Parenting Through the Gray Area


As a parent I oftentimes find myself at a crossroads between doing what I want to do, what I think is right, and what I NEED to do. There are days, weeks, even months, that no decision I make regarding my children is more than one of those things. If it’s right, it’s not what I want to do. If it’s what I need to do, it’s not what I think is right. If it’s what I want to do, it’s not the right thing to do.

Why not always just choose the right thing to do? It’s not that simple. Parenthood is never black and white. I find that I live most of my life with kids squarely in the gray area; just trying to figure it out, and hoping that I’m doing the best that I can. Not THE best, but the best that I can- and each day that differs. Each day, I may or may not succeed, and I’ve had to learn to be okay with that. It wasn’t easy, trust me.

When Holden started school two years ago, I found that the gray area I call home got a little bit more murky. Okay, a LOT more murky. He is capable, and smart, and he picks up on things quickly- but he’s  also a struggling perfectionist, and when he doesn’t get something right on the first try, he has the tendency to absolutely lose his shit. That’s something we’ve worked on from Kindergarten until now. “Practice makes progress!” he’ll say, and I’ll pat myself on the back for teaching him that he doesn’t always have to strive toward perfection.

Still, as capable and smart as the kid is, like anyone, occasionally he finds himself confused or frustrated or stuck. It’s then that I will walk over to him, ask what the issue is, and try to get him to work it out for me. Usually, he finds that he can work it out on his own, and all is well. There are other times where I or my husband have to sit down and help him work through the process, and then there is meltdown mode. When a young kid gets SO confused or frustrated or stuck that they turn into a hormonal woman. You can’t use logic or reason with them. It’s just the end of the frickin’ world and that is that.

The school here asks us to PLEASE not help our children with their homework unless they absolutely need it. They prefer a more hands-off approach so that the children can learn to work through problems on their own. This is something I fully support. I’m not a coddler. I want my children to know that THEY can work through issues without someone else doing it for them; without someone else having to tell them how (if they’ve already been taught, and hell, sometimes even if they haven’t). It’s an important life skill!

Last night, as Holden went into stage 5 meltdown mode over a writing assignment, I yet again found myself at a parental crossroad. Do I help him, even though I KNOW he can do this assignment without assistance (he had just down an almost identical assignment the week prior without assistance) or do I help him, because he’s sitting at the table screaming that it’s too hard and he NEEDS help? I tried to reason with him, to calm him down and explain the assignment in multiple different ways, but he was just too far gone at that point. There’s no helping when they’re like that.

As I was discussing this situation with some other parents, and we were all laughing because I’d told him he “takes poops harder” than that assignment, someone said “Just be a mother and help him.”

First reaction: “Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!” complete with head bobble and eyes wide in total disbelief.
Second reaction: BE A MOTHER?

Not many comments get to me, but this one stuck with me enough to write this blog. BE A MOTHER. What does that even MEAN, exactly? What was this woman implying? That I wasn’t being a mother because I didn’t sit down and do his homework for him? I wasn’t being a mother if I didn’t coddle him and give him the answer? I wasn’t being a mother because I didn’t sit down and help him with something he didn’t need help with, which I knew because I know his abilities and that he is smarter and more capable than he gives himself credit for?

Being a mother means making hard decisions, which sometimes don’t result in happiness.

Being a mother means doing what is best for the child, even if it isn’t fun. Even if we don’t WANT to.

Being a mother means sometimes having to be the bad guy

Being a mother means deciding when to help, and when not to

Being a mother means coming to the crossroads of right, need, and want, and having enough courage to pick a path and go down it, even knowing that in the end, it may not have been the best one after all.

Being a mother means doing your best to teach your kids right from wrong, good from bad, and all the gray area in between. Showing them the way, and hoping they can one day be confident enough to pick a path for themselves.

Holden finished his homework this morning. Without help.

I made the right decision this time. That might not be the case next time, and I’m okay with that, because that’s what “being a mother” IS.

Posted on January 22, 2015 by Holdin' Holden 8 Comments
Holdin' Holden

About Holdin' Holden




  • “Practice makes progress” is the best thing I’ve EVER read! Wish I read that 10+ years ago when my daughter was little.

  • I wish you would have said all of that to that woman!!!! Very well said. We beat ourselves up enough, we don’t need it from our “sisters”

  • E is the same way, and it actually makes me a little nervous for kindergarten next year. Not so much he and her melt downs (after 5years, I’m a champ at ignoring them) but for me to not go into that coddle, let me do that for you mode. The gray area can be a scary place.
    And that lady can go blow chunks.

  • I feel your frustration! As mother’s we need to make hard decisions, sometimes we just want to step in, but most of the time we shouldn’t, why? Well for me the reason I don’t is because my parents helped too much! When I moved out of home at 19 I had never cooked a meal, washed clothes, or even paid a bill on my own. The best thing I did was move out with my bestie and go to University far away I finally learnt to stand on my own! So I agree start young.

  • Well done you! Love everything you said and agreed with it all. My lads are grown up now but it is refreshing to see a mother with a sensible approach to parenting. Always remember you are the parent first, the friend second, this way you get a balance of good cop/bad cop.

  • My youngest is high-functioning Autistic and I see so many of those meltdowns over simple things. I tend to take a step back and let him work it out for himself, how else will he learn 🙂 I treat him the way I do his older siblings and it gives him way more confidence. He actually played Basketball on the school team this year! I was so proud! Most of all though, part of teaching your child to grow up is letting them know what it feels like to fail, then showing them how to get back up and try again. It’s great to hear another mom gets it!