Parenting is tricky business. As a parent, sometimes I wonder if I am doing too much, and sometimes I wonder if I should be doing more.
With military life there comes guilt; for me, as a military spouse, I feel guilt when my spouse is gone because I feel like he’s missing out on our kids growing up. I also feel some weird kind of spousal guilt where I feel like I need to be everything to our kids to make up for the “life we chose.” So we tend to give and do, to make up for it. And there are the grandparents, who for us, have never lived nearby. So they give lots of stuff to make up for not being able to give time and share physical space.
I love to travel with my kids and show them all there is to see in our country and in the world. We had the luxury of being stationed overseas. They were able to learn about and experience a culture completely different than their own. I was able to travel with my kids from Japan to Australia along with our amazing friends.
As my daughter sat next to her best friend on the plane, I looked at my friend and said, “What a life they have, to be able to go to Australia with their bestie.” And they had no idea that this was not a normal opportunity for most people.
We have traveled a lot, and we have gone on some great family vacations. I wonder how much of these vacations they will remember. I wonder which ones will have the most impact on them.
As I look around my kids’ bedrooms and see all their stuff, I can’t help but think that this is all too much. In an attempt to give our kids a great life, are we teaching them that having lots of stuff is what a great life is made of? I hope not.
In all our attempts to do what’s best for our kids and to give them a happy life, there’s a feeling of failure — at least for me. Not having enough patience. Not spending enough time at home with them. Not being involved enough in their schools.
I recently had my quarterly evaluation at my job, and it made me think of what my evaluation would be as a mom. Maybe I need to know what my kids think about how our family is doing. So, individually, I asked all three of my kids (ages 11, 10, 7) to evaluate me.
Here are their responses:
What is your favorite memory?
Kid 1: Getting our dog because he is part of our family now. Also, going to the Bahamas and all of us petting the dolphins.
Kid 2: Being in the Bahamas, playing on the beach and water slides.
Kid 3: Being in Lake Tahoe playing in the snow and bringing Sherlock (our dog).
What do mom and dad do well?
Kid 1: Playing with us.
Kid 2: Having fun with us and making food.
Kid 3: Playing with us.
What can mom and dad improve?
Kid 1: Nothing
Kid 2: No yelling at all no matter what I do, always talk to us calmly.
Kid 3: Nothing
What our kids will remember
The first thing I noticed about my kids’ answers is that none of them mentioned us buying them stuff. Even though we have given them a lot of things, and even though they still are always asking for more things, these things didn’t even come up in the evaluation.
Two of my kids mentioned our trip to the Bahamas. My kids have always been happiest at the beach. But this beach trip in particular was right before my husband deployed for eight months, which I think placed even more value on it. Also, this trip ended up being cut two days short due to an emergency hurricane evacuation. This was scary and a bit stressful. When talking about that trip, my kids never mentioned the evacuation. My daughter mentioned Lake Tahoe — this was her first time playing in real snow and first time sledding. She loved it!
My heart was definitely made happy when all my kids said that we are good at just playing with them and having fun. So maybe I can let go of the I’m not spending enough time with my kids guilt.
Two of my kids think we are such great parents that we don’t have to change a thing. But of course our sensitive middle child gives us the 100% honest answer. I love him for it, and I respect him for it. And I told him, I will work on always, no-matter-what responding calmly to him. Honestly, the “always” part is not realistic, but we can try. (I really wanted to ask him if he could work on his selective listening problem, then we’d have a deal, but I kept that to myself.)
With these questions and my kids’ answers, I have realized that my kids are not putting pressure on me to do more or be better. That pressure comes from myself and a list of outside influences, but not my kids. And they are who matter. I think they care more about the quality of time spent and not the amount of time. It’s not the stuff we bought that they remember, but the experiences we’ve shared. Even a hurricane couldn’t wipe out that amazing beach memory of theirs.
Let your kids evaluate your performance. You may be doing better at this parenting thing than you think …
One more thing, at the end of asking my kids these questions, my middle child asked, is there a question about us listing what we want our parents to buy us? Because I want a laptop.
So also remember, kids will be kids.