I love making New Year’s resolutions. I think it has something to do with my birthday being on New Year’s Eve. I like the idea that starting the very next day anything can be possible. I make so many New Year’s resolutions that I even have to categorize them: faith, parenting, health, relationships, career. Some of them are specific: adjusting my work schedule by 30 minutes so I’m not rushing into the office already behind. Some of my resolutions aren’t really resolutions, but specific activities I want to do this year, e.g., running the Zydeco half-marathon in March. And still other resolutions are more global and about a way of “being” in the New Year — like looking at how I can scale back and stop running around at breakneck speed all the time, whether that’s at home or work.
When it comes to parenting resolutions, I found mine over the holidays. First, Avery and I went with friends to the Teddy Bear Tea at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph, and the Ice Princess were there, and all the children were taking pictures and talking with them. I asked Avery if she wanted to take a picture with Mrs. Claus, and she said 'no.' I kept asking her: “Are you sure? Everybody else is taking a picture with her? I bet she’s nice. Come on, take a picture.” She didn’t want to and wouldn’t budge. Suddenly it occurred to me, what is the big deal if she doesn’t take a picture with Mrs. Claus? Who is this whole experience for anyway? At that moment, I realized that many times I am forcing “fun” on Avery, making her do things I think would be fun for her that she doesn’t care to do. Not only am I being the “fun boss” I’m also sucking whatever fun might have existed out of the experience for her.
Even before this holiday season, I can think of examples of running us around like crazy people to two or three birthday parties in a weekend all in the “spirit of fun.” When she would get tired and cranky and want to go home, I would wonder what was wrong with her. Did she not like parties or other kids? Not at all, she just knew her fun limits better than I did. Most compulsive behavior (even compulsive birthday party attendance) is driven by fear, and in this case it was my fear of Avery “missing out” on something fun. Would it have killed her not to go to one more party at the Jump Zone? Of course not, but in my mind, we had to do it all, even when in retrospect I can see that sometimes it would’ve been perfectly okay just to stay home and be together. In fact, many days she would’ve preferred just that.
In another holiday incident, Avery and I went to see Disney Junior Live at the Cajun Dome. She wanted to wear her Cinderella costume, but without the crown or the shoes. Instead, she wanted to accessorize with Minnie Mouse ears and Mulan shoes. My first reaction was to say no and that she needed to match, but then I thought; “Why? What does it matter? Let her be her.” Kids have so little say in their daily lives, how to dress up for Disney should certainly be her choice. Sometimes my idea of “having fun” is really a form of perfectionism, and I have to remember it’s not about my script for an event, it’s about Avery.
Finally, Avery decided recently that she does not want to dance next year. We agreed that she would finish the year, but even after that discussion, I found myself questioning her about it. Again, I had to ask myself: “Who is this about?” I had to admit it was about me and not being around the other parents and kids we’ve known for 4 years and the excitement of the dance revue. Over time, Avery has become interested in other activities like gymnastic and piano, and that’s great. In fact, now that she’s experienced a variety of activities, I think it’s good that she’s found what she loves and will focus on those interests.
So this year my New Year’s resolution is to stop pressuring Avery to do my idea of what’s fun for her and give her more freedom to decide what she wants to do. Because they say resolutions have a better chance of being kept if you tell them to someone, I told Avery: “Mom is going to stop making you do things I think are fun for you and let you choose.” I got a big hug in return. Sometimes it’s a fine line between encouraging and insisting, and I hope to walk that line better in 2014.