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Your parenting legacy

Growing up, on the rare occasions we would go out for dinner, my family and I would invariably encounter a surly waitress. You know the sort: plonks the menu on the table with a sigh, takes your order as if it’s the most boring thing in the world and practically thumps you one when you ask for extra cutlery! I exaggerate but you get the idea. 

When this situation arose, my Dad would say something like: “A prize for the person who can crack a smile from the grumpy waitress!” At which point my sister and I would groan, sinking further into our chairs. 

Next time the waitress would appear at the table, my Dad would make a comment along the lines of: “Bit busy in here tonight.” Often this would be all it took and we’d watch the waitress relax, her face softening with a small smile.

If she was a tough nut to crack he’d try again. Maybe put a fake snake on the table next time she came around. (You need to know that it’s usual for my father to carry props like this around with him – he has been known to put a glass eyeball on his plate in the hopes of successfully rising a squeal or two!) Or maybe he’d balance a fork on his glass, anything out of the ordinary to get a smile.

If all this failed and our waitress was particularly dour, he would say, with a twinkle in his eye and a cheeky grin: “Are you having a horrible day?” I don’t think I’ve ever seen this technique fail! A comment like this would completely disarm our server and from then on she’d be putty in our hands…and full of smiles!

My Mum was the same. She’d often strike up a quick chat with people here and there as we did our shopping along the high-street. An old man waiting to cross the road for example or the woman in front of us in the check-out queue.  She was always, and still is, ready with a smile or a nod. Especially with elderly people. “You should always say hello,” she’d say to me. “You might be the only person they speak to all day.”

As a kid I would find the whole thing hugely embarrassing. I would roll my eyes at both my parents and wish I was invisible.  It was mortifying. I didn’t get the point at all.

But as an adult I do get the point and I find myself doing exactly the same thing as my parents. What’s more I do it in front of my children who find it just as insanely embarrassing as I did. “Why do you always talk to the check-out girl!” My daughter will hiss as we leave the supermarket. “Do you know that man at the gas-station?” My son will ask. “I’m just trying to be friendly!” is my reply. Because what harm is it to smile at someone or pass the time of day? It costs nothing but gives so much more. 

So as I happily watch my children writhe in humiliation (an unexpected joy of parenting I find) I realise that this is part of my parents’ parenting legacy. As a mother of children still pre-teen, I tend to think of parenting as a relatively short period of time, while my children are living at home and need me to wipe their noses or buy their shoes, but it runs much deeper than that. It’s in everything we do, every decision we make and it lasts a lifetime. 

So why not teach them the value of a smile or a friendly hello instead of how to argue over a parking space? Why not teach them the beauty of giving someone the benefit of the doubt instead of rushing to take offence? Why not teach them how to extend a hand to their fellow man rather than how to pick a fight?
What will your parenting legacy be? 🙂

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The after-school rollercoaster!

Oh the joys of extra-curricular activities! Anyone else with kids feel like they’re rushing around like a headless chicken after school making sure their beloved off-spring get to their Yoga-For-Tots or Young Chefs class on time? It’s craziness! I’m trying to keep our after-school commitments under a tight rein but if you’re not careful, before you know it, your kid’s calendar looks much like that of an A-list celeb!

At the moment my kids play tennis, my son fences and my daughter takes a drama class. It’s enough to fill up the week and make me just a tad stressed at times! If I’m honest I’d rather just let them hang out at home, doing their homework and picking their nose but unfortunately parents are under a lot of pressure to enrich their children’s lives with sport and crafts these days.

There is a pletherer of after-school activities available, so whatever your child is interested in, chances are you can find a class for it. When you turn up at these places, the classes are usually well attended but I find myself wondering how many of the students would rather be kicking a ball around on their back yard, or pootling about on their bikes. And I have to wonder do they really need to be doing Chess Club and Fine Arts?

The other day, I took my son to his regular fencing class. Usually I enjoy a trip to Costco during his lesson, but last night, in an effort to resist the lure of a jumbo pack of kitchen towels, I decided to hang around and read a book. There were a few other parents there, some on their phones, some tapping way on Ipads and the others were watching. No hang on, they weren’t just watching, what they were actually doing was coaching their kids, yelling out instructions from the back of the room. Every time there was a water break these parents would go over and say things like: “You’re lifting your front foot to high” or “you’re not moving quickly enough.” As if it weren’t enough for their children to be taking guidance from the fencing coach, you know the person actually qualified to instruct in the method of fencing, they also had to endure negative criticism from their parents.

Then I felt uncomfortable wearing my Judging Hat because I’m sure I’ve done the exact same thing. I know I am sometimes the parent muttering at the back of the room. And I couldn’t help wondering, why don’t we just leave the kids alone to get it in their own time? Have we lost all faith in our childrens’ ability to grasp a new skill without parental badgering from the sidelines?

Growing up, my main interest was drama. I used to go down on the bus every Satruday and would spend three hours happily prancing around pretending to be a tree or working on a my solo pieces. My parents never came. Even when I practiced at home, my parents didn’t usually listen to me or give me instruction. When I ask my Mum about this and she usually says something along the lines of: “Well we just trusted you to get on with it!” Or “I had things to do!”

And I did…I just got on with it. I didn’t feel unloved or uncared for. I could always go to my parents for help but they certainly weren’t breathing down my neck. The result of this approach was that every time I did take part in a drama competition or my school exams, I was doing so as an invidual. I always knew my achievements, and my mistakes, were my own. As they should be.

I think that parents now are more insecure about their children than my parents generation (I include myself here). We push our kids at school, we push them at sport outside of school, we expect them to be accomplished public speakers. But by heaping the pressure on and holding their hands the whole time, we in fact disinfranchise our kids because we stop them from become true individuals. We sap out the enterpise and creativity from their souls because we send them the message that they can’t so it on their own and that there’s no place for failure.
It’s good to have hopes for your kids obviously, it’s natural to want them to do well but doesn’t it feel like we’re rushing them along? So much so, we’re not leaving them room for error. Shouldn’t we have more faith in their ablity to work it out themselves? To embrace their mistakes? We trying so hard to protect them from failing without realising that we are in turn depriving them of a vital life lesson. We need to ask ourselves why we are enrolling our kids into all these extra-curricular activites? Who is it for? What is it for? Shouldn’t we be teaching them that it’s ok sometimes to get up and have a go, and not win a trophy?

Now it’s the beginning of a New Year, a chance to re-evaluate. I’m in the process of assessing my own kids extra-cirruclar activities. At the moment they seem to be enjoying it and I’m coping with being a taxi to get them to various places. I drop off and pick up. I’m making an effort to be supportive without getting over-involved. For now, I feel I have it under control but to be fair that’s probably because my youngest son has yet to get sucked into the after-school mayhem.

Although I’m proud to say that he is rather good at picking his nose…and that’s without any guidance for me of course! 😉

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My new friend…

…is a lizard! Well I’m not actually sure it’s a lizard, could be a gecko but the fact is he/she turned up on the wall of my hallway yesterday evening and since then it keeps disappearing and popping up all over the place. 

Now I’m happily going to admit, that the first time it ran across the wall I shrieked and the dog went crazy!  I grabbed a plastic container and made a rather wimpy attempt to catch it.  My children were watching and I was trying to do the whole “I’m your mother, I can handle it” act (actually not sure why I bother with that because my kids see right through me. Kids have a habit of doing that don’t they?)  So I’m there waving Tupperware, which used to hold cookies and is now poised to hold gecko and all I’m thinking is that I have to get this reptile out of my house because…well because it’s not normal to let geckos, and the like, roam wild in your home is it?

But then he hid behind a mirror and I didn’t want to take it down to get it, because,first of all, the mirror is this spiky, arty thing made of brass so it’s quite heavy and, secondly, we are just about to put our house up for sale and I didn’t want to risk marking the paintwork!

So,much to the horror of my children, I left him there and when my husband went to look, the gecko was gone.  Later we spotted him high up, hanging out on a window ledge and then after that he scuttled across the wall again.  I haven’t seen it since…but I know it’s here somewhere. 

And actually (by the way I’m surprising myself here) I find that I quite like it. I quite like the fact that my little lizard friend is hanging out somewhere, just chillin’ up there on my wall. I got to thinking that Leonard The Lizard (eek! – I’ve named him now) is a metaphor for the twist and turns of life itself. Just like my new scaly chum (hmm…do reptiles have scales? Not sure…I’ll google it in a mo but for let’s go with it for now) the passing of time is always there in the background, it’s a presence you can put on a back-burner but never fully ignore. But just like Len (we’re so close now I’m comfortable abbreviating his name) an opportunity might race in front of you and show itself and your job then, is not to try and catch it so you can remove it, but to run with it, to watch it, to learn from it and use it. We get the most from life when we’re open, when we shift our perspective.  I mean I didn’t necessarily want a gecko scaling the walls of my house but at the moment I do happen to have one and … I’m ok with it!

So the question is…how have you shifted your perspective recently? Are you letting the Len in your life roam free? Share your story and tell us about an opportunity, or gecko, you ran with recently! 🙂

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