They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don’t know if it’s the road to hell, but it sure is the road to disappointment and frustration.
The weird thing about quitting your job and staying home with your kids is that your life gets both easier–much easier–and much, much harder at the same time.
No longer do you have those panicked mornings trying to decide whether your kid is too sick for daycare or those rushed evenings trying to invent a dinner out of the ingredients currently in your fridge. (Never mind. I still have those evenings. But now I can’t blame it on my job, which I actually sort of miss.) Your whole pace of life slows down. I don’t have to be in a hurry nearly as often. If I want to, I can take life at the pace of a toddler–even a toddler who pretends to be a puppy every time he sees a set of stairs.
But on the other hand, you become your own boss. At least in my case, I had more time to fill so I began to expect more and more from myself. Perhaps I’m only speaking for myself, but I am a terrible boss. I have grand intentions for every day. I make elaborate lists of chores to get done and errands to run, essentially setting myself up to fail pretty much every day. And these are just the good intentions I have for myself each day.
Add to that all my good intentions for my kids. For example, here are my good intentions for today: Just as soon as she gets home from school, I am going to make my seven year old practice piano and teach her to love reading and convince her to choose fruit for a snack. And make her do her chores (cheerfully, of course.) My five year old has Thank You notes from her birthday to finish and she will do her chores, too. And my two year old is going to finish learning how to use the toilet if it kills me. And they all need a good dose of sound doctrine before they go to bed, too. I’m a sucker for a new system, so I’m always figuring out some new system for getting chores done or teaching table manners or whatever is on my mind. And when the system fails me (or I fail to follow through, as I inevitably do), I find myself frustrated and angry. My good intentions can so easily become my enemy.
The internet, of course, doesn’t help. The internet is the land of good intentions. It’s the one place where we can be known solely for our intentions. I sort of wish sometimes that I just wasn’t even aware of how everyone else is doing everything. I’m too tempted to look up a parenting question and find a dozen helpful mom-blogs with colorful chore charts or cheerful explanations for how to motivate/inspire/instruct my kids. I’d like to know how much of the internet’s traffic is fueled by stay-at-home mothers with good intentions.
My good intentions really reflect my own self-reliance. I spent most of last year preparing for a talk on the pressure women feel to be “Picture Perfect.” The question that kept troubling me was “Where is this pressure coming from?” Is it really an external pressure? Are there really other people saying “You ought to be doing X with your kids?” And if there are, does their opinion of me actually carry any weight? Do you they truly KNOW what is best for MY kids? Can they guarantee that their system will work? At least in my case, I have to say that any pressure I feel is from my own desire to impress. The pressure pretty much comes from the toxic combination of my own insecurity and the easy answers of others’ good intentions.
The fact is, most of the self-published advice on the internet is unproven. I want to believe that a new system full of good intentions will yield good results. But kids aren’t robots. Even with a foolproof motivational system to encourage chore completion, I could still raise a lazy slob. Or a resentful over-achiever. Or any other manner of human being. My children are, after all, plagued with that pesky gift of free will. I will eventually have to set each of my kids loose to make decisions for themselves.
The results of my particular brand of motherhood remain to be seen. I’ve known plenty of kids raised with the best intentions who grew up to reject their parents’ values. I’ve also known plenty of kids raised with good intentions who lived up to their parents’ hopes. There is no guaranteed recipe. The best adults–and I’m not just talking about the most financially successful adults, but the ones who are most content and most confident about their choices–come from all kinds of childhoods.
Kids are not raised by good intentions alone. I’m trying to get better at not setting myself up for frustration, but I still go to bed at night scheming ways I’ll live up to my good intentions tomorrow. I’ll probably do it again tonight and I will likely be at least moderately disappointed again tomorrow night. I’m working on it.
So why am I so prone to making life hard for myself with my good intentions? I think I know at least part of the answer, but that is a post for another day…