Parent guilt is real. Making decisions about how to raise your child is difficult because it seems like every little thing has a tremendous impact on them. It starts at birth. Do you breastfeed or use formula? Should you use cloth diapers or disposable? Will they attend a traditional or Montessori preschool? Should they go to public school or an independent school? How much screen time should they have? How will you discipline? There are so many choices and decisions to make as a parent, and a lot of the time it can feel like you are making the wrong choice or if something does not go as planned you immediately blame yourself. It is sort of like you are damned if you do. You’re damned if you don’t.
The guilt becomes more prevalent as children get older and have more activities, projects, and extra curricular. We try our best to do everything, be there for every event, help with every project, or go on every field trip, but the truth is you cannot do it all. The guilt that comes with the feeling of inability to be there for all these events is hard. And it doesn’t help to see the “perfect parents” on social media.
Just know that every parent struggles, despite what it looks like from a few instagram posts. Parent guilt is real, but the truth is we need to stop blaming ourselves when we hit a bump in the road, when life throws a curveball at us, or when we cannot do it all. It is NOT your fault! You are trying your very best, and that is all that matters. How you handle the situation, your flexibility, and openness to change is important and more helpful than feeling guilty.
As teachers, we have witnessed many parents cry when we have parent teacher conferences because they feel guilty that a struggle that their child might be going through is their fault. It is not your fault and teachers are not judging you for it. We bring up challenges or struggles that your child may be having to help you help them. All children need support for different reasons and it’s part of growing up.
Instead of feeling guilty for everything you think you are doing wrong, we challenge all parents to make more time for themselves. Create more downtime for the family. The best thing you can do for your child is to have a healthy mental state. Creating balance in your life will help your child develop into a more balanced person too. Give yourself permission to say no sometimes. You don’t have to attend every birthday party or every playdate. You don’t have to be there for every class party or volunteer at every luncheon.
Parenting is hard and it has shifted in extreme ways over the last few decades. Over the years children have become the central focus of the family. Whereas before, children were members of the family, but life did not revolve around them. We feel a healthy family dynamic is one with balance where the children are cared for and the parents are also cared for. You’re going to make some mistakes and you won’t always know the answer. But keep in mind that your child will remember the memories that you make with them over a lifetime. Not that in kindergarten you forgot spirit day. Or that in third grade you could not make the movie night.
With summer vacation quickly approaching, this is the time of year when we tend to get many questions from parents about what academics should be done over the summer. We are big proponents of letting summer time be a time for play, fun, relaxation, and exploration. This can be a great opportunity for kids to explore new things, discover a passion, focus on another interest or develop a talent.
If a child is struggling and needs more support in a particular subject, we would suggest doing some academics. However the only time we would suggest getting any kind of tutoring is only when it is actually needed. There should be no rush or pressure to be ahead in school. Depending on the child, it might actually take the joy out of learning and that would be a shame.
If a child ends up being ahead naturally and is really interested in a particular subject, that’s great. You can definitely support them in this area without pushing them or MAKING them do extra work they do not want or have to do. In this case, the child should be driving it and you are either letting them do their thing or finding ways to support their curiosity.
There are things that kids can do to practice skills that are fun and rewarding for them. The key is to keep it light so that it doesn’t seem like work.
Summer is a great time for kids to discover new interests, and reading is a great place to discover new passions. Kids should learn early on that reading isn’t only for school. Reading for pleasure can be a wonderful, and good for the soul, free time activity. Going to the library and checking out books with your child is a great way to promote reading during the summer. Checking one out for yourself to read will demonstrate to your child that reading is fun, not a chore.
It is great for kids to learn how to journal at a young age. They can write about their summer adventures, add in pictures, illustrations, or make it into a scrapbook. Not only will they learn to and begin to reflect on their day, but it allows them to practice their writing skills. While you should tell them to just write and not worry about spelling and punctuation, the more practice they get with writing the more they will grow as a writer.
Writing letters to family members that live in another place could be a fun activity, especially if they were expecting a letter back in the mail. If you go on vacation, you can have them write postcards to their friends or teachers. Again this is a fun way to promote, support, and build writing skills.
Things you can do in moderation
Practice Multiplication Facts
Multiplication facts are often introduced in 2nd and 3rd grade. It is helpful for children to practice multiplication facts during the summer so that they do not forget them and to keep the momentum going as they transition into the next grade. There are a variety of ways to help children practice and memorize multiplication facts. Practicing with flashcards a couple of times a week is one way, but there are also apps that make it more game like. Keep in mind that it is easier and more fun to practice these for 15 minutes a day than for 1 hour once a week.
A little practice of more complex mathematical concepts, such as long division, multiplication, or fractions, whose algorithm is new to students or consists of multiple steps might be beneficial for students for whom these proved to be challenging during the school year. We only ever recommend it as a way to strengthen their math skills and return to school in September with better understanding and more self confidence in math.
Overall, summer should be about rest and relaxation. While a little bit of practice here and there is a good idea, if your child is having a blast at summer camp, a relatives house, at the beach, or anywhere your family decides to spend summer, do not stress about academic summer work.
