In which becoming a parent reveals my perfect imperfections
From a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a parent. It seemed like the most natural extension of my being. During a conversation with my father late in my senior year, he asked what I wanted to study in college. I woefully remarked, “Can’t I just major in ‘Mom’?”
Oh my dear, eighteen-year-old self…you did not know of that which you desired.
Parenting, for me, is one of the most difficult challenges I have encountered. I vacillate between “awesome friendly mom making jokes and conversation” and “hellfire banshee mom with negative patience and zero tolerance for error”. It’s a balancing act.
The struggle extends even further because I am a working parent. I have been away from them more than I have been with them during their lives. I have had to pass the baton to others to help raise them, and they had such discombobulated early years being schlepped from one care-taker to another, with differing routines, differing discipline styles, differing diets. Every day, something different.
It’s easy to see how lack of routine affects them, even now. How it affects me. Now that they are both school-age and have had the same schedule for the past few years, it has been easier. But there are still struggles. We conquer one issue or fear, and there is a new one to replace it. There are boundaries they push. Edicts they refuse to follow. And I have had to be a real hard-ass, taking away the thing they love most (video games) in order to impress upon them the seriousness of their misbehavior. I’m super popular when I do that.
In the back of my mind, that little voice repeats, “You could have done more. You should have done more. You should do more. You are failing them. Other people’s kids aren’t like this. Every day, you are failing to be the parent you should be.”
I feel it in my chest when they need me, and I am too tired to be present with them. I feel a sense of guilt at my continued inadequacy as a parent. If only I had been home with them to instill the values, morals, and conduct I feel make a functioning, empathetic human being in this world. If only I was there to provide them stability and routine. If only I had sheltered them more from this video game or that experience or those kids. If only…
I can’t live in these what-ifs. They will drive me to the brink. I can’t compare myself to other parents, wondering how in the hell they manage to work full-time, cook balanced meals, throw Pinterest-worthy parties, travel all over the place (with and without their families). I can’t compare my kids to other kids with their music lessons, sports practices, dance recitals, art camps and sleep-away camps and space camps…seriously, we do not have the time nor the means to be able to keep up with all this shit. It is pure survival to tune out the sanctimommies and critics.
I am doing the best I can with the situation we have. They sometimes forget their manners and to flush the toilet; they sometimes say crude or rude things, hurtful things; they break the rules and electronics; they make messes and arguments; they are not perfect.
But they are mine. They care about the Earth and animals; they love art and sunsets; they share stories and secrets; they give the best hugs and snuggles; they are my perfectly imperfect humans.
Letting go of perfectionism and using “busy-ness” as a synonym for “accomplished and successful” was and is a practice. There are so many things I want to be doing for and with my kids. But I can’t. I won’t ever be able to do it all. And I no longer want to. I don’t want to sacrifice my patience and attention because I’m so frustrated and stressed out at getting from point A to point B. I don’t want to cultivate stress and exhaustion in them because they can’t maintain an exceptional level of participation in stuff I’m essentially making them do. These days, my measure is if my (almost) 10 year old is willing to say, “I love you, Mom,” in front of his friends, we’re doing OK.
When we cuddle at bedtime, we talk about the best parts of our day; always looking for one thing that stuck out as great and express gratitude for it. And then they repeat after me:
I am creative.
I am intelligent.
I am strong.
I am kind.
I am loved.
I love you so much. I’ll see you in the morning.
Cheers. (with bulletproof coffee)