Keeping my kids on track has always been one of my top goals as a parent.
From the little things — like making sure they get out the door on time and harping at them to do their homework before they watch television — to the big things — like encouraging them to earn good grades and attend college someday — staying focused feels critical. It’s like adolescence is one direct path to adulthood.
But if keeping my kids on track is how I define my success as a mother, then I’m screwed. I have no control over my kids’ choices or future happiness. It’s like that advice you hear at mommy/maby groups: “You can’t make them eat. You can’t make them sleep. You can’t make them poop.” You can’t plot your children’s futures either.
For me as an adult, being on track means specific things. At the stay-at-home-mom level, I have day-of-the-week plans that I follow:
Mondays: Change sheets
Tuesdays: Clean the bathrooms
Saturday: Shop for groceries
Throwback Thursday (leftovers)
Sunday Chicken Dinner
If I followed my plans, my house would be clean and I would always know what’s for dinner. The problem is I don’t follow my schedule. At the beginning of the week I have great intentions, but by Wednesday I veer off into the unknown.
And let’s not talk about exercise, cutting down on sugar or budgeting. I need a sticker chart that says, “Yay, Jenny! You Adulted!”
If I can’t stay on track, then how can I expect my kids to, especially now that there is finally sunshine? All I want to do is be outdoors, soaking up the Vitamin D. Should I really force my kids to come back inside and clean their rooms?
At a deeper level, maybe this whole “stay on track” mentality, is not only onerous but also discriminatory.
Every brain is different, and so is every child. Some kids knock it out of the park in terms of traditional success. Their parents post pictures of their sports trophies on Facebook or celebrate their 4.0 report cards. Everyone cheers.
Another kid might wake up, eat breakfast and put their dishes away, and it’s a huge victory because the teenager is depressed. The simple act of getting dressed can be a sign of improvement, but better mental health is not something people brag about on social media.
There is no one “right” way to be a person. There is no right way to be a child or a parent — or even a right way to plan a day of the week, for that matter.
Instead of staying on track, perhaps my focus should be on what needs to be done at that moment for the people in my life to be healthy and happy (me included). If that means ordering pizza for dinner, so be it. Bring out the hammock! This mom is on track for a nap.
Jennifer Bardsley is author of the books “Genesis Girl” and “Damaged Goods.” Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal.