Tuesday, November 13, 2012

When complicated is better than simple

There was a mum sitting next to me at Starbucks this morning and I couldn't help but listen in as she spoke with her three year old daughter. I was initially drawn to the harsh tones of her voice, scolding her daughter for running in the through the coffee shop, for running back and forth between tables, for doing everything, well, like a three year old. She told her daughter some version of "no" about a hundred times in the span of ten minutes, and I wanted so badly to run over to her and tell her yes. Yes, you can twirl around. Yes, you can climb on all the chairs. Yes, colour anywhere on the page.

I'm not sharing this with you not because I want to shame this mother or judge her or put her impatient parenting on display. She was impatient with her daughter, but so was I not ten minutes before when Alyce starting pouting before going to school. We're human, all of us. In addition to her impatience, this mum was also kind, made her daughter laugh, and the two of them were clearly in love. I think I'm going to get the following parenting advice tattooed somewhere on my body: It's complicated. Relax.

Since I'm kind of afraid of tattoos, I'll just write it here one more time: Parenting: It's complicated. Relax.

I've written a lot over the past couple of years about how much I struggle with with hard parts of parenting. I love, I mean really love, being a parent. I am blessed beyond measure with my two daughters and if we're lucky we'll have more one day. I am also blessed beyond measure to have my own mother, who more than anything has taught me to love my own children with utter abandon. (That's the two us above, circa 1980. Isn't she gorgeous?)  As parents we are gifted with pieces of advice that aim to remind us to take a breath and to be gentle on ourselves, and while I mostly embrace these reminders, there is one piece of advice that has always irked me.

I hate it when people try to tell me to keep things simple. Keep it simple, they often say, it doesn't have to be complicated. I get it, I really do. At the end of the day we just love our kids and that is enough. But here's the thing: parenting is complicated! There are so many feelings that come and go during a single day of parenting that simple is simply out of the question. Alyce alone has roughly 6,389 emotions in a single day, which competes neck and neck with my own variations. Simple? Rarely. Complicated? Always. If I don't acknowledge that parenting means feeling both impatient and elated in the presence of my children, then my only other option is guilt, over not keeping my cool enough or rising above their crazy moods. Sure I'll accept that as the adult I should have fewer tantrums, but I can't rule them out completely. Life just isn't like that.

At the end of my life I will be grateful for the simple things.  I will remember the way it felt to hug Alyce every single morning after she crawls out of bed all warm and bed-headed. I will remember how much I loved breastfeeding Shira well into her third year (we all know this is going to happen). And I will never forget the way my whole body smiles when my family is together. But if we erase the complicated in favour of the simple, even if our intentions are good, we will lose something.

As a parent on any given day I will lose a little patience, dance in my kitchen, read twenty books, wish I had more time to myself, and be smothered in kisses. There is nothing simple about it, but I welcome it nonetheless.


  1. SO well said. I've recently had the opportunity to spend time with JUST my three year old (for the first time since she was born). And I marvel at her. I marvel at how often I'm impatient with her, urging her to slow down, or keep up...so now I get to just adjust my pace to hers, and it's delightful. She can jump in every single puddle and I can stop to read her 20 stories. It is a joy. And it's totally complicated. I love what you wrote about the thousands of emotions (theirs and yours)...sometimes I worry about how emotional I am. Then I realise that being emotional isn't wrong...as long as you're consistently emotional, you know? And talk about them, explain your reactions, and give their emotions names and meaning. Great morning read...thanks. And yes, your mom totally rocks that centre part!!

    1. Yes, exactly. We talk about our emotions a lot. I tell the girls when I'm frustrated and excited and even when I'm having a hard time. They know I'm human. That's what I find so hard about the "parenting is simple, stop trying to make it complicated" advice. Might as well embrace the crazy.

  2. You write so beautifully. I love your mantra.

    1. Thank you for your very kind words. I'm seriously considering the tatoo.