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Tuesday
Aug212012

Parenthood: 7 Myths I've Let Go of on My Seventh Anniversary

Carriage Ride through Downtown Memphis: Happy Seventh Birthday to My PrincessYesterday was my seventh anniversary as a parent.

I was thirty when I became a mother. Thirty years old is that age where you know a lot of stuff. You're your own person. You know how the world works. You know the rules.

When I first met Tariq at nineteen, I told him I wanted to send my children to boarding school. I know. I KNOW.

My reason was that boarding school was prestigious. Also, it would make my children stronger and "networked". Shut up. I think I was coming out of of a period of time where I read a lot of early twentieth century English literature.

When I became a parent, I became the poster parent for attachment parenting, though. We co-slept, I nursed, no television before two, no stroller, baby sling only, no fast food before three, constant attention... preschool didn't start until four and that, too, because there was a new baby and I was really, really tired.

Prior to preschool, I couldn't leave my daughter with anyone besides my mother for more than a day, so, needless to say, boarding school was out.

Look, becoming a first time mother was absolutely incredible.

I was proud of myself. Within a few weeks of parenthood, I had been flexible enough to understand that there is a distinctness between the idea of how I envisioned parenthood and how I actually practiced parenthood. Some things, you have to do to know what you really think they're all about. This is absolutely applicable to someone not having children and being 36. I have no idea what that's like. I have very clear ideas of what I think that should be like. It involves Paris, Italy and Spain, waiting tables for food money but spending it on incredibly beautiful shoes instead.

Being a parent constantly pushes at my notions of the ideal parent-child relationship. I've come to realize that the most tension between children and their parents (even into adulthood) occurs as a result of someone clinging too tightly to the ideal and not making peace with the real. 

When my daughter was born, I thought it was my job to teach her about reality. The same was true for my son. I have come to realize, of course, that we teach each other. We have been placed in one another's lives for a reason and that, as it is in all things, there is a balance of what we can offer to one another. Some days, I nurture my children and teach them value of love and respect. More often than not, though, they teach me those things and so much more. Like, nothing... and I mean, nothing, gets purple permanent markers out of a cream colored sofa. 

1. When I became a mother, I thought it was my job to make sure my children were good, decent, people who were kind and compassionate. I now know that children are born kind, compassionate, good, wise and decent. They stay that way when I treat them that way. The trick is to be what you expect from others. Want nice? Be nice.

2. As a new mother, I thought that I had to do everything in my power to protect my children from any and all harm. I have learned that it is inevitable that my children will come to harm. Something bad will happen to them one day. I can be wary, I can be wise, but I cannot protect them forever. I can only remind them that they are powerful enough to survive harm and that when they feel they aren't -- I will hold them up. I will be there. I can spend my time constantly watching our backs or I can spend my time feeling the joy of being together. I can't do both.

3. I once thought that children are a reflection of their parent's behavior, values and actions. I think parents can exert great influence over their children's actions and choices to an extent. I beleive that my children's actions are a reflection of how they perceive my integrity, though. If I want them to emulate my behavior, I must make sure that my behavior is grounded in good intention, well thought out values and integrity. I also must ensure that I never expect from my children more than I expect of myself.

4. Children are the charges of their parents. I have learned that you are in charge of you. I am in charge of me. Our connection is not based on power or hierarchy, but upon mutual respect and trust. Children aren't different. In an ideal scenario, I trust that that my child will do the right thing when presented with the facts, and my child will trust that I am telling them the truth when I present them with what I believe is the truth. I may not be correct, but I am doing my best to be so. That matters more. The greatest punishment either one of us can undergo is to feel that we have lost the trust of the person we love.. even if for a moment. 

5. I used to believe that children crave discipline and consequences the way I crave a McFlurry on a 100F Memphis afternoon. Actually, children crave respect. It's not consequences that they need to thrive and grow, it's accountability. It's the knowledge that they matter, that what they do matters and when they don't do what they're supposed to do -- like any valuable member of a community -- everyone feels the consequences of that. Showing someone that what they do matters is respect. People who feel respected require little discipline from others.

