sunset, mum and son, travel, Philippines

It comes like this – a student academic report, downloadable from the parent portal at our school, and I can feel it. The clench of anxiety. I’ve done the school mum thing for two-and-a-half years, the fear lessens every year, but I’ll never forget the first semester. What will it say? What will the grades be? Then arguing with myself, he’s a tiny child, who cares what this says. But it is a hard fight.

A midwife pulls a baby out of you, and the first thing they do is give your child an Apgar score, these are points, like the baby is seconds old and already they can win or lose. Within the first hour of their lives, the babies are measured again. Their weight, length and head circumference go into a book. It becomes a baseline for their first few years. And for the vast majority of us, the numbers will be fine. Normal, the doctor will declare at every wellness check, and you, Mom and Dad, you will breathe out the air you did not know you held. Relief upon relief because at every appointment you’re wanting to know the answer to the question you ask daily: Is my baby going to be ok?

Month after month, year after year, our children are eyed up and down by medical professionals. Soon they attend kindergarten where the measurements change. Social skills, verbal ability, fine motor skills. Can he hop? Can she stack blocks? There will be playdates and Christmas dinners where your in-laws and friends will observe them and remark about so-and-so’s child who does it differently. School comes swiftly and now it’s about their ability to read and add and subtract and sit still and pay attention.

It’s time to open the file with their academic report. Your kid just finished half a year of prep or grade 1 or kindergarten. One report down, 23 more to go, each one more important than the next. It is an unrelenting snowball of measuring sticks. You’re not converting from the imperial system to metric. No, you are negotiating the numbers and letters used to define your child.

Because everything in you wants your child to measure up. Upward toward glorious destinies. No culture in the world celebrates children achieving less than their parents. Western, Eastern, Southern, Northern, you ask a parent anywhere. They want more for their kids. We want our kids to excel where we excelled. We want them to excel where we failed.

We don’t have much patience for failure. These days even mediocrity feels like a dirty word.  

And we are 2019 parents – we are better educated about what kids need and how they work. We’ve got our time-ins, choices, positive AND peaceful parenting. We have speech and occupational therapists who can correct deficiencies early. And when all of that fails, we have the Internet with its vast storehouse of folklore cum research. You could diagnose your child before you ever take him into a doctor’s office.

We are informed. We are motivated. Maybe we are also stressed? We hold in our hands a variety of rulers and thermostats. Ready to take the measurements. Ready to answer our most fragile of questions: Will this child be ok?

Because isn’t this our question behind every weight check and report card? Aren’t we just wanting someone else to tell us, In this big, bad, broken world, your precious child is going to be fine.

quotation about failure and mediocrity

Bad news, Mom and Dad. No one can tell you that.

You aren’t prepared for that teacher who only sees everything your son does wrong.

I promise somewhere there is a coach who does not believe your daughter is a future Olympic athlete.

No one is ready for that call from the principal’s office.

You don’t know when it is your turn to sit in a doctor’s office and receive the news that will tear your world to shreds.

Nothing can prepare us for the disappointments inherent in loving our children.

Here’s what we get to do instead.

When the world comes for us with its instruments and measurements, gently put them down.

Turn to your beloved child and bear witness.

Watch her struggle. Listen to his fears. Tell them they can do hard things. Do hard things with them. Pick them up and drive them home when they don’t.

Stand on the sidelines of their life and cheer.

Cheer for them when you see them triumph over the thorns in their flesh. Cheer for the things only you could see. Cheer when they get it right. Cheer when they get it wrong. You aren’t cheering because of their behavior. It’s your child, because it is him, it is her, they are yours, you get to cheer for them no matter what.

Ignore the sheet that tells you they need to be here or they have to get there. Train your mind, teach your heart to see just him. Just her. Just this child who is yours who will be measured everyday of their life by the rest of the world.

But not by you. No. There’s one place where they will know the measurements don’t exist. When they come home and they know it is all love.

Hi, I’m Devi, and I’m so glad you read this post today. I write about family and faith and every now and then, food. I post stories and images almost daily on Instagram – I’d love to get to know you better and chat, so say hi in the comments or send me a message.

mums first day of school shoes

Hey there, lady, I was just at Kmart buying a spare (cheap) drink bottle for my boys today, and they took 10 minutes to pick which one they wanted, and I was thinking about you and me and the first day of school. Here are a few things I want us to know.

They go to school, and you go to school. We all get schooled. They learn to read, we learn how to read them better. They learn how to get along with other kids, how to add and subtract, how to create and discover and write and learn. And so do you. It will be about how use your time, how to get along with teachers and parents, how to discover yourself as your time constraints change. You’re going to learn just as much as they will this year. 

When you walk up to your child’s classroom, expect to cut through a thick layer of invisible anxiety, first in yourself, then in everyone else. It is impossible to overstate the hopes and dreams and fears of every mother standing at the door as she releases her precious cherub into the ocean of the world. Every other kid looks like an octopus or a shark, and Nemo has a broken fin. Give her grace because this isn’t easy, and if you are honest, it’s not easy for you. All of us have invisible fears about our children that we hide behind our bragging and comparing. But you’re afraid, and this year you get to learn how to find your way out of the fear. You get to see the other kids as just kids who are all imperfect, all learning, and all on a pathway of discovery.

