived promptly at the registration start time.</p><p> According to the 2000 census, there are about 1,400 people under the age of 18 in our town. When I arrived at the town gym, the parents of <em>all of them</em> were already in line ahead of me.</p><p> I put my daughter on the waiting list and drove home thinking, <em>I&rsquo;ve failed as a parent. </em></p><p> This wasn&rsquo;t the first time I&rsquo;d hit that particular parenting low. I blame one of my worst mothering moments to date on ballet class. Back when our family lived in California, our oldest daughter, then 3 years old, had the opportunity to participate in a ballet class at a lovely little dance school. This daughter had been asking to take ballet for some time, and was elated to put on her leotard and head off to the first class.</p><p> The first class was wonderful: I dropped off my daughter with no fuss, spent 30 carefree minutes with her younger sister, and picked up a happy little ballerina at the end of class.</p><p> Then came the second class. One minute after we walked in the door, as I prepared to say goodbye, my daughter pitched a screaming, clinging, flailing tantrum extraordinaire. I tried reasoning. I tried bargaining. I tried force. But, as I also had a 1-year-old in tow and was 9 months pregnant at the time, I lost the battle. Back into the car we went.</p><p> On that drive home, I was so furious with my daughter that it scared me<em>. </em>Then I started crying. Both reactions were totally illogical; <em>it was just a ballet class!</em></p><p> But here&rsquo;s what I knew in that moment: <em>I had failed as a parent. My daughter either had some deep-rooted anxiety disorder and would grow up afraid to leave the house, or else she was a quitter who&rsquo;d never follow through with anything.&nbsp; </em></p><p> What is it about our kids&rsquo; activities that brings out the worst in parents, that sends us straight to the guilt pit?</p><p> Maybe I&rsquo;m alone in this, but based on conversations with other parents, I think guilt is possibly the most prevalent parental emotion. We&rsquo;re guilty about getting (and keeping) our kids in the right activities; we&rsquo;re guilty about whether we spend enough time with them, provide enough enrichment, send them to the right schools, and let them watch too many &ldquo;Dora the Explorer&rdquo; DVDs. We&rsquo;re so quick to judge ourselves parental failures.</p><p> A recent conversation with my oldest daughter (she of the Ballet Meltdown) helped to change my perspective. We were discussing friends of ours back in California &ndash; dear friends, doing-life-together friends who figured prominently in her first three years of life. And she doesn&rsquo;t remember them. Needless to say, she also has no memory of that first ballet class.</p><p> <em>Hmmmm</em>, I thought, <em>maybe I didn&rsquo;t need to invest quite so much in those early years.</em></p><p> Now, don&rsquo;t get me wrong: I know how crucial and formative a child&rsquo;s first years are. But I think that parents (myself included) tend to get so wrapped up in the details that we miss the point. We dwell on what I call &ldquo;First World Parenting Problems,&rdquo; like gymnastics and ballet and &ldquo;Dora,&rdquo; and forget that most of us are in a fortunate position: for most of us, the <em>important </em>things are the easy things.</p><p> Here&rsquo;s a little quiz to illustrate my point. Answer TRUE or FALSE:</p><p style="margin-left:.5in;"> 1.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; My child lives in or is fleeing a war-torn area.</p><p style="margin-left:.5in;"> 2.&nbsp;&nbsp; Some days I can&rsquo;t (or don&rsquo;t) adequately feed and water my child.</p><p style="margin-left:.5in;"> 3.&nbsp;&nbsp; I have (voluntarily or not) sold my child to human traffickers.</p><p style="margin-left:.5in;"> 4.&nbsp;&nbsp; I frequently ingest and/or sell illicit substances in my home.</p><p style="margin-left:.5in;"> 5.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; I have never told my child that I love them.</p><p> If you answered &ldquo;FALSE&rdquo; to four out of the five scenarios, I&rsquo;d say: <em>Congratulations! You&rsquo;re doing GREAT! </em>&nbsp;(And let&rsquo;s not forget that some pretty amazing people have emerged from parents who could probably answer &ldquo;TRUE&rdquo; to all five).</p><p> Kind of puts swim team and gymnastics class and summer camp in perspective, doesn&rsquo;t it?</p><p> Because activities are not mandatory. They&rsquo;re not like basic safety, or meals, or love. Activities are gravy; their purpose is to provide fun experiences for our kids (and to provide parents with 30-60 minutes of kid-free time). So, this spring, I&rsquo;m going to stop making activities my First World Parenting Problem. If my kids don&rsquo;t get into gymnastics class, so what? At least I can feed them three meals a day (whether or not they choose to <em>eat </em>those meals).</p><p> I&rsquo;m still lining up early for gymnastics registration, though. See you there!</p><p> &nbsp;</p><p> <em>Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, three young daughters (with another on the way), one adorable puppy &mdash; and writing for her blog,<a href="http://www.picklepatch.wordpress.com/">The Pickle Patch</a>.</em></p>

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