Wednesday, August 3, 2016

10 Ways to Win at Parenting This School Year

I’m kidding. I don’t have any actual tips to "Start the School Year Off Right", or "Make Mornings Your Family's Favorite Time of Day", or "Love Every Minute of Carpool."

To be honest, I actually have no freaking clue what I’m doing. I’m wandering around blindfolded in a dark room filled with mostly shin-high furniture and scattered Legos. Instead of beautifully crafted memes filled with misty lakes and burgeoning sunrises, I have the refrain “meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless” to offer. 

OK, that may be a bit bleak. I don’t actually think my parenting wisdom is meaningless, but I do think it may or may not be useful and there’s really no way I can be sure for at least, like, 40 years or so.

As we rocket toward another school year (that calendar by which parents measure time far more closely than by the New Year), my social media feeds are full of "10 Ways to Keep Your Kids Organized" and "13 Tricks to Healthy Lunches all Year Long". And maybe they work. If you find a suggestion or color coded calendar available for download that helps you out, Brava. I hope it fulfills all of your #momgoals for the year. But I don’t live with your kids in your house and you don’t live with my kids in mine so there’s really only so much that either of us is going to be able to teach the other one about how to do this parenting thing “right.”

You know who’d I take advice from? Some grandma with lovely grown grandchildren who were raised by her well-adjusted, productive children. She, however, is probably not writing a blog or posting carefully distressed signs with messages of love on Pinterest because she has transcended the realm of daily motherhood and no longer worries about such mundane things. She may also not exist because no matter how great of a parent you are, our kids can all decide to be drug addicts or shack up with a stripper named Glitter that they met during that gap year we convinced our spouse to let them take.

All the best advice in the world, all of the best ways to do this, or creative ways to do that may or may not be “best” in your life, or my life, or—and this is terrifying—even for all of our own kids. What works with one may or may not work for another. We really can’t tell in the middle of it.

I, for instance, teach my kids random things through pop songs written primarily before my birth.

Having trouble with prepositions? –“Under the Boardwalk”The Drifters, 1964
Wondering if there is such a thing as a Space Cowboy? –“TheJoker” Steve Miller Band, 1973

I send my kids to a pretty conservative private Christian school where I have to say things like “I think dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago no matter what your teacher said” and yet I also am explaining phrases like “we’ll be makin’ love…under the boardwalk” and “I’m a midnight toker” to my children. Fortunately, none of them asked about “I really love your peaches, wanna shake your tree.”

What in the world am I doing?! Have I no sense of the middle ground?!? We've got Creationism and stoner anthems at the same time??!! I am totally afraid that I am breaking them most of the time. That they will turn out weird or ignorant or lost or lonely or afraid or….well, I don’t even know what. The reality is that they will be one or all of those things at some point. We all are.  

One of my kids has spent the last year in therapies attempting to address both physical and academic challenges that we can’t seem to find a cause for. In our last meeting our pediatrician looked at me and said, “This is a unique case for me.”

Well, damn. Is that unique like “that’s a unique smell” or what?

He said, “unique in that most parents aren’t as involved or knowledgeable about their children’s development and education as you are. Honestly, most of them want me to just fix it so they can go back to playing tennis.”

I suppose that’s a compliment (I took it that way because I have an overinflated ego at times—not all the time, mind you—that might actually be useful to my sense of accomplishment—just sometimes), but it was also terrifying. I don’t want to have a unique case. I don’t want my kid to suffer because maybe I’ve spent too much time thinking I know what to do or how to fix it and I’ve just made it worse. Maybe I am blowing this whole parenting thing to hell even in the one field I thought I may actually have had an advantage. Maybe I should have just gone to play tennis. I’ve heard they have wine there.

Earlier today, my oldest was looking at her brand new binder and said, “OOHHH, it says, ‘resists taaares.’ So the binder doesn’t tear on the inside.”  When I looked up she said, “I read it as ‘resists teeers’ and kept thinking, ‘how many people cry onto their binders’”?

Having taught AP World History to 10th graders in a highly academically competitive environment, I’m pretty sure I could name several kids who may have cried onto their binders. I also think that if you could sell a binder that could resist tears, the kind that pour from your children’s eyes and into their lives and hearts, Target would never be able to keep that thing stocked.

But we would be wrong to buy it. Our teeers and taaaares and hurts and heartaches and struggles and successes and even false successes are what make us valuable human beings full of love and compassion and not fragile robots prone to general jackassery. (That’s a word. I promise.)

I am probably breaking my kids. You are probably breaking your kids. We are, probably, right this very minute, doing something that could have been done with just a little bit more patience or grace or love or joy or meaningful stares at one another. Although that sounds vaguely creepy.  

Our parenting choices are far from meaningless, but they’re not all paramount, either. I think it’s easier for us to focus on the logistics and look for advice about discipline tickets or chore charts because that feels like something we can DO, not something we have to be. 

And that's the rub, isn't it? Really great parenting is when WE are full of peace and patience and kindness and love...not when we manage to do the back-to-school paperwork on time. This is both the most important job we’ll ever do and also the one in which there will never be an accurate year-end review until the job’s all over. Our only option is to go hard for the duration in the hopes that we get something right.

So, what are my actual "10 Ways to Win at Parenting this School Year?" 
  1. Do your best—at whatever thing it seems to YOU needs attention at the time.
  2. Ignore all the other parents’ social media feeds. They don’t have your kids.
  3. Pray. This is actually 3-9. We’re all just guessing at what our kids need, but God in heaven knows.
  4. (AKA number 10) Do it all over again every day for every year you get to be a parent. It’s the only totally exhausting job that you never want to end.

I hope that all of our kids have meaningful years of growth and maturity. I hope they learn and expand and rise. I hope they experience, and recover from, tears of all kinds. And I hope we all remember to treasure it as much as humanly possible. Happy Back to School.


  1. Ok, this is so rad, and I wish we could be neighbors and BFFs!! Our family lives in Asia (where it's always hot!), and I needed this today. When you're raising kids all over the world, there's no way to raise them to the normal standards of America. Which is equal parts awesome and scary and guilt-inducing. Thanks so much for this post!

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