A work friend recently posted a Facebook freak out regarding parenting. She claimed to have no parental instincts, zero parenting skills. Of course, her friends and family swooped in with support, compliments, and encouragement, but very few seemed to address her issue. She was upset because she wasn’t measuring up to whatever concept she had of perfect parenting, seemed humiliated by her performance in real life, and stunned by how much she didn’t know.
To me, that is parenting. The constant reviewing of “am I doing enough” and “will my child be okay” and “why didn’t I know that or notice this, or see this other thing coming” are what I think of as the true signs of a parent.
If we are honest, we have all seen other forms of parenting. The parenting as a resume builder (“I do all this and I am a parent too”). That is ego, not parenting. Or the status symbol parent who has a need for the child to hit growth and development milestones early and often. That’s competition, not parenting. Or dressing the kid up in the latest fashions. That’s Barbie Dolling, not parenting. Or the independent who does the opposite of what his/ her parents did. That’s revenge, not parenting. And all of that is about the adult, not the child.
Parenting to me is shooting straight up in bed at 2 a.m. Sure something is wrong, and sneaking into the child’s room six months or 16 years old, just to be absolutely sure s/he is breathing and everything is all right.
Parenting to me is reviewing the conversation held with your child because of a nagging feeling that you should have said more.
Parenting to me isn’t the cutest outfits, it’s washing the sick off the outfit he was wearing when that hotdog disagreed with him, or rushing home to get the grass stains out of the baseball pants because he’s got another game tomorrow, or sweeping glitter off the dining room floor for a week, or listening to the “logical explanation of why there is suddenly a hole in the wall without screaming, and then countering the kid’s fragile story with an action plan that is firm and fair.
And doing it all over again the next day.
And the next.
Parenting is never knowing what’s coming with the next sunrise, being repeatedly challenged to deal with the difficult, the absurd, the heartbreaking and the hilarious, and always knowing, in your heart of hearts, that you aren’t really prepared for any of it.
So when my friend fretted about parental failure, to me, that was her great victory. Yes, parenting can be glorious and humiliating, exhilarating and exhausting, hopeful and humbling. The secret is noticing. Caring enough to question ourselves is the only true path to parenting wisdom, and the best way for us to grow.
I only know this because I wasn’t a great parent. I was loud and demanding and angry. It took me years of effort and a very strong wife to improve. I still struggle to get better every day. And I am okay with that. What bothers me is the parents who skate along ignoring the work they clearly need to do, and the damage that does to their kids. So when I see my friend voicing what boils down to a desire to be a better parent, I don’t feel the need to swoop in with reassuring words, or pats on the back. What I really want to do is stand, clap, and call out, “Bravo.”
Christopher Ryan is author of City of Woe, available on Kindle and Nook, and in print. For more info, click here.