Keeping on top of life has often felt like a challenge to me. I’ve done the courses, read the books, joined the training and felt like I’ve often often dropped the ball. It can be a frustrating and deflating process. Even worse when it impacts on my kids. It’s one thing not to reach my own goals but quite another to get in the way of my kids’ potential. I didn’t want that, and so I’ve been trying really hard to find a different way.
However, I realised in the process that I’d created another, probably worse problem. I’d treated my life, my family’s and most particularly, my children’s lives, as a series of projects. So much so, I was not only treating the activities, interests, external aspects my kids were involved in as projects – I’ve ended up managing my kids as if they are projects too.
And I realised it when the phrase: A kid is not a project: popped into my head.
It’s taken a few weeks to unravel what this phrase means to me. And it’s been a wake-up call.
I’m sharing what I’ve realised, not as an example of bad parenting (I think I’ve been doing my best, as I’m sure we all are) but as an example of how sometimes how we can lose sight of what’s important. In my case, I was so focused on doing everything, I’ve been losing sight of the reasons why. And that can have implications.
What do I mean by ‘project managing my family’?
In summary, life has become too much of a ‘to do’ list, including a ‘review’ list. Typical days involve ensuring everything was ready for the kids’ after school activities, my teenager has everything he needs for school (including washing and setting out clothes, checking (and assisting if needed) on homework, and bedroom / bathroom are clean), and similar for my tween daughter. Meals are prepared in advance so the kids can help themselves if I’m not home from work, lists of people to contact are carried around to respond to requests, and there’s often no more than a 5min window between arriving home from work and the next activity.
Without being conscious of it, I can see that I’ve inflated many of my kids’ activities – their schooling, their friendships, their emotional development, their time and organisational development, and so on and lost perspective. I’ve cajoled and nagged my kids, focusing on the measurable milestones, achievements or outputs, and (subconsciously) as if they have an end point. And in doing so, I’ve been missing the point.
While in theory I know that my kids are much more than the sum of their activities or projects, my actions say otherwise. I’d become so focused on point of time achievements – monitoring how their results were, or trying to address friendship issues, or accommodating more and more sporting activities that, by default, these achievements were becoming the be all and end all.
For my kids:
- I’m increasing the chance my kids will become more entitled, assuming things will be done for them, and that they are the focus of the world (or the family, at least). And why wouldn’t they? After all, so much of the focus HAS been on them.
- They have less need to develop their problem solving abilities and fewer opportunities to try and refine them. As they’ve experienced, someone else will sort it out for them. And when they HAVE shown initiative, they often been corrected (with the best of intentions – and for efficiency), which further diminishes their willingness to try.
- Related to this tendency to ‘correct’ is ingraining a belief that outputs and measurements and achievements are all important. You need to get things ‘right’. It becomes scarier to try. But kids don’t necessarily mould to arbitrary timeframes. And forcing them too, when it isn’t in their nature, can have a terrible impact on their self-confidence, in turn impacting on their empathy to themselves and others.
- We reduce the flexibility to change directions at a time when they are learning who they are. For instance, the potential to develop different interests, to have an off year in one area of life because another takes hold – is made harder. Yes, there is a risk of giving up too soon (and tenancy for the right things is very important). But getting stuck in pathway that isn’t right is also a significant risk, and one we may be creating.
- They become bored. Boredom is a problem in our home, especially with one of our children. But why wouldn’t things be boring if the process is so clearly established and there is no scope for creativity or fun?
- And, worst of all, if it continues, they may feel they are only loved by us based on our assessment of their achievements.
For my husband and me:
- Resentment of our kids increases – because the kids aren’t participating as much. We are running around doing everything for them. But that’s because we have created the process.
- There is a real risk we will measure our worth by the progress of our children. That is both unfair on them, and quite isolating for us. Isolating because, even if we don’t do it consciously, we can slip into comparisons. Benchmarking them against others. Benchmarking our parenting abilities (as shown in our children’s ‘performances’) against others. It creates a barrier between others when we most need, and want, to be part of a village of family and friends.
- We’re emotionally and physically exhausted by focusing on what our kids are doing / should be doing / need to do. In the process, we lose focus on our own needs (including connecting with our kids – but also with each other, and just to be on our own). We also lose the time to explore for ourselves, to grow, to enjoy the discoveries or the comforts of the known. To have fun. To be whole people.
No wonder the phrase ‘a kid is not a project’ spun around and around in my mind. It is so important. I believe it also underpins much of the struggles we have been experiencing this year.
What to do?
I don’t have a solution, yet.
I am trying to undo the patterns I’ve formed over many years. It takes time.
There is resistance – from me, from my husband, from the kids themselves. It feels easier to go back to how it was. While we don’t like the outcomes, we’d developed a pattern to life and reworking how we do things is not easy. Plus, we do need organisational systems in so many areas. The problem comes when everything is organised by us – and there is no real involvement by our kids in their own lives.
So far, we’ve only made small changes. For instance, we’ve said no to our son accepting a place in a representative basketball team, given the volume of other activities he does. We have given in to our daughter’s desire to cook breakfasts (even though it was messier than normal). We still have a lot to learn though about letting go.
However, I guess that’s part of the journey too. We are still learning and always will be. We won’t always get things right. But that’s ok – we are so much more than projects. We are ‘enough’ from the start – wonderful beings at birth – and we will never be ‘complete’ or ‘finished’ at death.
We continue to grow and learn and care and hopefully enjoy life more in the process – and we will aim to free up our kids a bit more, so they can have the same opportunities.