Parenting Advice from… Alanis Morissette?

perfect

I’m not gonna lie, I spent a lot of time listening to Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill in university. Maybe I related to a lot of her angst, I’m not really sure. I was a rather angsty teen and twenty-something; I felt disconnected and discouraged a lot of the time.

I’m sitting at my desk researching and writing this morning, while listening to my iTunes library alphabetically (by artist). I sort of laughed when You Oughtta Know came on because I only just recently found out who the song’s allegedly written about, and all I can think of is CUT. IT. OUT.

And as much as I used to adore this album, I never expected to find much meaning in her lyrics nearly 20 years later, but here we are. I still love listening to Hand in my Pocket, because really? This is still true for me:

I’m short but I’m healthy, yeah
I’m high but I’m grounded
I’m sane but I’m overwhelmed
I’m lost but I’m hopeful baby
What it all comes down to
Is that everything’s gonna be fine fine fine
’cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is giving a high five

What really shocked me, though, is that when Perfect came on, my heart turned into a soggy dumpling of a lump in my throat. As a parent, I try so hard to push my kids to reach their potential without pushing, you know, too hard. Last week, my kids’ report cards came home, and I was so proud of the comments their teachers made about them, but my daughter was still fixated on her letter grades. How many As? How many Bs? How come I’m not smarter? It sort of broke my heart, because I try so hard to emphasize doing our own personal best, and not worrying about those kinds of things. And then today I heard these lyrics in a new way.

Sometimes is never quite enough
If you’re flawless, then you’ll win my love
Don’t forget to win first place
Don’t forget to keep that smile on your face

I grew up never really reaching my potential. Every B was a Why-Not-An-A? It’s not that I ever questioned my parents’ love, but I never quite reached that mysterious pinnacle of “Potential”. It loomed ever farther out of my reach, no matter how far I went.

Be a good boy
Try a little harder
You’ve got to measure up
And make me prouder

I never really felt like I was doing quite enough. I mean, how can I feel like I’ve “made it”? How can I really measure up to what my parents hoped I’d be when I don’t even have a job? Isn’t that what potential is for? How do I encourage my kids to reach their own potentials without pressing too hard, or, worse, not hard enough?

How long before you screw it up
How many times do I have to tell you to hurry up
With everything I do for you
The least you can do is keep quiet

How often do I forget that they’re just little kids? Hurry up. COME ON. Shhhhhhh! Stop that. How often have I shushed away their stories, rushed away their fantasies? Am I encouraging enough? Am I too lax?

Be a good girl
You’ve gotta try a little harder
That simply wasn’t good enough
To make us proud

Do they know we support them, no matter what? I tell them almost every single day that I just want them to be happy. Find their opportunities, be kind little humans, that they make us proud. Do they know? I want them to know that, in a way I never did.

I’ll live through you
I’ll make you what I never was
If you’re the best, then maybe so am I
Compared to him compared to her
I’m doing this for your own damn good
You’ll make up for what I blew
What’s the problem…why are you crying

How many times do we push our kids to reach the goals we missed? We try our best to give kids whatever we didn’t have, or to open the doors we wished were open for us. Push them to win, encourage them to be number one. Tell them the gold is all that matters, and bronze is the loser. I’ve tried so hard to not do this, but does that mean I’m doing too little?

Be a good boy
Push a little farther now
That wasn’t fast enough
To make us happy
We’ll love you just the way you are
If you’re perfect

I want my children to know that perfection isn’t the goal. How do we strike that balance without being too lax or too strict? I’m not really sure, but I know this: I never thought I’d find parenting advice in Alanis’ lyrics, but I’m going to be pondering them a little more today, for sure.

I guess life has a funny way of sneaking up on you. (But it’s still not ironic.)

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Alex

6 thoughts on “Parenting Advice from… Alanis Morissette?

  1. The fact you think so much about this and want so much for them without forcing unattainable ideals/ideas on them means you’ll be OK, they’ll be OK, it will all be good. You have a knack for pulling a bit out of something and looking at it somewhat objectively, as good writers do. It will be to your kids’ benefit.

    I know I made a lot of mistakes raising my kids — if people think they don’t, they’re batshit. We misstep, we fall flat on our faces, we congratulate ourselves on the stellar days because they are special and sometimes few and far between. We’re human. Our kids are, too, and as long as we keep that in mind the whole way, have that empathy that is then passed down to them, they will be OK, too.

    I pride myself in supporting my kids and finding what has worked best for them, especially school-wise since so very much of their life’s pie is spent there for so long. I advocated, I changed things, I honoured my daughter’s needs to be in a different atmosphere, and to try e-learning, and to go back to brick-and-mortar. I didn’t force her into a mould, and I won’t do it to my son, either. Take their cues and help them be better, but not strive for perfection, because that’s a fool’s errand. It doesn’t exist, and its impact on small people can break them. And yet they do gather ideas from other people and the world around them on “how they have to be.”

    My daughter was waitlisted for art college this past fall, and in the meantime decided to take a program to groom race horses at a primarily ag college an hour north of town. She is finding her pace, stretching her wings, and so enthusiastic. I never thought my kid would be so keen to perform what amounts to some pretty hard labour followed by an hour in the gym every day. She’s lived a pretty soft life! She confided in me that she always wanted to work with animals, but because of some of her grades never thought she could go to college for it. Her art talent and all the accolades and attention she got for it apparently sent her the message that it was her “only” post-secondary option. I had no idea she thought that until she was waitlisted, and I found and suggested some other programs that wouldn’t entail her having to upgrade her math or whatever. I know know of one parent — the sort who envisions university degrees for their children — is quietly looking down on my kid for going to an ag college, but I don’t care. Her child is completely miserable and cannot seem to attain the necessary qualifications to go to university. She feels like an utter loser and failure, and it is the lack of support from her parents that have put her in this horrible dark spiral where she feels stupid and unloveable. It breaks my heart.

    That Alanis song sort of gutted me back in the day, and that is when my kids were very small. How do you strike the balance between lax and strict? By keeping it in mind. You’re doing great.

  2. If you figure it out, please let me know. I struggle with this too, especially with my older son who has a few talents (and they are both doing things he loves) but he sort of stops halfway. I never know whether to push – “will this turn him off completely or make him better?” – or to leave it alone.

  3. I think this is an area where I excel. My kids aren’t competitive and neither am I. I never bothered to sign my boys up for hockey for a number of reasons, one being I loathe the atmosphere of yelling at refs and the blatant bragging about the awesomeness of one’s child to kick the ass of another child’s team. Whatever my kids do is good enough for me. Just trying is enough. However, that might mean I don’t push them hard enough to reach this phantom “potential”. I’ll never know how well I did as a parent until the job is done.

  4. What a beautiful post! I am relating to you in a major way here with many of the things you touched on. My parents never made me feel less than, but I sure as hell don’t shy away from doing that to myself. Why do I do that? (I don’t know.)

    As parents, we do have to strike a balance between “Tiger Mother” and “Homer Simpson” and I like to think that my husband and I do a good job, but we can never be certain. I hope my kids find their way. Their own. Not mine.

    I will be their number one fan no matter what and I try to live my todays in a way that sets the path for them to come back to me when it is truly their choice later in life.

  5. Hi! I came back to tell you that I listened to “Jagged Little Pill” just now and whoa.. there was so much more than stereotypical 90s angst. The alternative version of “You Oughta Know” with the “secret” tracks is haunting. I had forgotten how excellent this album was.

    And this time “Perfect” made me cry.

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