Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Coco Chanel and Parenting

Coco Chanel is credited for giving the following advice to women when it comes to dressing with accessories,“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.”  I’m not sure where I first heard this reference, but it’s a phrase that has stuck with me for many years.  However, recently, I started to think about this advice in regards to my calendar, not my wardrobe.

I think one of the biggest challenges of modern parenthood is finding a healthy balance in regards to all the activities that our kids can be involved with.  After all, there are so many options to choose from, and each one promises to aid our child’s development or future success in some way.  Perhaps the thing that makes it most difficult to choose is the fact that all of these things are good.  It’s not like we are deciding between being a couch potato or being active—that would be a much easier choice.

The trouble is, sometimes the good can be lost when we try to fit in too many things.  At least that’s my experience.  Because every time that I try to fit one more thing into our calendar, I end up feeling more stressed, anxious, and rushed.  Things like having time to exercise and eat a healthy, unhurried meal at home are usually the things that fall to the wayside.  And since these things are important to me, as a result, the whole experience ends up feeling more like a duty rather than a delight.  

It’s kind of the same as when I try to squeeze in one more thing before leaving the house or one more errand before picking up my kids—the benefits of having done so usually do not outweigh the consequences.

That’s why, every once in a while, I need to reevaluate.  And what I’ve been thinking about lately is along the lines of Coco Chanel’s advice about accessories.  Only instead of taking one accessory off before I leave the house, my personal challenge is to take one less thing off our calendar.  More accurately, it’s to put one less thing on the calendar in the first place.

Much to my surprise, heeding this advice is a daily challenge.  I need a lot of reminders and am a work in progress.  I am learning to chase down my decisions before I make them rather than in hindsight.  I’m also learning to not buy into the message that I need to do more as a parent in order for my kids to succeed.

As I do, I'm becoming more and more aware that, at least at this point in my children's lives, the pressure to sign them up for more does not come from them.  Both Esme and Reid have a variety of interests, but that doesn't mean they want me to sign them up for another class.

Case in point: recently a friend invited Esme to do dance this fall, and I asked Esme almost reluctantly what she thought about it.  I wasn't sure that I wanted her to do dance, but figured I better give her the choice.  I thought she would jump on the invitation, but instead she said, "No, I don't want to do dance.  I prefer swimming."  I even had to catch myself before trying to press the issue.  What was I doing?  After all, she just said "no" herself. 

When it comes down to it, I think modeling how to set a healthy balance within our schedules is such an important thing for us to do for our kids.  The pressure to do more and be involved in everything doesn't end.  If anything, navigating through all the available choices only gets more complex and the things we need to choose between more weighty as we get older.

So wouldn't it be great if our kids learned from us the good that can come from setting boundaries and taking time for self-care and how these things nurture creativity, generosity, and peace?  And wouldn't it be awesome to send them out into the world knowing how to navigate such things for themselves? 

Something I keep coming back to is how study after study shows that one of the things that is most important for children’s development is unstructured play—time to explore, create, and use their imagination without someone organizing what they will do for them.

And when I think of some of the best times we’ve had as a family, usually they are the times when we are not held to a set schedule and have time to simply enjoy being together, doing whatever it is we end up doing—chasing one another, playing on the playground, looking for four leaf clovers.

So maybe being somewhat less scheduled is an okay thing.  In my heart, I know it is, but some days, I think too much with my head.  In the end, what it comes down to is giving myself permission to do what I feel is best for my family rather than trying to live up to the perceived expectations I feel from the outside world.
There is no doubt there are great things my kids can learn from being involved with things like swimming, dance, tennis, gymnastics, Tai Kwan Do, organized sports, art, music, theater, and the like.  And there’s no doubt that I will still sign my kids up for several of these things.  But the important thing for me to do is to not try to do them all at once, and to remember that there are just as many benefits from not trying to do it all, all at the same time.

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