(I’m sorry, Mom. I know, I know, you hate that word. But it’s really the most polite one I can think of at the moment.)
Don’t misunderstand me. Being a mom is the best thing I’ve ever done. My daughter is my sweet gift from God. Being a mom is the realization of a dream I’ve had all my life, one that I thought for a long time would never come true. Being a mom is wonderful. But PARENTING. Parenting sucks.
Somehow, I’m supposed to know how to fix things that I didn’t know could be broken.
Somehow, I’m supposed to have answers to questions that I didn’t know were being asked.
My daughter is 8 years old. She’s in the 3rd grade in school. We’re a month and a half into the school year. And. This. Year. Is. Killing. Me.
Katie is a smart kid. She loves learning about science. She enjoys doing math. She likes to read, and she LOVES to share stories by having me read to her. She has always enjoyed putting things together, building pillow forts and little hidey holes to play in. We used to call her our little engineer. She likes for things to make sense to her. You know what doesn’t make any sense at all? American English Spelling. She loathes it. Every week 3rd grade has 20 words to learn. Every week they have their spelling test. Every week Katie stresses about it. When she has a word like “pronounce,” she doesn’t hear the second ‘n.’ That’s a problem. Last week one of her words was “cologne.” She could hear the ‘n,’ but why the *&^@ is there a ‘g’ in there? That’s our language for you. We’re encouraging her to just simply memorize the words. At least twice this year, she’s spelled every word perfectly at home the night before, only to miss 5 on the test. The truth of the world we live in, is that spelling isn’t going to be a make-or-break issue for her future. I want her to be able to hold her own and spell what she needs to, because I’m just old-fashioned enough to be one of those folks who thinks the art of writing – real writing, not just typing – is dying out. But I’m honestly not all that fussed about her spelling grade.
What I AM concerned about, is the fact that Katie has a terribly difficult time getting all of her work finished in class. We first encountered this in first grade. It’s a generally accepted truth that the odd grades in our system are tougher than the even ones, so it isn’t all that surprising that first and, now third, grade have brought issues to light.
My daughter never gets in a hurry. Even when she tries to hurry, she doesn’t hurry. “Hustle, hustle, hustle,” is the common refrain in our house. She is a laid back kind of kid. So working under time constraints is not something that comes easily to her. You know how some people thrive under pressure? Not her. She freezes. When she was in first grade, and began to have timed tests and timed work, we discovered that being timed sends her into shut-down mode. She does not work quickly.
I’ve talked to all of the teachers she has had, and all of them tell me pretty much the same things. They say Katie’s problem isn’t distraction. It isn’t that she wastes time. She isn’t lazy. They tell me that she is a perfectionist. And that she simply works slowly.
First, the perfectionism – it’s hard for me to see that. It doesn’t seem to apply to keeping her room clean, or other little things like that. But I’m beginning to see that her perfectionism is part of her desire to please everyone. Keeping her room spotless isn’t a huge deal to me. I don’t always (or even often!) keep the house spotless, and I don’t expect her room to always be perfectly tidy. So that isn’t something that has become important to her either. But the things she has noticed are important to me, are the things she works harder at, because she wants to make me happy. I notice it even more with her dad than I do with myself. It is so important to her to please the people she cares about. She’s the kind of kid who, when she’s hanging out with her best friend, will play what he wants to, even if she doesn’t like it much, just to keep the peace. And she doesn’t worry about whether she gets a turn to play what she wants, she just enjoys being with her friends so much, that she finds ways to enjoy whatever they’re playing. (In a lot of ways, that’s an admirable quality, but it’s difficult to find a balance and teach her that being kind is not the same as being a doormat.)
In class that spills over to her teachers. We have been so very blessed to have amazing teachers for Katie so far. Every single one of them has encouraged her, made her feel special, and loved her. The teachers she has had so far are teaching because they love the kids they get to teach, because they want to help those little spongy minds absorb and grow as much as they can. They want to give these kids experiences in their early years of school that will help them to look forward to the future years of school, rather than dread it.