Speaking of bragging or comparing, you don’t have to do either. Protect yourself from this. When someone tells you something great about their child, it’s not an insult to your child or an invitation for you to tell a better story. You’ll find the women with whom you can connect who will have a genuine interest in your life and your kids, who don’t see your life as a threat to theirs. Wait for those people. While you wait, get rid of your own instinct to brag about yourself or your kids. There’s no need to fear, my friend. You are in process, and you are going to be ok, too. No need to come across as anything else to anyone else.  

At times it will feel like you are standing in a line with your child and every smile, every conversation with someone new, every invite for a coffee or playdate is going to feel like approval, the badge that says I am Someone, I am a Good Mother, I have a Good Child. Fight against this mentality. You don’t have to talk to another person at drop off. You have time to make friends. Friendship does not come easy. It takes time to lay down a groundwork of trust. You don’t have to tell the other mums you meet every deep, dark thing about your life. You don’t have to tell them the inner workings of your family life.

It takes a long time to find other women with whom you can genuinely connect who then you can deeply trust. Waiting is worth it. And if the women in your life end up not being in school, that’s totally fine, too.

Your kids don’t become magically different at school. The responsible kid will still be responsible, and won’t lose hats or jumpers or drink bottles. The kid with her head in the clouds, will still have her head in the clouds. Get this kid cheaper things. No need to feel guilty about that, this way you can replace their things without heaping shame on them. There’s a lot for kids to keep track of at school, they shouldn’t feel bad about losing a drink bottle here or there. We’ve all lost our expensive phones, right?

The teacher gets a version of your child, likely you get a different version. Both versions are real and true, and the joy of being a parent is working to understand all versions of our kids and helping them integrate their compartments into a whole. Your teacher sees a different side of your child, and you need their insights. Your teacher is your teammate, if you work together, your child wins. 

(An addendum here: There are I’m sure a tiny handful of terrible teachers out there – I’m sorry if you have one. Get on your child’s side, fill up their tanks with encouragement when they are down. Pray that the experience will teach them about empathy and perseverance. Talk to school admin. Hopefully next year will be better.)

Learn to see your child as one in a group, not the only one. The teacher has to attend to the group, and there are many others he or she needs to pay attention to. Your child is not especially deserving of unique attention. At least not more so than anyone else. Trust that every child will get the time they need. Trust that you are still your child’s number one influencer. Whatever their school cannot give them, you can fill in the gaps at home.

When you hear the thought, “My child deserves (a better teacher, a nicer table-mate, smarter classmates, more current technology),” replace it immediately with a list of what you can be grateful for. I’m thankful my kid gets to go to school. I’m thankful my child has food to eat. I’m thankful for clean water. I’m thankful for warm clothes in the winter. I’m thankful for a summer hat. Entitlement will cloud your judgment, entitlement will not let you see your kids for who they are, entitlement will steal your happiness.

Your child has unique needs that you can see more clearly than everyone else. But remember that there is a school full of kids. Every kid is there to learn, to develop as a person, to grow and to change. Learn to see other children. Learn to talk to them, appreciate them, learn to see your child as one in a group. We want them all to succeed.

Expect there to be issues between your kid and other kids. This may be the year you find out that your child isn’t as truthful as you hoped. It may be the year you find out that they like to steal or cheat or hit other kids. Maybe they started cutting class or failing a subject. Don’t let the disappointment you feel in your child become a disappointment you feel in yourself. Your kid gets to make his or her own decisions – this is true of a five-year-old and an 18-year-old. Their decisions are not always a reflection of your home or your parenting. They are their own people. Yes, you’ll have to lay down the necessary boundaries, but guess what? Your kid needs your love and your anchoring support in them as a person especially when they have disappointed you. And you and I need another lesson on how to dig deeper to find that unconditional love everyone needs.

Find the soothing words you need to use on yourself and your kids for specific stressful situations. For me it is this sentence, “We have enough time.” I always give us permission to be late. The irony of course is that we are almost never late, but giving all of us the permission to run late allows for a peaceful attitude in my heart and hopefully theirs.

You are going to need so much wisdom to know when you need to deal with something with your child and when you need to involve their teacher, other parents and members of the school. But trust that when you need wisdom, you will receive it. Walk into your decisions with a humble confidence. You can do this. Please tell yourself this every day, every week, every term. You can do this. You can do this. You can do this. 

Trust that you will make mistakes.

Expect your kids to make mistakes.

Plan for the teachers to make mistakes.

See mistakes as the doorway for all of you to grow.

You’ve got a year of growing ahead of you, my friend. Here’s to the new branches in your life, and here’s to the good fruit.

Now it’s your turn: I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got a kid starting school in 2019 or continuing on in school? How are you feeling? Drop a note in the comments. Got any good tips to share with the rest of us? Just write it all out here – we need all the ideas, right?!?!