Photo by tshein
My kids seem to think that when a skill comes easily it means you’re good at it—you’ve reached a level of success. Ironically, it’s a good thing I no longer believe that myself, because if I did, I would have to conclude I’m a complete failure at parenting.
Of course, I have shared my kids’ assessment of “easy = good” in the past. Long ago I decided if writing is easy and math is hard, I must be good at writing and bad at math. If playing the viola is easy, but only up to a point, I figured when it became hard I had reached the limits of my talent.
There is some truth to this logic, which is, I suppose, why we attach ourselves to it in the first place. I have no doubt, for instance, that my natural gifts are in writing, but that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t get much more skilled than I have in math or music. Because here’s what I’m finally starting to get: It’s when something gets hard that it’s getting real. The hard moments are those breakthrough moments, when you either get stuck or push through to a new level.
The teen years: Where the parental rubber hits the road
Right now, the hardest thing in my life is parenting. Jason and I have been sort of coasting these past few years—no big challenges or concerns, no weighty issues to sort through. I have to admit, it sort of felt like we had figured a lot of this parenting thing out, and we had gotten lucky, too, with generally good, happy, problem-free kids.
But now, our kids are 15, 14 and 12, and suddenly nothing seems to be coming naturally for me as a mom. Every day brings conundrums—issues to sort out, consequences to weigh, doubts to push back into the shadows. I second-guess myself at every turn, trying to choose my battles and decide which message or lesson is most important in any given situation. That my daughters respect me? That they know I love them? That they’re safe in this moment? That they’re learning things that will keep them safe down the road? That they’re learning responsibility and respect for others? Of course, we want all of those things in equal measure, but in real, day-to-day situations it seems like something always has to give.
“I’m not good at this!” I wail to Jason.”It’s so hard.”
As parents, when things get hard we don’t just throw in the towel, like we might with a musical instrument or sport. But it is easy, I think, to get stuck. It’s easy to let things slide, to not follow up, to decide to keep an evening at home peaceful and pleasant rather than bring up difficult issues. It’s easy to try forcing our kids (or at least our concepts of them) into one-dimensional packages that we can more conveniently handle.
And there’s that other, less neutral side of easy, too: It’s also easy to just yell, to take away privileges in a rash way, or to be passive aggressive in our communication of frustration and disappointment. It’s becoming crystal clear to me, as a parent of adolescents, that easy parenting is not synonymous with good parenting.
In fact, if parenting feels hard, it’s probably a better sign that you’re doing a good job. Because parenting is complex. Individuals are complex. Relationships are complex. The world we’re raising our kids in is complex. Why on earth would we expect—or even hope for—any of this to be easy?
Ditching “easy” in favor of “real”
That’s why I’m trying to let go of “easy” and “hard” as measures of how things are going. Instead, I’m going to ask myself, “How real is this?” How real is this relationship? How real is the writing on my blog? How real is my life?
I started thinking about what “real” looks like on Friday, when I was writing a let-it-flow post prompted by Gypsy Mama’s “Five Minute Friday” series. As I wrote, my relationship with my daughters bubbled to the surface as an example of what real feels like:
[Real is] my relationship with my daughters, always situated somewhere between knowing them too well—every small fault and quirk—and never being able to know them well enough, to the full depth of their beings, the full capacity of our love.
Real is complex, which makes it hard. Real, as I also wrote Friday, “…is contained in the words I write when I feel most empty—when I think I have nothing to say, no path to run down, no clear destination to reach…. Real is back and forth.”
And you better believe that’s hard. It’s hard, and absolutely necessary.