Neatly ironed uniforms, polished shoes, a new pencil case, and the excitement of seeing friends after an endless summer – these are my memories of the start of the school term. The excitement came with apprehension too though. What would my new teacher be like? Would I find lessons hard this year, or keep up my solid track record in spelling tests and times tables?
Performance, even for a primary school pupil, was measurable. Even many years ago before new standardised tests were brought it, we all knew whether we were making the grade when it came to reading or handwriting or storytelling or fractions. There were, even then, spelling tests based on the 25 words we had to learn that week. There were reading tests where we read pages out loud. There were smiley faces, straight faces and sad faces to grade us with. We knew the meaning of them all.
When you’re a parent, no-one sets you homework or marks it in red pen and sticks a gold star on the page.
As an adult in the workplace, there are targets, key performance indicators, and annual performance reviews. There are promotions when you succeed. Sometimes there are even bonuses.
When you’re a parent, there is no line manager who sets you goals for the next quarter. You get no pay rises for hitting targets.
But, what are the targets when you’re raising children? What are the goals, and what are the benchmarks you need to achieve in order to succeed? And how do you know if you’re reaching them?
Sometimes, on the days which are hardest or the days when you doubt yourself and your instincts, it would be reassuring to know that you’re doing ok at this parenting business. But, there’s no right way or wrong way. There’s no list of set goals. There’s nothing, essentially, by which to measure your progress. There’s nothing to compare yourself against to see if you’re doing it right.
Parenting doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all handbook. It doesn’t come with a series of tests which spit out a grade relating to your performance. It does feel, however, like something you get a bit better at day by day. There are failings, yes, there will be bad days and very bad days. But parenting is also a journey on which you grow, you learn, you experience, and you often do a bit better at each day.
There are signals, signs, and little clues along the way where we see our own successes. They aren’t always easy to spot. They aren’t always clear to anyone else. But as a mother or a father, if we look a little closer, we’ll see that they are there.
The clues might be seeing your child show a little kindness or empathy. They might be watching your child share their toys or make decisions you are proud of. They might be realising your child is living by the values you have taught them. They might, one day, be seeing your child grow into a little person you admire and respect and feel in awe of… These, surely, are signs we are getting it right.
There is no rule book, there are no grades. But our children will let us know we are doing just fine. Sometimes, we might struggle to trust our instincts. We won’t always deserve a gold star. But by trying to learn, by listening to ourselves and our babies, and by aspiring to do the right thing by them, our children will be our greatest achievements.