My son had just started at a new school. It was a new routine for all of us -- earlier bedtimes, earlier mornings, homework and reading assignments, packed lunches to be prepared each morning -- and I was struggling. My son himself, fortunately, was thriving in his new environment, but I was taking a little while to adjust. One Friday two weeks into his new term I had a little meltdown. I was grumpy as I woke, grumpy as I woke him, and grumpy as I rushed to put him in the shower and to prepare breakfast and lunch. I was grumpy, or as my dinosaur-loving son puts it, I was a Grumposaurus. And in my rush, I forgot the toy he had wanted to take in for the "toy day" he had been looking forward to with such excitement.
I apologised when I picked him up in the afternoon. "I'm sorry," I said to him, "that Mama was so grumpy."
"I neither have the time nor the energy to obsess about 'perfecting' my child..."
He smiled happily at me. "Were you grumpy, Mama? I don't remember."
His reaction astonished me. My son has a good memory for facts, and he still found it so easy to let go of his disappointments from earlier on in the day. He still found it so easy to not harbour any ill will towards me.
His reaction made me wonder, too, about what I could learn about parenting from my five-year-old child.
So much has been made about the various parenting philosophies we come across. Most people are familiar with the Tiger Mom method of parenting, where children are subjected to intense discipline from their earliest years. This is a method of parenting I find myself incapable of. I neither have the time nor the energy to obsess about "perfecting" my child, and I believe learning is just that -- the opportunity for children to make mistakes, and by making mistakes, to learn for themselves. Besides, I don't feel that my worth as a parent -- or as a human -- is defined by my children's success. Their success defines them. As do their failures. As does their tenacity, their imagination, and their willingness to learn and adapt. As crucially, does their happiness.
So, an alternative method of parenting, perhaps. In a refreshing article in The Atlantic, Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar spoke of her idyllic childhood in India, where her parents felt it important not to discipline or scold children until they were five years old. In those formative years of development, instead, their children were offered all the nurture and support they needed. The parents co-slept with their children. They dried tears and batted away worries. Sharma-Sindhar has coined the term "elephant parenting" to describe her parents' philosophy.
This feels a lot more like me. But there's a crucial difference between Sharma-Sindhar's upbringing, and the one my children are going through. We don't live with the support of extended family. My parents and my husband's parents live thousands of miles away from us. We both work, and sometimes it's harder than we like to be as supportive and nurturing as possible. My husband and I want to spend time with each other too. Sometimes there's just not enough time in the day to be an "elephant parent" all the time.
We live in an era where we're facing more pressures. We live in a global era where we're more isolated from our families and communities. We're living in a digital era where we have endless information at our finger tips -- the best schools and universities, the best after-school activities, the best tools to equip our children for their futures.
"We both work, and sometimes it's harder than we like to be as supportive and nurturing as possible."
In our increasingly neurotic and self-diagnostic culture, I find that we are forgetting to live in a way where we can allow for mistakes. We are forgetting to cut ourselves some slack. We are forgetting to learn from the wisdom of our children, and we're forgetting to teach them that we too are fallible.
I'm the good-enough parent. I'm the one who has finally made her peace with her imperfections. And I have my children to thank. Their endurance inspires me every day. It teaches me too.
Since I forgot my son's toy that one Grumposaurus Friday, I've never repeated my mistake. My son's toy is always safely tucked into his school bag on Thursday evening. I do still sometimes wake up grumpy -- I've never claimed to be a morning person -- but my son's tolerance has taught me about responding to conflict. It's taught me to forget when either of my children are imperfect. It's not alright to be violent or rude, and if they ever are, they get a talking to. They get a look that every mother -- and every child -- in the world will recognise. If they're very bad, they're put in the corner for a little while. But I've learnt to forget, and I've learnt that imperfections aren't unique to children.
I'm no tiger mom. I'm no elephant parent. I'm a good enough mother, and I'm endlessly grateful for my resourceful, curious, miraculously more-than-good-enough children for helping me realise this.
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