I’m not a parenting expert, or child psychologist. My expertise is limited to being the mother of 4 children, and stepmother to 2 currently and 3 previously – so if I’m being ‘generous’ in scoring my experience of children that I have cared for in a parental way (for lots or some of the time) it would be 9 children.
The brown-haired girls who were in our life for 4 years (and now haven’t been on our life in the same way for 4 years) reminded me on the weekend that nothing ever changes, and that they will love me forever regardless. And on the back of the State P&C (Parent’s and Citizens Associations of government schools) Conference, I was reminded once again on the massive influence we have as parents and parental figures in the lives of kids. And balancing this amongst all the other places and ways we have to show up can be tricky. But when your previous step children (who you haven’t seen except on Instagram for 3 years) run at you sobbing with joy at seeing you, nothing else matters in the world (about how and why and how long it’s been). And I know that my children and step children now will perhaps take some time (even years) to appreciate me, and us, and everything. But I knew for sure, in that moment, that however it is it will be worth it.
At the Conference (which I must say I had low expectations for because I am a judgey mole who couldn’t work out why I was struggling so much with the P&C except for all the rules and procedures which just KILL ME!) I had the best time. It’s full of (mostly) women (like 90%) who have got it going on and are driven for the best in education and resources and opportunities for their kids. Yes, there was lots of nice food, and the most epic amount of showbags full of the things like pens and notepads and keep cups, but the days were long and full and there was lots to learn. I love learning. My top value is growth, which has at various times in my life messed with my value for family/relationships, but at conferences it’s an awesome value to be driven by.
Throughout every speaker and every workshop was the theme of connection and relationships which is so my jam. And purpose. And allowing people (including kids) to be the full expression of who they are in an environment that supports that. The only time I wanted to die was when we did agenda items (procedure central) and my friend had to pat me so I didn’t start writhing on the floor. Procedure and detail are the things that my personality type can’t cope with (obviously) but forms the basis of me having a balanced life. Structure is the foundation of freedom after all.
There is a lot to share, and my friend and I wrote a two-page summary of these learnings in the car on the 5-hour trip home (she typed, I drove). We planned to share it with our P&C, but I currently think it’s a bit overwhelming, so we’ll work out how to hit them with strategic and creative fundraising ideas and other gold nuggets gently. In small chunks. The bit I will remember most though was when the Commissioner for Children and Young People spoke about a study conducted with about 1900 kids across our State exploring what factors influence their engagement in school and what support they need at school and at home. Turns out the kids who are the most engaged have friends at school, have engaged parents/parent-figures and have teachers they believe they can trust and who are fair. And the one point I really got was that primary school kids want you to know their teacher’s name and their teacher to know your name. Which shows you are engaged and that they can trust their teacher. And I know that I love our smaller government primary school (and the really small State school my oldest daughter went to) because it was easy to know and do this and have a connection in the community. The thing is, my kids love it even more now I’m involved at the P&C level because I know EVERYONE and everyone knows me. I told my 2nd daughter about this (she’s 15 and definitely does not want me to come and meet her teachers) and she laughed, but then I realised she always wants to show her homework to me and me be engaged and listen to her complaints about her teachers or the annoying boy who sits behind her, but she actually doesn’t want my help with the content. In fact, she eyerolls most of my suggestions (even though I am obviously very smart and know what I’m talking about). She just wants me to care.
On the first morning back I was tired, and my youngest was absolutely exhausted from mucking about at bedtime the night before. She asked me to write a letter to her teacher, Mr D, about how tired she was. She got me a notepad and a pen (the ones she got in her post conference show bag!) and pushed it under my nose at breakfast. At first I felt like saying, “You don’t tell the teacher you’re tired!” (firstly because they might think I’m a bad mum who lets my kid stay up late, secondly they might think I’m the kind of mum who makes their kid go to school when they’re tired (I am) and thirdly because surely he has other more pressing things to care about) and then I realised I had the perfect opportunity to be engaged. I said I’d tell him myself, and so I walked her in and told Mr D she was tired. He smiled kindly and said “Oh yes, we had lots of tired kids yesterday, but luckily today isn’t a very hard day so hopefully you’ll have enough energy for everything”. She beamed, and full of renewed energy skipped off to choir practice. He is an epic teacher, but sometimes that’s not all that’s required. I don’t go in to school much. Kiss and Drop is just so satisfying when your day is full. But sometimes it only takes an extra 10 minutes to show up. I’m not saying this to make any parents suck eggs about what they do or don’t do – I’m all for everyone doing what they can, when they can – it’s just I’m always trying to get better and maybe by the time the 9th kid under my influence grows up I’ll really an expert. I guess I just didn’t realise why some things work and some don’t and why some kids struggle and why some don’t, and even if I’ve only been a good parent accidently once I know what works I can choose it more consciously.
So, I’ll just say the same thing I’ve been saying since forever. If you want you kids to be happy, you be happy first. And if growth and learning float your boat, find ways to do it in all the areas you’re into. I worked out at conference that the reason the secretary job isn’t for me is because I’m much better at other things. I should be the grant writing and sponsorship coordinator. I’m not too good for the role of secretary, I just know for sure someone who is great at detail and procedure would find it easy and then I could focus my time and energy in the place where I can make the biggest difference. The really big things. That don’t work without a manager of detail of procedure. And then, when I’m doing the right things with my time I’m happy – I’m aligned, and centred and fulfilled and on purpose – and being an engaged Mum is easy.
What’s the simplest way for you to be happy?