I ask my daughter roughly once or twice a week, “Am I ruining you?” She usually laughs or rolls her eyes and says, “No,” but I still wonder if there is something about this “mom-life” business that I am forgetting about.
Kennedy is 11, and is one of my favorite people in the whole world. She is funny, witty, sensitive and creative and I enjoy watching her grow and learn. I have always been more than worried about raising her and making sure that I am doing it right. But is there a “right”? In this age of social media, the “mom-shaming” has become prevalent and while I shrug off irrelevant criticism from others, I sure have enough of my own self-doubts to keep me reading articles from scientific journals and books from women who have been through it all and offer their own insights into child-rearing.
After not just a few ups and downs, I learned to transfer a skill that I got from teaching to how I raise Kennedy: Every student is different, and every day is a new day. What works for the women in my books or what child psychologists recommend for the masses may not work for me and my kiddo. I know her best, and I need to trust my gut to determine what she needs.
I want Kennedy to believe that she can become anything she wants to be if she works hard enough. I want her to learn from adversity so that her tool box is filled with coping skills. I want her to be kind and caring. I want her to practice gratitude and be thankful for what she has. I want her to be a good friend. I want her to appreciate family and value time spent together. The list goes on and on, but the one that comes up the most in our everyday lives is kindness. I try to regularly ask her what she did for someone else that was kind or to choose a recipient for a random act of kindness. I also instill in her the fact that she deserves kindness as well. I can only hope this sticks and that she grows up tolerant of others, people who are different than her and have different backgrounds, and she treats everyone with the kindness they deserve (or even that they don’t deserve).
And while I feel that I am failing on more occasions than one, I try to remind myself that she is learning, growing and becoming her own person. I try to cultivate her artistic and creative sides, while nurturing a love for books and reading. (Admittedly, the reading part isn’t going so well...) I work to allow her the space to fight her own battles and come up with solutions to problems that may seem insignificant to me, but may consume her whole day. I force myself to remain calm as she bakes and cooks in my previously clean kitchen, in order for her to learn basic cooking and baking skills and express her creativity in that way.
And most importantly, I keep our line of communication open at all times. I want her to be able to trust me and I want to be able to trust her. I tell her all of the time that I’d rather her tell me something that is hard to hear than for her to lie about it. I want her to tell me silly stories and dumb jokes, but also heavy things that may take a while to get out. And I want to listen, really listen, and maybe offer advice if that is what she wants.
I hope that I can do right by her in raising her to be strong and independent and kind, but am grateful every day for the lessons she teaches me as well.
Bethany Zavada is a resident of Streator and English teacher at Putnam County High School. She loves to geocache with her family, cuddle her three adorable dachshunds and all things Harry Potter. She can be reached at email@example.com.