Our big motto is that everyone should strive for balance. Summer brings great balance to children. The school year is long and full of lots of learning, responsibilities, sport games and practices, and projects. Let children have the summer to be children, eat ice cream, dig holes, swim, play and climb. Those are the main homework assignments we assign our students at the end of the year, and that is what they need to be doing during summer.
Bringing balance to our lives and to our children isn’t always easy. We have to be mindful, make choices to let go of certain expectations, possibly change routines, and most importantly be aware that we can’t and shouldn’t do it all.
Children Mimic Us As educators, we spend most of our days getting to know our students at school. We become familiar with their personalities. By the end of September each year, we can confidently identify if a child is going to have a fantastic day, or if one might need extra high fives and check-ins. As educators and curious observers of the world around us, it has always been so interesting to meet parents after becoming so familiar with our students. We recognize where a student might get their long eyelashes from, their cleft chin, or that one curl that has a mind of its own. We hear familiar giggles, expressions and sense of humor. It is so exciting to recognize ourselves in our children. What an astounding feat it is, to leave an imprint of ourselves for generations to come!
Apart from the genetic and biological aspect of human development, children learn by observing their parents. Parents are their first exposure to human behavior, relationships and language. There is no one so perfect and so right in our children’s eyes than their caretakers. Think of the times when children are learning to speak or walk. Before they even begin the actual act of making sounds, they hear it; before they try to figure out how to use their legs, they have been observing their parents amble around all day. This observe and do pattern does not stop! It continues long after they have moved out of the nest.
Now, you may not want to, but imagine one of those extra busy mornings. One where you feel rushed and anxious. You have to get yourself ready for work, get the children ready for school or daycare. Not to mention make and eat breakfast, make sure that everyone has a lunch, and make it to school on time for drop off. If you have ever experienced this stress and anxiety, then there is a possibility that your child was experiencing this with you. Children are very good at identifying and taking in the energy of grownups. When you are unbalanced, anxious, stressed, overworked, and have nothing left to give, they feel and exhibit that too.
When life is catching up with you and you are starting to feel this way, it is time to slow down. If there is too much on your plate, you need to prioritize the most important things and let go of other things. On those mornings, hours, or days when you are feeling overly stressed and frustrated, stop, take a breath and know that everything and everyone will be fine. If you have a partner, it will help to share your stressors with them and come up with a game plan together. It also helps to talk to other parents that are also feeling these same stressors. Find your community of like minded parents and don’t let go. Remember raising kids is a series of stages, however overwhelmed you are feeling at that moment, know that it will pass.
Focusing on Flexibility The most important life lesson that should be visited and revisited in the classroom and at home is flexibility. Assemblies do not always follow the schedule. Dad can’t always do preschool drop off. Things do not go the way they are planned. This is an illusion that we tell ourselves when things are going well. In fact, plans work because of the wiggle room that accompanied it. In the classroom when the technology does not work, we copied the wrong papers, or the glue bottles dried up, we often say “C’est la vie.” Such is life. There are things that are out of our control in our classrooms and in our homes. Feeling frustration and anger is normal, but understanding that that frustration and anger will not fix the problem is incredibly important for our children to learn. Being flexible, regrouping, and figuring out how to move on is a skill that parents and teachers need to model for children.
Benefits of Balance Parents that are balanced have balanced children. If you and your household are unbalanced, then your child will be too. We have had students that continuously forget their homework, misplace their workbooks or folders, have 7 water bottles in their cubbies, come to school without any of their supplies, or have big emotional reactions when things do not go the way they wanted or thought they would go. There are times when learning differences and special needs are the reason for such emotions. However, being around parents that are over worked, spread out too thin, and stressed out plays a big factor into any child’s daily performance. These emotions and behaviors manifest themselves in children too.
On the other hand, students who have parents that have a work-life balance, take on challenges with a positive attitude, and are present in the moment, often thrive in our classrooms. They tackle challenges calmly and cooly, they have better resilience, and a stronger sense of self. These students do well in our classrooms, the school yard, and with friends.
There is no way that stresses can be eliminated in our lives. We deal with different kinds of stressors all day long. However you deal with these pressures in your life, always take the time to talk to your children about it. This, after all, is talking about balance. It is OK for your child to see you frustrated or irritated. These are all very real emotions that they will encounter and feel in their lifetime. What is important is that you address it with them before they take these observations elsewhere. Just as you would walk through each step of what your doing with an infant to expose them to language, walk your child through your thought process when you reacted so emotionally to an unsavory event. Get them involved by asking them how they thought the reaction helped or hurt the situation. It shows them that it is OK to react to frustrations and reflect on better ways to deal with these unexpected situations.
Being a parent is an all day every day job without any sick or vacation days. Everyone is doing the best they can. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and unbalanced, sometimes it’s nice to have a reminder that it is okay to slow down, cancel plans, and just take some time to get things back in order. It will make a more balanced life for you and for your children. The key is to not be perfect all the time, but to have an awareness when you need to create more balance.