Everywhere we turn, we see a message. It’s sometimes obvious and others subliminal. The message is about being more—the super human, super parent, super “something”. It appears in art, media and literature. You should strive to be the smartest person in the room. This message is an ideal, not based in reality. What’s true is that the majority of us are just regular people who have strengths and weaknesses. If we’re lucky, we know about 85% of what is going on in our own lives, and this would be pre-children.
Once children arrive your knowledge base drops. You can recall how you managed through your own childhood because it is part of your history. But now it’s your child’s history that unfolds about them and you. You do not have the same level of competence about who they are. About your children, you do know the basics, such as their health, that they slept well, where their favorite bunny is, basically anything in their controlled world. Once in school, your “know all” percentage dwindles.
You are a novice when it comes to how your child interact within the community. Attempting to know everything can be difficult. This being the case, you could either double down and dig in to levels that may equate to tiger parenting or, on the other ends of the spectrum, you may surrender your nerves and become comfortable with kids find their own way thinking. Somewhere in the middle, however, would allow you to sleep at night and feel appropriately responsible. This middle ground can be found in your child’s community, where you also enjoy rights. This community, filled with friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, doctors, can increase your knowledge levels about your child in ways that open new perspectives about your little human.
There are 5 major benefits of community that you should keep in mind. They are:
For the next 19 or so years, your child’s community can help bolster your confidence when parenting. You will watch your child’s intellectual ability expand—teachers bring knowledge. You and your child will find comfort and a safeness as friendships are developed. Your child, you, or your family may change in ways that are unexpected and the community will help with or encourage those changes. There will always be a path to take that you or your child have not taken, so the benefit of resources is a community given. Least of all, you and your child will travel up and down roads that are not always straight. Community gives a safe place to return when reconsidering or hitting pause.
Because this generation of parents, more than any other, is inundated with the message that parenting is an Olympic event, doesn’t mean the message is valid. It is great to aspire to be the best parent you can be, but splitting oneself in half or quarter or eighths is not viable. A good way to fill the gaps in your parental knowledge about your child is to embrace your child’s community. Open your mind to those who see your daughters and sons through unbiased eyes and who have qualifications you can trust.
I’ll share a funny anecdote from my family’s experience with the Playgroup community. One of my children applied to various elementary programs. Each school had slight differences in the admission interviews that the children participate in. This one school had a build-a-Mr. Peanut man activity. You may or may not recall what Mr. Peanut looked like. The peanut made up the body with a large hat at the top set at a jaunty angle. My out-of-the-box thinker, who had never seen Mr. Peanut, felt assured that the peanut represented the head and the hat flipped upside down was the torso. After attaching the arms and legs in the correct places, the observation team was stunned by my child’s Mr. Peanut. Their surprise was shared with Lonna and she shared it with me. Had I not had the community of Playgroup, I might have freaked out. But the teachers for the past two and half years had been educating me on how my child approached puzzles and ideas. Instead of freaking out, I found myself laughing.
There is a reason why people accepting awards thank teachers and guidance counselors when they achieve well. These individuals, who are a part of their community, gave them something positive that never detracted from the parental laid scaffolding, but reinforced it.
Community is a powerful tool. Don’t shy away from it and remember, you can’t possibly be a super parent because you don’t have eyes in the back of head, x-ray vision, hearing of canine and you cannot split yourself into two, four or six. But you can be a good parent with the help of the community that your child builds with your participation.
Something a little different this month, instead of a book for the adults, a poem.
Mary Oliver is highly celebrated for her proses. One of her favorite activities is walking. I believe, if she found herself at Playgroup, she would summon the children to walk with her amongst the trees and pathways. So for a moment enjoy her words and envision yourself going easy, filled by light, and shining.
When I am Among Trees
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,”
they say, “and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.”
Carson Ellis, author and illustrator
Ellis creates a beautifully illustrated book about the different types of homes that can be found in the world. Although home represents a base, as one flips through the pages, you are struck by the variety of communities to be found on this planet. It is a joy to read and experience this book.
“The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Question for Lonna
Almost two decades ago, I arrived with the first of my children at your preschool. During the years that followed, I amassed a group of people who acted as an extension of my eyes and ears with my children. This group I called my community. Can you please share what community means at Playgroup and how a family can benefit from that community.”
The summer before our son’s Sophomore year of high school we visited Egypt. During our layover at Heathrow, an Egyptian mother of three left her children with a western family to retrieve a relative from another area. This mother did not speak English and the western family did not speak Arabic. Those witnessing this exchange were horrified. How could a woman leave her children with a strange family?
After a few days in Egypt I understood. Women care for each others children. Children are a part of a greater community than the small nuclear family. I realized my world operated very differently. Families take care of their own children and are only mildly interested in others. Sometimes, even your child’s closest friend becomes a threat. What if he gets into a school and your child does not?
I began to view Playgroup as an extended family. I talk to parents about looking at the teachers as aunties and the other children as the cousins they may not have in our west coast city. I talk about how important it is that the children and parents support each other rather than compete.
If one child has struggles it should not be gossiped about but as a community we should try to support and actively help the child succeed. “Not my kid, not my problem” is a horrible attitude, but also a false one. Of course the problems of others effect us all. At Playgroup we ask all the children to be accountable for each other. If one child refuses to clean up it effects the entire group, they can not move on until everyone cooperates in the clean up process.
“Clean up, clean up, everybody do their share” is our song. The children work as a team to keep their class and playground neat and ordered. The teachers are the aunties who know what happens when mom and dad are not around. The children know we will share the good and the naughty with their parents. The goal is not to “get them in trouble” but to work as a team to help solve a problem. Playgroup children know their parents are not alone, they have all of Playgroup supporting them.
Of course, when the children become teenagers and young adults they may wish we weren’t STILL a part of their community. Lonna writing on your Instagram to cover up during Outside Lands or calling your mom when you are spotted during school hours away from school is annoying. However none of them question the spirit in which it’s done. All Playgroup children, past and present understand they have a strong connection to the place they first called school.
All Playgroup parents, past and present, know we are never too busy to answer a call, text or swoon over a photo. We are extended family. Maybe the best kind, the kind they actually chose.
Executive Director, Playgroup