6. The Chimpmunks are horrible and will completely destroy any hope that my child has good taste in music. I still think this might be true. Children will like what children like. We can fight it or we can try to see the value in what they like. Maybe if we do that, they'll make an effort to like what we like. I plan on trying to pitch Bob Dylan as an antidote to the Chipette's version of Bad Romance. Pray for me.

7. Parenthood is full of crazy opportunities to be sarcastic and funny about our kids. But I will not do this to their faces or in their hearing ranges one day longer. This is difficult. So.difficult. Because I'm horribly sarcastic. The thing is, I don't ever want my children to be someone's punchline. I don't want the responsibility of teaching them that it's okay for someone to make them a punchline. They're not punchlines to anyone's jokes. They are my most incredible treasures. Addendum: if you and me are on the phone and they can't hear us? I'm totally making fun of them.

 

What about you? Are there any myths you've had to let go of when it comes to children?

 

 

Reader Comments (17)

1. They are their own person. ~ it doesn't matter what they wear, as long as their boobs aren't hanging out and their butts aren't showing. It doesn't matter what they do to their hair, none of that changes who they are fundamentally.

2. Children reach the age of accountability at different times. They are responsible for their actions after that point. If I have tried to be the best parent I can be, and raise them the best I know how, then I cannot judge myself for choices they make. This took me a long time, longer than necessary really. Fear of failure and rejection kept me involved a lot longer than necessary.

I have been a parent for almost 16 years, and there are so many days I wish I had waited til I was older. I still have very little patience, but it is so much better than before. Thank you for your wise words, very much needed today.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBecca

In my short almost 3 years as a parent I've learned to let go of how things "should" be. It seems so simple when I type it, but learning that my kid is his own being and has the authority to act as such, has mellowed me out incredibly. It's been amazing to just...watch him. And hopefully help him find himself.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTannis

I have to let go of the notion that I could do it perfectly.

Like you I co-slept, breastfed until my nipples fell off, watched every morsel that entered their sweet little mouths, and attended to every little need.

And then they both grew up and moved out to have their own lives.

I learned that the depth the of relationship you have with your grown children is almost entirely up to them. You can't make them call you; you can't make them tell you what's going one; you can't make them trust you.

if you haven't built that before they day they leave home, you will likely never, ever have it.

And I learned that I can survive the separation that is essential to their growing up. It is painful, but you can survive it. And in the end even thrive.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChloe Jeffreys

As you know, I am not a parent. Instead I have spent a great deal of the last ten years with other people's children through various jobs. And there was that scary moment my first year teaching in which I heard my mother's voice come out of my mouth. After family, I usually spent the most time in a single day with a child. And often in the break room, we singletons would discuss how our experiences with other people's children would affect how we may some day be as parents.

I had wonderful relationships with many of these children and I think it's because I never stopped being me around them. With boundaries. I always open the school year with having the students fill out a questionnaire that about themselves. I then tell them that they can ask me any questions they have of me on the back of the sheet and I will answer them the next day. Luckily they have never asked a question that makes me uncomfortable. And maybe that openness makes them trust me that leads to respect. And so over the years, I have gotten to hear about the highs and the lows. And been able to observe their parents in these situations. The children who dealt the best were the ones who came from families that were about honest, respectful communication. And did not dwell on your #3. I've seen kids who were well on their way to an ulcer over that one.

One year one of the questions I received was why I had decided to become a teacher. I told them, "I worked in offices around other adults and many seemed so jaded. (Brief pause to explain that word to them.) When I'm around children, there is the magic and wonder of a life that is filled with so many possibilities. I like seeing how it all unfolds because in those moments, I can believe in the world again and not feel so jaded myself."

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKailyn

Crap. Just remembered what I really wanted to say. Your vision of what it's like to be 36 and childless? Pretty close. At 35 worked at a place that shutdown from Christmas Eve through New Year's Day. Around the beginning of November that year, I realized how much time that was. So I booked a ticket to London. And yes, I eschewed food for shoes and other cute accessories. I was also out dancing at least four nights a week. Had to change my ways a year later when I started teaching. Late nights do not mix well with having to be on for children. My students would say that I seemed younger than their parents because I was fun. I told them, "Before you were born, your parents were fun people. But then they became parents and they had to give up some of the fun." And when the children tell me about the older music that they love because their parents always play it, I tell them that their parents have not stopped being fun people; the parents just put some things on hold to raise their children.