And Katie has responded to all of that by dearly loving every single one of them. She wants to make them happy, and so, her inner perfectionist comes out. She works hard, but she works slowly and painstakingly. And panics when she can’t keep up because she worries that someone will be unhappy with her. She is a little worrier, and always has been. It’s just part of being such a tender-hearted little human.
The advice I’ve repeated over and over to her is to JUST focus on what is in front of her. Don’t worry about the worksheet you did earlier today. Don’t worry how you did on it. Don’t worry about how much work you still have to do today. Don’t worry about the test coming up in 3 days. This morning I told her when she’s working on something to imagine that there’s a bubble around her and her desk and all that exists in the world is that work that’s in front of her.
I tell her that as long as she always does her best, that’s all I’ll ever ask or expect of her. But I worry about using that phrase “your best.” Does a little kid really know what their “best” is? That’s always nagged at me. So whenever I tell her to do her best and to try her hardest, I follow that by this, “When you think you’ve tried as hard as you can, when you think you’ve done the very best you can do, give it one more big push, one more hard try, and then you’ll always know you’ve really done the best you can.”
But I’m not sure she really grasps that because what is “your best” to a 6, 7, 8, or 9 year old? Really?
Did I mention that parenting sucks?
So there’s perfectionism. And now, the….working………so…………..sl….ow….l……………..y…………………….
Suddenly we’re in 3rd grade and her world just went into fast forward. Now, I fully believe that part of this problem is caused by the regulations and standards that are coming down on the schools. The teachers are pressed beyond the limits of possibility to fit entirely too much STUFF into every school day. I’ve talked to Katie’s teacher. She’s overwhelmed too. The expectations on them and on their students are unreasonable. Third graders still need recess. They don’t often get it. There’s too much work to do. They’re doing well to fit a 30 second bathroom break in between work, work, work.
For the first few weeks of the school year, if the kids got behind on their class work, they could take it home and catch up. Of course that’s on top of the homework they have every night. (Yes, every night.) But now the work must stay in their work folder and they have to catch up on it as they can at school. Nothing like filling every, single, moment of the school day with stress and pressure.
Now put all of that on a kid like Katie, who is a slow worker to begin with, and it translates to tears after school and tears before school. An 8 year old should NOT have this kind of pressure on her. She feels badly about herself because she is told that she MUST keep up and she hasn’t figured out how to do that, and she goes to school feeling anxious every day.
Enter SuperMom! Yeah, where is she? Because SuperMom would have the answers. SuperMom would tell her exactly what she needs to do, to change, to fix, in order to keep up. SuperMom would somehow make her daughter feel like a SuperKid. SuperMom would take all that anxiety away and help her see the clearest way forward. SuperMom would make her kid really, truly understand what a GREAT kid she is, what a precious soul she is, what a gift to the world she is.
I’m not SuperMom. I’m “Parenting-Sucks-Mom.”
I don’t know how to help her. Before you suggest it, home schooling isn’t a possibility for us right now. And I know myself well enough to know that I am so not a teacher. I’m barely equipped for handling homework. And further, Katie’s an only child who has spent most of her early childhood surrounded by adults. I want her to go to school, to meet new friends, to learn to be part of a team, to see the possibilities of the whole wide world.
The non-answer that I’ve come up with is that this is just the way it is, and we have to deal with it the best we can, whatever THAT is.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid the things I hated hearing the most were the phrases like, “Because I said so,” and “that’s just the way it is, deal with it.” Because those phrases didn’t teach me anything! They didn’t help me understand. And yes, I know that sometimes in life “that’s just the way it is, deal with it.” But I don’t want that to be what my daughter remembers about childhood, she’ll have enough of that as a grown up.
Do you know what I remember about 3rd grade? I remember starting to study Social Studies and Geography, and finding out that those were some of my favorite subjects. I remember having recess every day. I even remember getting paddled for talking too much.
What is my daughter going to remember?