Yesterday 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?