I find this parenting gig trying at times – don’t we all? How is it possible that a small child old can emotionally hijack her entire family for twenty minutes of the morning routine because the seams on her socks bother her? More difficult than dealing with the drama of this job, I find, is not knowing whether I’m doing a good job and the absence of positive feedback.
Like many parents who used to work and are currently taking time off to raise a family, I miss my annual performance review and my paycheck. But there is something far more subtle missing in my daily work as a parent. I miss the camaraderie and acknowledgement of colleagues. “Great report, thanks.” or “Brilliant job in that meeting, you were right on track.” In the absence of those comments, I now realize how much they meant to me at the time.
Without these little encouraging asides, I can feel adrift and even disheartened when they have been replaced by the grumpy comments of children. It was a great feeling to end a meeting knowing I’d negotiated an important point or aced a presentation. Rarely if ever, do I feel I’ve aced a parenting situation. Often enough, I know I haven’t done a good job when I’ve lost my cool or allowed a situation to persist when it shouldn’t or not been fair in my judgement. In those cases, the evidence of my failure is clear. When things go a bit better I am left wondering whether that was the best I could do, whether it was the right thing to do. Whether it will have the effect I hope it will in twenty years time… I don’t know.
I’ve always thought of other mums as my mum-colleagues and many of them have offered guidance and camaraderie over the years, but they are not my superiors and while they are often supporting and encouraging, they have never commented on my “performance” as a parent.
A couple of months ago we were at another families home for dinner. It is a family who we are close with. Their children are older than ours and always graciously play with our kids. As a mother of older children, I had often asked Carmel advice about different things over the three years I’ve known her.
We were getting ready to leave and our youngest was heading toward the door with a handful of ribbons I’d never seen. “I think you need those back before we leave.” I said. “Grace gave them to me.” she said now making haste toward the door. I caught up with her and said. “Ok, well let’s go and say goodbye to Grace and you can thank her for the ribbons.” The jig was up. She balked and then agreed to return the ribbons. I felt relieved the situation hadn’t turned into a power struggle and we said our goodbyes. Just as I was leaving, Carmel said to me, “You handled that situation really well.” I thanked her and left relieved that my child hadn’t stolen something from her child and that an ugly scene had been avoided.
In the days that followed, and now it has been months, I often think of her comment. It was given so easily. One sentence. And yet it has meant so much to me. I still think of it and it buoys me from time to time in the uncertainty of my daily parenting work. I will never forget it.
So I say to you fellow parents, who are so well trained in noticing the positive in your children and encouraging them rather than admonishing them for the negative: Let’s give our parent-colleagues a pat on the back every once in a while. We can be quick to criticize others when they are faltering. Perhaps criticizing other parents gives us the only certainty we have in measuring our performance (“At least I’m doing a better job than her!”)
Instead, let us notice the positive and offer a collegiate show of support to our friends, partners and even other parents we don’t know. Of course, there is a slight risk in doing this. People may think you are odd or be a bit awkward about it. Most likely that is because, they have their heads down, trying to get this difficult job done with little guidance or feedback while maintaining some semblance of composure. They may be hoping that no one notices their child misbehaving as they try to remain calm and exit a public space. But I bet, if you have the courage to compliment them on their parenting work in that moment, they will remember it for a very long time, be grateful to you and hopefully do the same for someone else having a rough day at the parenting office.