For a minute, imagine that you and I were to walk into a classroom of kindergartners to teach an art lesson drawing a tree and the sky. We are adults, so they look at us with their big curious eyes, waiting for us to tell them to get started to they can show us how awesome they ALREADY are at this one particular project.
As they eagerly organize their green crayons for the tree and blue crayons for the sky, we throw a little challenge at them. We tell them the trees can’t be green, and the sky can’t be blue. With that, we let them begin.
How would they react? I can imagine a classroom full of puzzled looks, scowls from kids who KNOW that isn’t “right” and maybe even a slightly uncomfortable teacher wondering what in the world we are teaching her little kinder kids.
In college I took an art class where we learned about teaching art to kids. Out of all the material we covered, I only remember one thing from that class, which still sticks with me today.
The coloring book theory, which applies to more than just art. You see, from the moment we could hold a crayon, we have all been taught that the sky is blue, trees are green, and that is how things need to be. That is something we all accept, we are conditioned to think that all trees are green and the sky is blue.
Coloring books are a way that we make things uniform and the same. It’s a way to demonstrate how things “should” be.
Reality is, life doesn’t work like that, and parenting certainly doesn’t either.
Take a look at these incredibly non green trees.
What about this non blue sky.
We KNOW all trees aren’t green and all skies are not blue, but the thought of that makes us feel a little uncomfortable and would stop any kindergartner in their tracks.
As a new mom I had the Coloring Book Theory as part of my daily life. I was a recent child development graduate getting my Master’s Degree in special education. I KNEW how to deal with kids. I would have GREAT kids in my classroom and in my home, and I would be a great mom.
In my mind that meant;
- I wouldn’t yell at my kids
- I would be patient with my kids
- I would love every minute of parenting
- I would be consistent ALWAYS
- My kids wouldn’t talk back to me
- My kids would be respectful
- When problems came, we would work through them peacefully
THAT was my coloring book version of parenting and being a mom. That was the RIGHT way to be a mom and raise kids. Anything other than that was “bad,” something to be judged, or just not right. Clearly anyone who did things outside of those standards was “wrong.”
Then I had my second child.
I lost my patience more often as I tried to juggle the needs of two very different kids. Each time that happened I felt horrible…I was coloring outside the lines.
My oldest started whining more to get attention as he adjusted to having a sibling… he was coloring outside the lines.
I started breaking more rules and feeling more guilty about it each and every time. For the next three years I felt guilty, I felt like I was doing it “wrong,” I truly felt like a failure.
Until the day I decided to create my own work of art.
It took a shift and a move to a different city to start appreciating the unique beauty each of my kids bring to this world. None of them are the green trees everyone else tries to be. My kids are all different shades of red, yellow, orange, pink, purple, and anything OTHER than green. They have strong wills, they have their own voices, they express themselves, some are shy, others are bubbly and bouncy, they are on the go, some are home bodies, one would love to bounce around outside all day long. They are a unique work of art, and it was then, I started appreciating them as they were.
I stopped trying to color in the lines and look like everyone else.
That year I saw things differently. I appreciated the unique qualities of my kids. I accepted who they were rather than focusing on who they weren’t.
I was more forgiving of myself as a parent. The times I lost my temper, made mistakes, or lost my mind, I was able to use those as opportunities to truly demonstrate to my kids that NOBODY is perfect, NOTHING is perfect, and EVERYTHING in life is a hot mess at times. The important thing is knowing how to come back from that.
With social media pictures of perfect snapshots of a perfectly clean house with perfectly dressed kids who are looking perfectly calm and cute in that moment, it is easy to feel like we live in a coloring book world of green trees and blue skies. Reality is so much more than that. Life is so much more beautiful when things aren’t uniform.
In my mind, there is nothing more gorgeous than a bright sunset filled with various shades of red, orange, purple, and yellow. It is beautiful BECAUSE it’s different. It is with that perspective I now view my kids and my home. It’s beautiful BECAUSE it is different.
The messes are made because my kids don’t sit around all day. They play. They are creative, they make HUGE messes. I don’t love the mess but I love the reason behind it.
The tears that happen on a regular basis. I’m grateful for those because they are reminders that we aren’t perfect, we all have feelings, and encourage me to work harder every day to understand each and every one of them. I’m grateful my home is a place where feelings can be expressed without blame or shame. I don’t always love it, but I love the reason behind it.
My life is far from a perfect coloring book picture, for that I’m grateful, and forever will be. As you create your own work of art in your home, I hope you can look on it and appreciate the ways it IS different, and know that you aren’t alone.