Today is the day after Mother’s Day, and I feel like yesterday I was handed a kind of performance review of the job I’m doing. Anyone who regularly reads this blog probably knows that I believe the job of a parent is very important to all kids' long-term psychological wellbeing. I want to do the best job possible.
So how am I doing?
My two elementary school children brought home projects from school. (The middle-schooler just wrote a quick note, I imagine prompted by Dad, saying, “Thanks for being an awesome mom.”) Both younger kids, 3rd and 5th graders, were asked to fill in the blanks with the best things about Mom. These were traditional Mother’s Day school projects, designed by teachers who surely wanted Moms to feel loved and appreciated. I was pleased to see my children had written items like: “My mom always listens to me.” And “My Mom thinks everyone should be treated equal. She will be happiest when everyone in the world gets treated that way.” Top marks on those. But “My mom’s favorite hobby is… napping.” Really? I’m not sure that’s a fair representation of my day-to-day parenting productivity. Well, at least it didn’t say staring at her iPhone…
Maybe children aren’t the most qualified to write parents’ job performance reviews. After all, don’t many kids, especially younger ones, just believe their own family is normal, or even great? They describe what they see, without fully understanding the implications. (We’ve all seen the internet memes of kids who have drawn a picture with the caption, “My Mommy likes… drinking WINE!”)
And of course teens aren’t much more helpful in reviewing performance. It can be hard to get teens to express any viewpoint at all about their families. (Although “awesome,” while not very descriptive, still seems pretty positive.) Teens have more to say when they have a complaint, but is their feedback objective? If we rely on our teenagers to tell us how well we are parenting, we might all conclude that we are the strictest, most controlling people on the planet. “Do you know that I’m the only kid in my grade who doesn’t have a laptop?” (Doubtful).
Young adult children won’t be much help, either. They may be frustrated about the parents’ ability or inability to help support them, or homesick, or drudging through a long list of emotions about their childhood, trying to understand who they are and where they come from. By the time adult children can give objective, helpful feedback, the parents’ most important roles have likely concluded.
So, if kids can’t evaluate our job performance as parents, who can? Because heaven knows we need some honest feedback. Otherwise how can we improve?
Perhaps we each have to assess our own performance as parents. It’s impossible to be objective, but at least we can try to honestly note our biases. Here’s a simple 12 item job performance checklist for parents:
1. Are my kids getting all their basic needs met?
2. If I’m having trouble being a parent, am I asking for help?
3. Am I living by my values and adhering to them as often as possible?
4. Do my kids know with certainty that they are loved and cherished?
5. Am I tuning in to my kids often enough?
6. Am I here for my kids, or just for me?
7. Am I managing my automatic reactions so that I can be more reasonable when I’m tired, frustrated, or just having a bad day?
8. Am I guiding my kids in a direction I think they need to go (rather than just letting them wander aimlessly)?
9. Am I letting go enough, so they figure things out for themselves?
10. Am I communicating clearly so they understand me?
11. Am I teaching them necessary skills they will need for future stages of life?
12. Do my kids seem okay, and if not, am I figuring out how to help?
There are probably many more items a parent could use to assess job performance. What would you add?