Mothers of Preschoolers, Rebel!

Let me start with an acknowledgement of the serious burdens of parenting for those without resources, without money, without structures of community, without health care coverage and without even justice.  I cannot even begin to know the struggles of those in this situation, even as I aspire to greater mindfulness (see my blogpost over at Jubilee Year).

Yet there’s another sort of burden for parents who have everything — and it’s heavy.

Of course we all know do-gooders (like me) who have said, “I went to (fill in the blank with name of third-world country you visited), and I realized that I wasn’t giving; I was receiving.  These people with almost nothing were filled with joy that we don’t see in America.”  This is a cliche; we all know it will be uttered in all such conversations.

So with that caveat that I am entering murky waters wherein we all already swim in the knowledge that affluence is not all joy, I enter into a reflection on the angst I feel with my younger friends who are living the life I lived 20 years ago when my children were small.  And I beg them (you?)… “Stop the madness; it’s not worth it.”

I’m talking about the beautiful young mothers whom I see picking their children up from pre-school mid-day.  They have gotten their younger children up from naps to go retrieve the older one who is in school so “(s)he can be socialized.” They are wrestling with 43 buckles on a Snugli or some such child carrier, so they can get the baby in it in order to pick up the big kid… a task that will require both hands (or octopus arms would be better) because said child is bringing home a play date, is carrying today’s art (laden with enough macaroni to fill the stomach of an inner city child were boiling water to be available) and is holding reams of paper on which teachers have chronicled every bowel movement and social interaction that occurred in the three hours since momma dropped the little one off.

And then the mother will need to get home and feed lunch to her child and playmate, making sure to provide food that is politically correct, and  then provide educational activities for the children to do so as to use the time well, ideally even increasing their vocabularies or teaching a new skill (bread kneading being high on the list of desirable activities).

Gone are the days when children just played.  When parents loved and parented with the tools at hand (and didn’t have to read books and manuals on what to provide and how to use it).  When the kids were expected to figure out what to do and to play with anybody within range (including siblings).

Dave Barry wrote an hilarious book called “Babies and Other Hazards of Sex: How to Make a Tiny Person in Only 9 Months, with Tools You Probably Have around the Home.”  For some reason that book title makes me want to write, “How to Parent Your Kids with a Homemade, ‘As Is’ Mentality,” using things that you find around the house (scraps of junk, markers, free time, boredom, old packs of jello, reading materials you’ve read 50 times before, naps, love, creativity).

This would all require a huge cultural shift.  I know that.  And I don’t mean to add another burden.

But back in about 1989 I had an “Aha moment” that I did nothing with, and I wish I’d listened.  So I pass it on now.  I had a house guest who was on her way to having 10 children.  She had probably five at that time, all small.  And I had two.  And I asked her how she did it with so many children.  And she (from a smaller, midwestern town) told me that she thought I was the one with the harder situation — getting the children out the door in the morning, on time, with actual matched shoes, with all the papers the preschool teacher expected, with field trip money and perhaps even matching clothing. Whereas her goal was that her children would brush their teeth and have a nice day.

I thought “she just didn’t understand” my reality.  I wish I’d understood hers well enough that it could have been mine. Because I don’t think I enhanced my children’s lives, or my own, with all the running around, the “being there” nature of our early days.  There were secondary goals at play, which I didn’t recognize.  And the cost was high.

All the options, the opportunities, the preschools, the activities… they might be ideal for some children and some mothers… but if I had it to do over again, I’d be sure I was choosing that path instead of falling into it out of default because I thought that I had to to parent well; I’d make sure I was choosing from a position of strength and not weakness.

I’m just saying… think twice.  Drop out if you want.

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~ by Cary on May 13, 2010.

12 Responses to “Mothers of Preschoolers, Rebel!”

  1. How wonderful, cary! I especially love the last two paragraphs.

    • So glad you found this. Wanted to share with you and your group but didn’t want to sound critical either if anyone is feeling the burden.

  2. Absolutely love and absolutely true, especially now that I am facing another senior year, another child leaving. Sooooo glad I stayed home when I did – wish I had done more of that, but I am grateful.

    • I am SO grateful. And I make it sound like it’s just an option to choose from and for many it’s not an option to do anything but drag themselves to work. There’s no right way or simple way to be a mother (or a human)… but yes, I am grateful too — for you and for me.

  3. Thanks for this Cary. For someone who doesn’t plan to do preschool, but is surrounded by folks who do, it’s hard (sometimes) not to feel like we’re doing something wrong.

  4. Lovely post, Cary! Lots to think about and digest. It’s so hard to go against the grain in these parts. I often feel like the only mom in a sea of nannys. It definitely makes me feel inadequate at times. But I try to focus on my relationship with my young children. I think strong bonds are most important at this time. At the same time, preschool is a sanity saver for me at times.

    Like I said, I’m still working it all out in my little mind.

    Great to chat last night!

  5. I wrote the word “time” way too often in that response. HA! Happy Saturday morning!

  6. Hi Cary, I’d love to talk with you more about this. xo

  7. I agree that there are a lot of different ways to raise children and no one can say with total certainly the correct way to go about it. I guess what really matters in the end is that the kids end up ok and you enjoy the ride while it lasts

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