My father: The opposite of a Tiger Mom

Last Sunday, I ran 11 miles – a feat I never thought possible given my extreme hatred of running, coupled with my complete inability to do it with any finesse or skill. Yet when I made it to the finish line, despite how slow I was, I felt like I had accomplished something huge – particularly because it required perseverance. Like running, that’s not always my strong suit.

This Sunday, a mere week later, I hosted a “double playdate” at my house. In other words, I have two children, and each were allowed to have a friend over for several hours.  The amount of energy I exerted during this time felt like 16 times what I put out during last week’s 11 mile run.  The vigilance, the refereeing of arguments, the reminders to “stop doing that” – all take a lot out of a person. But even more so, for me, it’s the pleasing.  The seemingly endless requests – juice boxes, snacks, popsicles, assistance with the sprinkler. Each one brings me running like a waitress aiming to satisfy.

“Another juice box, sir? Coming right up!” I say as I run into the house so fun can continue to be had without a moment’s disruption.

“Your pizza’s still too hot? Here, let me help cool it,” I’ll insist, standing over them while I blow on it, or better yet, wave at it with a towel.

Maybe it’s all those years I waited tables in high school and college at Friendly’s, but I can’t help but to hop-to for every child’s request.  Better to please than the alternative –  although I never wait long enough to find out what that might be.

I like to think – actually I know – I get this from my father. He’s always been a pleaser, too.  Although, with Dad, it likely comes from a deeper, more altruistic, desire to help people. I’m just trying to stem any possibility of tears.

Growing up, my father was always a gentle soul. An elementary school principal the children loved, a dedicated churchgoer and Sunday School teacher, the person in town who sat on any board or committee he was asked to serve on, and there were many.

And then at home he was the father everyone wished they had. Warm, fun, plenty of time to spend playing with his kids and coaching their sports teams.  Offering rides to anybody and anyone who needed one after school dances and outings at the local ski area. A fantastic dad all around. In fact, sometimes, a bit too good…..

I have memories of late-night homework sessions, advanced-levels of algebra bringing me to tears at the kitchen table as he attempted to work it out with me.

“Why don’t you let me work on these and you go and get yourself some rest,” he’d say, gently, as I’d slink off to bed, exhausted and happy to be free of the effort. The next day, I’d turn in HIS work and promptly fail all of the tests, of course.

By the time I reached senior year of high school, I was in advanced placement English courses, and my math classes were practically remedial level.  I hardly cared at the time, but there were many times over the years as an adult when I’d occasionally resent my father for letting me off the hook on the things I had no interest in pursuing in my teens. He thought he was helping, but I began to see it as a failing – a weakness that he hadn’t forced me to power through the tough stuff – like the complicated mathematical equations that I loathed.

As I’ve grown into my parenting role, I see these characteristics in myself now. My oldest, only 8, and already saddled with what I see is too much homework, often develops tears during math homework he doesn’t “get.”  I try hard to not let him off the hook, as I was, but I have to admit there are times when I do. The antithesis of the Tiger Mother, I just can’t see the point of forcing the child to spend any more than 20 minutes or so struggling with an assignment, or anything else he hates. Especially if my patience, too, pays the price.

I guess in some ways I’m selling my kids short, as maybe my father did me, by allowing me some sanity over perfection, or, even just mere accomplishment, at times. But, my experience in adulthood has been one finds their own way to success with what captures your interest, with what YOU want to do.

There’s the old cliché about “Find what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s pretty true.   I’m not saying every day of my career has been perfect, but I’ve generally always enjoyed what I do, because I was allowed to figure it out on my own – as opposed to being forced into anything I “had to do.”

My children are both still very young, and we have many years of school ahead of us until they grow into young adults with some slight idea of where their strengths lie, where their weaknesses exist.  I’m hoping on those tough nights ahead, when I cut them some slack and tell them to go to bed and forget the homework, that they’ll sleep peacefully – confidently –  as I did, resting secure in the knowledge that the best father in the world was quietly working out my math homework, praying only that he was doing the best he could for his daughter.

This entry was posted in Children, Domesticity, Lessons learned, Parenting, Reality check. Bookmark the permalink.

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