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You’re Not Raising Yourself (And that’s why parenting is so hard)

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Photo by Winnie Bruce

In our family, there are basically four introverts and one extrovert. I am aware that introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum, of course, but four of us tend toward needing time alone to recharge, and one of us doesn’t seem to.

When the kids were younger, I was fortunate to be off work two days a week. Their Montessori school was open five days a week, so usually I would take them for a short day when I was off and let them have their routine while I did grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, laundry, and the other things that kept me sane and the household running.

Some days I would give the kids a “treat” and let them skip school, but one of my kids was a holy terror at home. Especially if his brother and sister were at school, he was fussy and irritable all day.

It took time for me to notice that he was irritable at home because it was so quiet and calm, especially if it was just the two of us. If I took him to a park where he could be around other kids, the grocery store where he could climb on the car-cart, or if he stayed to play at school, he was happy.

The things that would have brought me contentment and peace — being alone, having downtime, reading a book without interruption — brought him irritation. And the things that brought him contentment — being around other people, group projects, party atmospheres — brought me irritation.

Years ago I was talking to a mother who kept saying about her preschooler: “I just don’t understand. Why won’t she talk at dance class? Why won’t she speak up at school? I used to love all those things!” And I said to that mom as I’ve said to myself for 16 years now: “Well, you didn’t give birth to yourself, did you?”

You know why parenting is hard? Because we didn’t give birth to (or adopt, or foster, or mentor) ourselves.

Each year that passes, I feel I know myself better. I’m fascinated to think what it would be like if I could travel back in time and relive my adolescence and young adulthood with the self-awareness I now have. Would I make different decisions? Choose different relationships? Take more risks? Or fewer?

In parenting my children, I need to remember it took me 46 years to get to know myself thus far. My children are only 11, 14, and 16 years into my knowing them, and their knowing themselves. A hard part of parenting is that what works for me does not work for my kids, and what works for one of them does not work for the other two.

Each of us is individually made and, therefore, will respond in our own way to stressors and situations.

Figuring out that one child is an extrovert meant that I could drop him off at his school as a preschooler guilt-free on the days I didn’t work. He was so much happier there among friends, and I was able to recharge having a few hours to myself.

When my daughter told her 7-year-old best friend after a sleepover, “I need a 4-hour break from you, then I can play with you again,” I got that.

When another child entered a new kindergarten and spent weeks sitting on the steps observing recess instead of participating, his wonderful teacher called to let me know. When I asked him if everything was ok that night, he said, “Yeah, I’m OK. I just feel like the iPad at 1%.”

As an introvert myself, I got that, too. I knew how he felt before he said it. When my kids react the way I would, I get it. When they don’t, my parenting requires more thought and effort to see their perspective.

As my teenagers go through situations and I watch them learn and grow, it feels more congruent when they handle something the way I would. But sometimes my way doesn’t work for them.

At the first of this school year, I bought color-coded folders and notebooks for one child, plus a planner. This system worked for me through many years of education. It worked for my daughter. So of course it would work for my son, right?

However, my husband looked at the folders: green for math, gray for history, white for science and said, “You know you can’t force your organizational system on him, right? You know he has to figure out his own way.”

So 16 years into parenting and I’m still learning: I did not give birth to myself. I am not raising myself. I am raising three people who are like me in some ways and the opposite of me in others. It’s not my job to make them into me. It’s my job to help them discover who they are.

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