Recently, I was chatting with a mom-friend and she was telling me about a project that she had started with her son. And as it often does–it became self-deprecating.
“Well you know, it went fine. I ended up doing a lot of it”, she said laughing, “But we had fun and I think maybe he got something out of it…maybe”. She shrugged.
I squinted at her. “Wait. You took time to sit down with your son and give him your one on one attention and worked to create something with him together and you are feeling…what? Bad?! Because he didn’t jump for joy the entire time or was only able to focus for 10 minutes or didn’t…what?”
She quietly laughed. “Oh I don’t know…I just thought…”
“Remember, that you are his mother. His most important teacher. And teaching is not about the destination. It’s about the journey. It’s not about the project that you were working on. Who cares about that. Do you really think that’s what he will remember? Or do you think he will remember…you? Helping him, connecting with him, and loving him? "
She smiled and nodded, “I know!”
I’d like to say that this was a one off conversation, but I have it over and over with my parents, and it’s always the same. “Eh, it’s whatever, I guess it doesn’t matter.” I feel like caring enough to “try” with your kids isn’t cool in parent-culture lately. I think it’s really cool, guys, and I bet your kids think so too. And it does matter. It's not "extra".
I wish we could stop downgrading our own efforts towards our kids. Why do we do that? Parent: you are not less than. You are, more often than not, all that your child truly needs. However and whatever that looks like for you.
I think lately, we are so focused on all of these external forces influencing our children, that we have forgotten our own power to influence them. You are not here just to keep them alive. You are here to teach them! To show them the wonderful, beautiful things around them. To help them process something hard when they are struggling. To give them the tools they need to cope and succeed in the broader world around them. There is no one that knows their children better than their mom or dad. No one can replace you in their world.
When they cry in the middle of the night at birth because they are confused—you are the only smell that makes them feel safe. When they test their boundaries at 1 and look to see if you are watching–it is not to be mischievous–but rather because they know, even at this age, that you would never allow them to do anything that would hurt them. When the tantrums get big and overwhelming when they are 2 it is because they are processing and practicing how to be patient and kind, with you–their most trusted person. When their favorite word is “NO” at age 3 but they cry when you leave– it is because you have pushed them to test their independence and they are nervous! Fear is a powerful feeling and you are teaching them a little at a time how to challenge that fear while reminding them that you will always be there. And when they finally turn 4 and are practicing learning hard things and managing disappointment and frustration for the first time—they are looking for you to be there with them through it. To teach them not to give up. These are their most important lessons.
“The first five years are the most important years of a child's life. At birth, the average baby’s brain is about a quarter of the size of the average adult brain. Incredibly, it doubles in size in the first year and keeps growing to about 80% of adult size by age 3 and 90% – nearly full grown – by age 5. The early years are the best opportunity for a child’s brain to develop the connections they need to be healthy, capable, successful adults.”
When I was a young(er) mom–I became so interested in my daughter’s brain and development. I read so many books and studies. And what I came away with was that I had 5 true years to influence my daughter. To teach her right from wrong. To instill the values that I wanted her to remember and lean on for the rest of her life. I thought long and hard about how much I thought I could influence her in the hour I got to see her before bedtime. Was I shaping 90% of her brain…or was someone else?
“Recent scientific research has shown that the connections needed for many important, higher-level abilities – like motivation, self-regulation, problem solving, communication and self-esteem – are formed in these early years. Or not formed. It’s a young child’s daily experiences – the amount and quality of care, stimulation and interaction they receive in their first days, weeks, months and years – that determines which brain connections develop and will last for a lifetime.” Did I even know how high a quality of care she was really getting? I didn’t know her teachers at all. They seemed nice. But I knew per that same research how flawed and broken the early childhood education system was. Was she getting a teacher that would really invest in her? How could I check? I’d never gotten to watch them teach. I knew nothing about them outside of the 5 minutes that we interacted at pickup and drop off.
Knowing this–it’s no surprise to me that parents, especially mothers, opt out of their careers altogether rather than leaving their little ones. They want to be a real part of their kids' stories.
I think if there is any gift– any true value–of our concept at Le Village it is this. We know our teachers. Sometimes we know their kids! You can check on your littles whenever you like. There is a direct impact that our parents–should they choose to–can have on their children and their children’s daily lives and education. I used to practice a piece of curriculum with Vivie every day at lunch. I don’t know if we get to have it all at Le Village. But I do watch our parents try really hard.
And trust me, it is not easy. It’s so much extra work to be invested daily in your kids. To teach them. An hour lunch break can feel like an eternity when you are on a deadline and your toddler is tantruming because you forgot ketchup for their chicken nuggets. It can be pretty hard to feel like an all-knowing, patient, prescient being in those moments. And so we laugh, and we become self-deprecating, and we count the minutes until we can hand them back over to Ms. Mareli. The mental load our parents bear can be big.
But you matter Mama. Your time with them is so important Dada. They may not remember these exact moments, but they will remember that you held them when they cried. That they were allowed to feel their feelings without being in trouble. That it was not kind to take the toy from their friend and you told them so. That you dressed up as a butterfly and made them laugh. That you read a story with them every day. That you picked up their counting work and practiced with them. That they got to watch you be with friends and how it made you happy. It will matter that their best friends trusted you because they knew you. It will be special forever. You will never regret this time. What’s the saying?—“I’ll never look back and say, gosh, I wish I had spent less time with my kid.”
I know I don’t have any regrets even though it was so hard at times. The trust that my daughter has with my closest mom friends is so special. That support system is long lasting. Heck, I still work really hard to take every Thursday to be with Vivie. I know now is my time to be her most important influencer. There will be mentors and friends and god-knows-what in her ear in the future. But for now, I am her moon and sun, and I’m grateful.
So this is my tip of the hat to our parents at Le Village. Because you guys work twice as hard to try to be a present parent and a present professional and sometimes I know it feels like it couldn’t possibly matter. But it does. And not just in the intangible ways that are still so important. But because students with parents operating in supportive roles in their learning environments are 52% more likely to enjoy school. This is especially the case during the earliest years of schooling. As they age into big kid school those same kids are more likely to get straight A’s than kids that have disengaged parents. And guess what—those of us that have had practice working with our schools now will have an easier time of it throughout our children’s school life. I guess practice makes perfect.
It matters socially. It matters academically.
Here’s to you and to all that you do. A wise lady once told me that you get out what you put in–and I know ya’ll put in A LOT. So here's to our kids and the amazing wonderful people that they are sure to be. I’d like to say it’s our stellar staff and amazing curriculum–but you Mom and Dad–You are most often the missing piece of the equation. Thank you for letting us be a part of their story and yours–and for being a part of ours.