I have referenced my somewhat ‘radical’ views on parenting before and how those views are received by the general public. There are common themes behind my stance on parenting; accountability, staying present and simply, putting forth the effort. I by no means believe I am a perfect parent nor do I expect I will ever be perfect but I take this knowledge and work harder rather than throwing my hands in the air and saying ‘what’s the point?’ At the root of most of my frustrations with a lot of parents today is that like marriage, they have entered into parenthood without any forethought, consideration or discussion about the responsibilities, commitments, sacrifices and compromises this endeavor will require (to do it well). It doesn’t take a genius to understand that parenting is hard work and a huge commitment, yet there are still people out there that believe that having children will not change their lives and they set forth to prove it to themselves and others, and then wonder why things aren’t turning out like the ideal they had in their heads. I like to say these people get into parenting for the Christmas card not to actually parent, they want to have the nice picture of a ‘complete’ family (whatever that’s supposed to mean) and not have to put forth the effort it takes to be a decent parent. Much like marriage, when you enter into parenthood without considering all the effort and responsibility, inevitably reality prevails and resentment rears its ugly head.
For a long time I said I didn’t want children, unfortunately most people took this to mean that I didn’t like children, in fact, it was quite the opposite. When I said I didn’t want children, I didn’t believe that I would ever be ready or willing to make the enormous commitment I felt needed to be made to be a good parent. Either because of my education, my upbringing, my empathic nature or maybe just my own insight, I always felt that I was one of those people that truly understood how difficult it was to be a good parent and how much time, energy and commitment it took without actually doing it myself. I used to say (and still believe) that ‘having a child makes every second of your life more work’ and I didn’t mean this as negative (ok, maybe in my 20s it seemed like a negative) but just reality. It all seemed so daunting and unachievable. I didn’t want to have a child and end up resenting them because I felt they squashed my dreams, ambition or freedom. Obviously this changed but not before a lot of soul searching and discussions with my husband, the other key factor in the decision making process. I absolutely refused to be one of those women that had a child with someone who wasn’t as committed to the job of parenting as I was, I refused to be a single parent like so many women who are actually still married and wondering why their husbands don’t help out more with the kids.
Ok, so I’ve only been a parent for 17 months and there is quite a bit of parenting left to do, but both of us have stepped up to the plate. We’ve rearranged our lives, made sacrifices and are making the commitment (much to the disillusionment of more than a few people in our lives) which means we are living off of one income now, not socializing as much as we or our friends would like and in general making our daughter our #1 priority. Overall, we feel we are doing a pretty good job, our daughter seems happy, healthy and thriving. I have heard more than one person insinuate that this won’t last long or that somewhere along the line ‘something’ will happen that will change our little girl into a demon beyond recognition. They use their own children as examples (obviously without realizing the assumed disappointment within their statement, whether their children are in ear shot or not) and then try and compare themselves to us. Now, this constant comparison is rather annoying anyhow because it is impossible to be the same person, parent, partner, etc. because of the multitude of variables, but to insinuate or compare our parenting to yours under a veil of ‘just you wait’ attitude is insulting to say the least.
It all comes down to accountability, which is a tough pill to swallow for many parents (hell a lot of people in general have a problem with the concept!). Of course every child is different with their own set of quirks that make them an individual and it is our job as their parents to figure out what makes them tick and from there go forth helping them interpreting the world around them including the boundaries, rules and expectations. Part of this is being an example to your children; you cannot expect from your children what you are not willing to do yourself. I will avoid specifics to protect the innocent but I will suggest that instead of throwing your hands in the air the next time you realize your parenting train is veering off the tracks, why don’t you take accountability for any mistakes that have been made (because we are all human and we ALL make mistakes…even in parenting!) and think about changing course. Instead of chalking it up to ‘we’ve tried everything,’ give it another go and see if there is another parent out there dealing with a similar issue that found a way to make it work, a resource on the internet that can offer advice, a parenting class or support group in your community that may offer an alternative approach or even seek professional help. I know it is difficult to ask for help, and when we are dealing with our overwhelming job of parenting it is really difficult not to let our egos get in the way, it is a job laden with guilt, responsibility and the possibility of having long-term effects on another person’s life. Which is why I think it is even more important to get help when you need it. Be willing to accept the fact that you may not know everything just yet.
I find it particularly interesting that when a child grows up to be a success in whatever way that family defines success, it is always attributed to the stellar parenting that child received. Yet, when a child ends up in jail, on drugs or even just not successful, there is always someone/something other than the parent to blame. This of course is one of the many things that weighed heavily on my mind in my journey to parenthood, because I know that whatever the outcome, I am responsible for this new person and how she turns out will be a direct reflection on me and my parenting (along with my husband’s of course). There comes a time when we all must accept the job we did as parents, both the good and the bad, and hope that we have equipped our children with the tools to navigate this world in a safe, genuine and capable manner. If something turns out differently or you find yourself looking at your grown child with disappointment then maybe it is time to turn the judgment on yourself and accept that you are not perfect either and if your children are not grown yet, you still have time to change course. This would be a lot more constructive than trying to criticize what other parents are doing.