When my daughter was a tot her curly ringlets got a lot of attention.
“She’s going to hate that when she’s 13.”
“Pretty … but wait until she is a teenager. She’s going to want it straightened.”
“I’m sure it’s a mess in the morning — can’t imagine combing it.”
At the time I would smile, wink at my daughter and speak for her because sometimes I had to be that kind of parent. “Right now we love it.”
In my head I would think, “Really? She can understand you. Why would you set her up to hate her hair like that?”
I’m sure they were trying to make conversation, like the cashier who listens to my stale jokes about coupons and where my recycle bags are (hint: not with me).
But to all those people who predicted hair anxiety in my teenage daughter I have this to say:
You were wrong.
She’ll tell you now that she loves her hair, always has. I’m sure that there are other little girls who grow to dislike their curls, but not this one. Her experience, like she is, is unique.
I’m reminded of this every time I hear a parent talk about how quickly their kids are growing up. The conversations are usually similar:
A parent says excitedly, “Little Ethan started first grade. I can’t believe it!”
“Just you wait,” another quickly responds without allowing Ethan’s mom her moment of wonder, “I have a fourth, sixth and eighth grader. That’s when it gets hard.”
Suddenly another joins in. “That’s nothing! Two of mine are in high school, the other a freshman in college!” She prattles on implying that the parents of younger children have it so easy, as if parenting older kids is more challenging, harder or more rewarding.
Like it’s a contest.
It’s not a contest.
Maybe it’s just me (I doubt it) but every time I read or hear that sort of commentary I cringe like I did when someone would tell me that my daughter would grow to hate her hair. Can’t we have our own experiences in our own time? Can’t we have our moments?
It begins even before the child arrives — the dark tales of what to expect. Some are fairly universal — babies cry, parents generally don’t get a lot of sleep and the overall cost of having a child is usually quite staggering.
But not all babies are alike.
And not all parents are alike.
What good does it do to predict gloom and doom to someone who has yet to face a particular situation?
I’m sure any parent can come up with several “prophesies” from people that never came true:
“…toddlers are the worst.”
“…tweens are horrible.”
Many years ago someone declined an invitation with this absolute: “Just wait until yours get into school. You’ll never be able to schedule any family time.”
Uh, no, not exactly.
“Just wait until your kids are in high school. You’ll never see them.”
I have to think that people mean well, but not once has any of these comments helped me. They leave me feeling like I’m behind on something. Like I’ll never catch up, that I will always be a naïve rookie parent.
But I’m done feeling that way.
So, to Ethan’s mom and all the parents who feel like they lost some age-based contest:
They are wrong.
Celebrate your unique children. Live in the moment at each milestone. Overcome each challenge as it occurs. And break the chain of parental prophesying. Encourage, don’t compete. That’s how we all win.
(Not that it’s a contest.)