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Monday Moment: I just don’t know

Emma Grey

A few months ago, I asked for ideas for articles. One of the comments I received was this:

“How do I parent effectively when half the time I feel lost and un-grown-up and ineffective myself, when I struggle to have a wide enough perspective and an open enough heart to just ask the right questions, let alone find the right answer? I mean, what do you do when you don’t know what you don’t know? I feel like it’s the blind leading the blind!”

To the person asking, I want to say thank you. I can’t begin to tell you how helpful this question is in making me feel ‘normal’.

This reminded me of a wonderful conversation I had with my sister a few years ago. We admitted we both felt like failures as parents from time to time. We’d yell. We’d feel angry. We’d long for a break. We’d have thoughts flit through our minds that we weren’t proud of.

We compared ourselves, unfavourably, with our own parents, whose endless patience seemed unfathomable to us. Maybe it’s because they had to wait such a long time (19 years) for us to come along. Maybe they were just better parents, or more patient people, or superheroes in disguise…

These self-defeating thoughts circled our minds, and then we had a conversation with Mum about it. She’s in her eighties now and recalled this:

  • Times when she was so bone-weary and worn out by us that she just stood in the shower and cried.
  • Times when she wouldn’t answer the door because the house was in such a mess.
  • The time our ever-patient Dad had a memorable argument with me as a teenager when he thought he would have a heart attack, he was so furious.

And we were so incredibly relieved to hear this!

One of the most important messages to give our children is ‘I don’t know either’.

  • I don’t know the answer.
  • I don’t know what I’m doing.
  • I don’t know how to fix that.
  • I don’t know how to feel better/different right now.
  • I don’t know why.
  • I don’t know how.
  • I just don’t know!

It’s not about fobbing their questions off or scaring them with too much parental uncertainty – it’s about bolstering them for life, which is packed full of the unknown, and letting them know it’s not only okay not to have all the answers, it’s impossible to have them all.

It always struck me at work that the most senior people were the ones who asked the most ‘silly questions’. They weren’t ashamed not to know, and wouldn’t scurry around in private trying to figure things out without people noticing their ignorance – they knew the best way to get ahead with something was just to ask.

Modelling how to deal with the scary unknown is a gift for the people around you. There is great comfort in knowing uncertainty is normal, and that there are various ways out of it:

Mummy doesn’t know either, but there are ways to figure things out, and people I can ask…

Phew!

It’s of immense comfort to me as a mum that I kept my teenage diaries, because the passage of time has given me a recollection of our home life as being somewhat ‘idyllic’. It’s given me a recollection of our parents being pretty perfect too. It’s a hard standard to try to live up to.

Reading my diaries I realise they were (and are) seriously wonderful but they were ‘human’ too. Apparently I argued with mum the way my girls and I sometimes argue now. Mum was exasperated about things I’m now exasperated about as well.

They didn’t, as my sister and I previously suspected, waltz straight through parenting like they were writing a textbook about it. They faced decisions and unknowns and the occasional throw-your-arms-up-in-despair moments.

Maybe they still feel like ‘un-grownups’ when my sister and I come to them with serious, grownup issues the like of which they didn’t encounter in their own adults lives. They recently said (in jest, sort of) that we’ve caused them more grey hairs as adults than we ever did as kids. 😉

If they do feel that way, it’s more than okay. It’s hugely reassuring.

I hope that the five kids that my sister and I have between us are watching closely as their parents and grandparents and aunties stumble around searching for answers, getting bits of things wrong and other bits right and generally being ‘flawed’. I think it makes us approachable. And for kids— having someone to go to in your time of need, who will sit with you and help you work things out together is what really, really counts.

Un-grownups Unite!

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Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son. More about the Author

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