Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

That's Good, That's Bad

My parenting self-check results fall along a spectrum. At one end, I get a little excessively self-congratulatory when I feel like I've had a great mommy moment. Those are the moments when you turn a situation with your kids into a teaching moment to which they seem to be tremendously receptive. Both the reception and the lesson eventually fade leaving you to wonder if anyone is actually listening. Ever. At the other end of the spectrum, I tend to be disproportionately hard on myself when I feel as though I've flubbed a situation or missed a teachable moment with my kids. Most of the time, I fall somewhere in between. I think it's good to set high parenting expectations of yourself but I also believe that nobody has yet to perfect parenting and it would be arrogant for any of us to think we're the ones to do it. We all make mistakes - we can hope that we don't make too many, that we learn from those we make and that those we make don't ruin our kids forever.

So, last week, I was guilty of a parenting gaff that, ironically, derived from a moment when I felt deserving of a parenting award. I talk to our kids frequently about the pressures and choices on the road ahead. I long ago told our daughters that they should feel free to blame things on me when they feel stuck in a situation and don't want to do something. I meant with friends. I was talking about peer pressure. I don't need to be cool to or even liked by their friends but I do need to be there for our girls so if using me as a scapegoat in sticky situations could be helpful, I was and remain all for it. But last week, after my daughter's school concert, she let me know that she had told her band teacher that she would not be continuing with band next year because her mother didn't want her to. What?! Of course she told me this just as the band teacher was approaching and (here comes the bad mommy moment) as I said hello to him, I fervently denied ever prohibiting her from participating in band next year. Our daughter was mortified. Actually, she was furious. She glared at me and said, "But you told us we could always blame things on you!". Hmmmmmmmm... not what I meant! To her credit, she allowed me both to apologize and explain. I really was sorry that I had embarrassed her and I hadn't meant to (as a rule, I believe embarrassing your kids is a parental prerogative and perk but only when you mean to do it). I explained that I actually made the offer to scapegoat myself for situations with friends and that in this particular case, the story she gave the teacher was so absurd that it wasn't believable anyhow. My explanations were, admittedly, a little on the weak side but I happen to have a great kid who quickly forgave me nonetheless and let me know that in the future I should just be clear about the scope of my offers. I could have and should have handled things a little differently. After all, don't we tell our kids to take a moment and think before opening their mouths? I leave it to you to decide for yourself how bad it was to have embarrassed a child in front of her teacher.

Somehow this scenario reminds me of a book I used to read to my kids when they were little that would crack us all up. Margery Cuyler's That's Good, That's Bad was a family favorite. I now have the pleasure of knowing Margery personally and think the world of her. The book (actually, there are a few of them, with varied themes) turns the concepts of "good" and "bad", not to mention "terror" and "relief" on their heads. Sometimes something seems good, then takes a turn for the bad and, surprisingly, turns back into good - hmmmmmm... sounds a lot like some of my parenting decisions!

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