This morning, I was sitting in the waiting room at the dance studio while my daughter was “doing ballet” (most likely, she was shaking her bum to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse soundtrack while wearing ballet shoes, but whatever). We are still new to the studio, and I don’t really know any of the other dance moms yet. So, I just sit and listen to their conversations. Today, like most days, they talked about what activities their kids are doing, how well they are doing in said activities, and what else they will be signing them up for in the future. They have their daughters doing ballet, then shuttling them off to swimming lessons right afterward, followed by Sunday morning skating lessons. Their sons are in hockey, soccer, and lacrosse. Their little ones all attend Montessori schools (where, apparently one child “aced” her entrance interview). Oh, and did I mention their girls are three- and four-years-old?!
I always feel like I am doing pretty well as a parent until I hear those conversations. Then, our “crazy” life of karate three times a week, dance once a week, and a special after school behaviour program for my son seems tame. Where do these parents find the time? More than that, where do they find the money?! My husband and I make a pretty decent income and aren’t extravagant spenders, yet even we feel the budget tightening with every daycare cheque and monthly karate bill.
As a parent, I try to live by two simple thoughts:
1. Try to enjoy every moment.
2. All you need is love.
The first one is obviously easier said than done, especially in those really, really tough moments. It is something I constantly work on, and admittedly, some days are more successful than others. The other rule is something I have always believed: no matter how much money you have, or stuff you buy, or what school your kid attends, or how many baby sign language classes you sign up for, as long as your love your kid, and your kid feels your love, that is enough. That one is something that gets challenged every once in a while. And today was one of those days.
Does all that stuff really matter? The sports, organic food, and extra curricular programs, the Chinese lessons and the special swimming lessons (in salt-water only, of course). At the end of the day, are those kids going to be more well adjusted than mine? Smarter? More successful? I’m not really sure, but sometimes it makes me nervous.
I was re-reading Freakonomics the other day and got to a chapter called, “Do Parents Really Matter?” The first time I read the book, I wasn’t a parent, so I don’t think I really paid attention to the content. But this time I did. According to the data, it turns out that other than genetics, the opportunities we provide as parents don't have as much to do with how our kids will turn out as we think. A kid can come from a broken family, live in a low-income neighborhood and go to a “bad” school and still have a similar chance of success as a child in a “good” school who has two parents at home. That’s not to say that I should set out to be a bad parent, but it surprised me that all of the things we do for our kids don’t matter as much as we think they do.
So, maybe my theory is OK after all. Maybe my kids will turn out the same as, or better than, those private school kids that speak fluent Chinese. Or maybe they won’t. There really aren’t any guarantees in this parenting job, are there? The best I can do is stick to my beliefs, and attempt to create a fun, balanced, low-stress environment for our entire family. And fill my heart with more love more than I ever thought possible. My daughter still doesn’t know her ABCs, and my son isn’t devouring chapter books like some of his peers, but they are loved and they know it.