Oh, and did I mention that when my mother was pregnant with me, she entered a study on the result of prenatal care on children? And yeah, I got contacted by the study about a year ago because now they have funding once more to follow up on children from the initial study?

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKailyn

This is beautiful and I love your list. #2 is something I struggle with mightily. My kids are tiny and so far nothing major has happened to them, but my god do I worry. I know I need to let that go, but it's so difficult.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElita

I didn't realize how much I would learn from my kids.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCorey Feldman

I learned the biggest, best lesson of my life from my son: The only thing that we can control is our own behavior.

And #2? I got right out of the gate. Over time I've come to understand that the bad has to happen for many reasons, not the least of which is to get them to know the good.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

I have let go of the thought that they will be just like I was when I was little.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterthe muskrat

this line pleased me greatly: I also must ensure that I never expect from my children more than I expect of myself.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhello haha narf

Hmmm... I didn't have a lot of ideas of what I thought parenthood would be like because I was pretty sure that parenthood wasn't in my future. I think what I've learned most about parenthood has actually come from my experiences with other parents whose children are grown, and that is simply that we're all kind of just tilting at windmills.

Good people come from bad parents and bad people from good parents. There doesn't seem to be a rhyme or reason to it because we, as parents, are just one of SO MANY influences that will come into our kids' lives.

Of course, that scares the crap out of me, so I try not to think about it except for the times when I'm afraid I am or have royally messed something up. Then I assure myself that they'll probably be fine. :-)

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

I have gone through so many stages. One of the hardest lessons I ever had to learn is that, as others have said, no matter what you do, eventually they reach the age where they make their own choices, based on whatever is in their own heads - and yes, by that time, you are one of LOTS of things that influence whatever is in their heads.

But the hardest thing I had to learn is that the little darlings grow up, and go on to have their own lives. And it is a lot harder than I ever imagined to craft a life on my own after creating one with them at the center for 20+ years. Interesting and fun, but difficult, nonetheless. And happy birthday, N!

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNanna

#2, #5, #7. YES.

#2 because I don't like to see people hurting. Also my son was in the hospital when he was 2 1/2 for about 2 weeks due to major surgery. And it was awful and scary and BLECH.

#5 I was just speaking about accountability to my son (he's now 8) last night.

#7 I can be SO SNARKY. Must. rein. it. in.

And I love what Tannis wrote about watching your child, what Chloe wrote about building the depth of a relationship, and what Kailyn wrote about magic and wonder.

Thank you for this post.

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterleanne

I've learned that I am always going to be learning from this awesome girl of ten years old. Almost everything I THOUGHT I would do if I ever had kids is out the window. And honestly - my best teachers about children and parenting were the overbearing, annoying parents whose kids were a royal pain to be around. Otherwise - I'm still learning.

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSybil Law

Learning to let go was the hardest thing for me. Accepting that he's grown and living his own life, with a child of his own now has, I think, been the hardest lesson. We were so very close when he was younger, and even somewhat during his teen years, that it seemed a rather abrupt separation. It made me sad for quite a while because what the above poster said is true - you can't make them call, you can't make them tell you what's going on in their life, heck you can't even make them come to Christmas dinner. It was hard to handle at first, but now we've settled into a new groove and I'm enjoying this next phase of my life.

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I think you, and friends of yours like miss-britt are so much wiser than I ever was at your age....and that you're so right. All I know is that the time you have your children under your roof goes by in a flash, and I envy anyone so wise as to immerse yourself in the wonder of your children. If all parents were as cherishing as you, and miss-britt, and my daughters (who are far better mommas than I could ever dream of being) then we can all have hope in the future.
You have plenty of time to 'be fulfilled' after they're on their own. I beilieve you'll have no regrets.

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMomma

I have learned that never in a million years could I design something as wonderful as my 3 children.

From their faces to their hearts to their talents to their ferocious love for me.

NEVER.

In a million years, would I ever be able to come up with the incredible combination of gifts that these children call their own.

I am so blessed.

August 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteralexandra

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