I remember the first time it struck me that people were shocked at the fact that there were seven girls in my family. I think we were on vacation and a stewardess asked my Dad if we were Catholic. “No. I’m a farmer.” She must have thought it was a way for him to have free labor on the farm! People would say, “Oh. You just keep trying for that boy, huh?” Never once did my parents say yes to that. And friends, that is how you raise confident and capable women: by telling them they are ENOUGH just as they are, penisless and perfect.
Imagine having seven girls. And then I’ll throw in that the first four are 28 months apart. Seriously. I’m number five, and I’m just happy they wanted more kids after not sleeping or taking a bath alone for that many years. The struggle was real with toddlers but then personalities began to emerge. How do you parent when one is more athletic than another, and one is tall but she could care less about basketball? What happens when some have to study to make good grades and others don’t crack a book in high school and do just fine? Mom would say, “I’ve already made grades. You do your best for yourself and not me.” Don’t get me wrong. There were expectations but there was never pressure. If you had done your best and worked hard, then that was good enough. Any pressure to succeed was truly internal, but because we were taught to be grateful for the gifts we were given (see blog 1), no one was distraught over not being as good at sports or music or academics as another sister.
I just read an NPR article yesterday about the importance of taking pressure off of kids. Depression, anxiety, drug use and suicide rates are higher than ever before among students in high achieving schools. The school in the article reminded me of Brentwood High in Brentwood, TN where my children went. The kids at this school are fairly priveleged. They have money to travel and most live in two parent/college educated homes. They are polite, go to church and play sports and are involved in band and choir. They are high achievers (good thing I prepared my kids that there would always be peers who were smarter and richer before we moved to Tennessee) yet many are stressed out and burned out before they turn 18. The truth is that it is much more difficult to get into college these days than it was when my sisters and I were applying. Last night, my sister Anne described the ultimate helicopter parent who has micromanaged the life of her high school senior son. Hopefully he will be fine, but is he living his life and choosing a path for himself or for his Mom?
My mom would tell you it’s all about balance. Balance summer weed pulling with trips to the pool and a candy bar. Balance responsibilities as a member of a household with freedom to explore personal interests. Balance high expectations with letting your daughter paint her bedroom Pepto-Bismal pink. Don’t freak out over messy rooms because eventually your kid will need something to wear. Not everything your child does should be done to check off a box on a college or medical school application. Accept your child for the gifts they bring to the world and be realistic in what they aren’t capable of doing. She would say that artists, musicians writers, social workers, teachers and stay at home parents are just as worthy to our world as a doctor or lawyer. Trust that there is a college that fits your child’s abilities and more importantly, what he or she wants to do, not what you want them to do.
I’ve asked Mom what it was like to manage seven different personalities, talents as well as PMS. She said that she and Dad would talk about it at night. From time to time, he would hold her as she cried from worry or frustration. But mostly she says she survived because she didn’t micromanage. She let us be who we were and didn’t rob us of the opportunity to do the work of self-awareness and self-empowerment. She told us what she thought, but once we were on our own, never gave unsolicited advice. She let us make our own way and our own decisions about careers and spouses. All seven of us, unique in many ways, are all the better for not being the children of a helicopter Mom.