Oh Cool, I’ve Discovered Another Parenting Mistake I Made

Photo by Nikola Radojcic on Unsplash

I’m a parent, so obviously I’ve made a bunch of mistakes with my kids. There’s no getting around it. Sometimes I realize as soon as words have left my mouth that they were misbegotten. Too bad there’s no recall on stupid verbal communications…

But at other times I have an epiphany and realize that I’ve made more of a systemic error. Oops. No mulligans in parenting!

One thing I really wanted to avoid doing with my kids was labeling them. As in, you’re the musical one, you’re the one that’s good at math, you’re the artistic one. And for the most part I think I’ve been successful. At least externally — all kind of crazy shizz happens inside my head, but fortunately no one can see in there.

What I didn’t guard against, and therefore did in spades, was to try to decode their little psyches. You know how you identify where your daughter got that nose? I did that with personality traits. I’m not sure that it screwed them up, but it did a number on me.

For years I was convinced that my older daughter was a mini, though vastly improved, version of me. A lot of her attitudes and behaviors seemed to mirror my own childhood reality. She had that temper that could set the furniture on fire, and a propensity for hiding in corners. And emotional highs and lows that alternated between utter joy and black condemnation.

Honestly, it was helpful; I felt I had insight into what made her tick and how to help her over some of the hurdles I’d encountered myself. But as she grew up it became a bit of a stumbling block. Because of course we are not the same. I had to remind myself that her thoughts and reactions came from a very different place than my own.

While my goal in parenting is to turn on the love shower and withhold all judgment, I’m human. I imply. I suggest. Sometimes I even urge.

I admit it, I tried to point her towards doing things that I was SURE would make her happy. In part, I wanted her to do all the stuff I’d never done, but that she’d clearly be SO GOOD AT. Basically I was still hoping that she’d share my interests but be a lot better at everything.

But honestly, even if we were identical, it’s not helpful to try to steer another person’s ship. Even when your intentions are pure as the feathers on a dove. But I allowed our perceived similarity to cloud my perspective.

Then I went the other direction entirely. She’s not like me — she’s just like her father! No WONDER she does what she does. They have the same sense of humor! They’re both procrastinators! They can talk about the ins and out of track meets until the cows come home! So obvious. (Jesus, will I ever learn?)

Parenting is like being on the ocean in a lifeboat. Just about anything that floats by is potentially something that will ensure your survival. It’s only after you’ve found the oars and the desalinator and the chocolate stash that you can relax a little and realize that a lot of that flotsam and jetsam is just junk. And by that time the kids are swimming away using their own flotation devices and you wish you’d known then what you know now. Oh well.

My kids are stunners. They share traits with lots of their relatives but are their own amazing people. Now that I’ve gotten them through adolescence alive, unaddicted and (more or less) well-adjusted, I’m determined just to enjoy them instead of analyzing them.

And to remember that there is nature and nurture and experience and some ineffable spark that makes us our own unique selves. My new mantra?Celebrate it! And stop trying so hard.

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Julia Williamson

Julia Williamson

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Feminist, optimist, nonconforming pleaser and rebel. I know. I mostly write about getting rid of things you hate, both physical and intangible.