Parenting: The Practice I Can't Quit
During a particularly heated and challenging exchange with one of my children, sometimes I like to imagine I’m in a gym.
The coach stands over me as I sweat, near tears, muscles worked to the point of failure, as they scream into my face, “NO BREAKS!!!”
I imagine this because I think it’s funny. And in our most challenging moments, humor can be helpful. The imagery also takes me outside the moment for an instant, teleporting to a similar, yet parallel, situation. I can hover above myself long enough to choose my next move: Tap out? Complete the next rep? Yell back at the coach in a take-my-power-back, defiant, take no sh*t outburst of glory?
Usually, it just gives me an inward smile and enough time to catch my breath and decide what will happen next — in real life.
Parenting is a practice you can’t quit. Whatever I do next: cry, yell, ease into a moment of connection, or pull a Nora from A Doll’s House — it’s going in “the book.” From generation to generation, this book will be lovingly passed down (this is my fantasy version of how dazzled my children will one day be at my excellent parenting). Or (this is my darker but probably more accurate fantasy) it might be the book they bring to their therapist to unravel each complicated moment of our shared past. If we run away as parents, well, that goes into the book too — and it’s the reason I say it’s a practice we can’t quit…because we don’t stop thinking about our children, even when we are away from them…or, at least, being successful at that takes practice too.
The practice-performance dynamic is on full display with our children as well. Will I change my practice if the meltdown happens in the grocery store in front of strangers v. underneath the dining room table when I am the audience of one? Does it change if a sibling is present? Is my practice rigid or flexible? And do I believe my children’s behavior reflects my practice or my performance…or both? Do I think my children’s actions are entirely their own, unconnected from the choices I make, whether consciously or unconsciously?
When I observe other children, do I use them as measuring sticks to judge my own? When I see other parenting performed, how do I judge those performances — what are my personal metrics? Do I remember that there is a “backstage” — things that go on behind the scenes that I am not privy to? And finally, will these questions serve to help me constantly second-guess myself or could they launch me into meaningful new ways of showing up for myself and my kids?
All these questions take on new weight when we also take primary responsibility for educating our children. My oldest daughter went through the conventional American K-12 education system. Honestly, I miss the times I could smugly identify her classroom teacher’s cadence in something nasty my daughter said. Now, when my children are using uncomfortable language or throwing out attitude, I think first, “yikes…is that what I sound like?” And often the truth is: “yes.” And that’s not a performance I’m proud of.
Almost every Fall, I feel overwhelmed and think, “I did this to me….on purpose?” I decided, along with all the other inevitable parenting challenges, to ‘on-purpose’ add history, science, language arts, mathematics, physical education, and emotional literacy to my weekly to-do list? (And who am I kidding? All that NEVER actually gets onto the to-do list. Gahhhh!!!) What is wrong with me? I’m not even good at this!
However, usually, after the rush of Fall work samples and new classes find a rhythm, our homeschooling finds its groove, and it becomes easier to reconnect to the ‘why’ we began this journey in the first place and see the things we’re doing that are working. Everyone is different, but I feel like our decision to homeschool falls under the umbrella of ‘radical responsibility.’
While homeschooling parents may outsource parts of our children’s education, we take radical responsibility for the wholeness of their growth. It is a big, gorgeous, sometimes overwhelming responsibility that relies on us being willing to attend to our own growth and development as much, if not more, than our children’s. We don’t always spend enough time on this part of our ‘curriculum’ planning.
I love to think about how we perform parenting for each other outside of and within our homeschooling communities and how we become lost in the performance, sometimes within our own brains. We try to prove to each other (but more often to ourselves) that what we do is good enough.
Happily, unlike a new workout regimen, parenting is a practice we can’t quit and the practice- performance framework can move us from treating homeschooling as a “proving ground” to making it more of a “training ground.” And with enough time and practice, it will become a playground for our kids and, just as importantly, for us too. Practices evolve. And every great performer only becomes great by continuously practicing and adding new tools to their belt.
If it doesn’t feel fun right now because it’s Fall, or because we are all still reassembling and healing from the pandemic, or because it’s time to try something new for yourself or your family, take the space and time you need for yourself first. Find some humor in the moment and remember what a radical responsibility you’ve taken on. Whether you’ve been homeschooling for decades or a month, what you are doing is radical, it is worthy, and it is enough. Danika Sudik is a theatre artist, writer, and educator dedicated to sustainable creativity and communication practice.