Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Kind of Parent I Want to Be

A friend of mine recently blogged about parenting being hard and overwhelming and wanting to be a good mom despite the size of the responsibility and our natural tendencies towards being self-serving and selfish.

I could relate to her post perfectly because I have agonized over these same issues for a long time, particularly since the younger kids have been part of the family, but even before.

The farther I am removed from my depression of last fall/winter, the more I see how it affected me.  Though I struggle with patience at the best of times, the depth of it now is thankfully greater than just months ago:  I am more able to take a three- or five-minute break from a parenting situation just to think things through for a moment rather than diving in and making a situation worse; I have a little more capacity for gentleness with a difficult child in a difficult moment; etc etc.  I am finally settling into my role as a h/schooling Mother to three, including two with extra layers of complexities.

But wow, this is a hard job.  Parenting is hard.  Either that or I'm doing something wrong in a big way and need to know what I'm missing.

I'm the kind of parent who tries to be deliberate.  I refuse to sit back and simply let my parenting happen because, as much as I love my parents and respect how they raised us kids, times are a little different and there are, naturally, ways in which I want to be a somewhat different parent to my kids.  I believe that we parents instinctively raise our children the way we ourselves were raised because that's what we know; I also believe that if we want to parent our children differently, it is only as a result of soul-searching and research combined with consciousness and determination.

My deliberation as a parent can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing, depending on the situation.

It's a good thing in the sense that I'm constantly trying to understand my children's inner worlds and my own reactions to them and I am willing to make adjustments in how I parent one or another or all three.  I read proactively, I think about things I want to do differently or nuances that I want to change, I take classes in the Neufeld parenting and attachment methods that seem to fit with my nature and work with my kids, and I try very hard to implement things that I know are in the best interests of each of my children as unique beings - I don't treat one the same as another and don't believe that equity requires equality.

All of that sounds pretty good...and it often is.


Being a deliberate parent can also be a bad, or challenging, thing.  I tend to have exacting standards that I then fail to meet and feel endless guilt over.  I readily change course with a given child if I think it's in his/her best interests but fail to check that out with or even tell my parenting partner about the change and then get mad at him when he doesn't meet my expectations.  I sometimes overtalk things with my kids and sometimes, in my effort to be deliberate, I just get it wrong...plain wrong.  And I feel a profound sense of uncertainty and anxiety because the kids aren't yet adults about how this is all going to turn out and I wonder about all of the regrets I'm going to have about what I should've/could've/would've done because, being as deliberate as I am, it means that if they don't 'turn out' ok, it's gonna be my fault!  Wow, I need to take a breath after all of that.

You can see, I think, that being a deliberate parent is a double-edged sword and can wreak havoc with my internal life.

Like most parents, I really, really want to be the best possible parent for each of my three unique kids and I ceaselessly have to fight my flaws and idiosyncrasies and sinfulness along that journey.  One kid might push my buttons more than the other two; another might bring out baggage issues in me that I haven't dealt with yet; still another might ask questions that I'm simply not prepared to deal with but have to anyway.  Sometimes I just want to stomp my feet and command them, "just do what I tell you to do and never mind all of the rest!"

Whatever the issue, it seems as if every day I'm forced to take a look at myself and think something like, seriously Ruth? THAT's the kind of parent you want to be??

About a month ago, after I told the kids that they could watch a movie one afternoon, Lizzie said to me, "Mommy, you're a good mommy when you let us watch a movie."  I laughed and said that I was quite sure that this in itself didn't make me a good mommy but that I was glad that she was happy about the movie.  I probably let on by my laughter that I thought that was a pretty cute thing to say because over the past month she has been saying some version of that statement to me pretty much every day, always when I've done something that corresponds with what she's wanting at a particular moment.

"Mommy, you're a good mommy when you let me do what I want."
"Mommy, you're a good mommy when you let us have dessert."
"Mommy, you're a good mommy when you make snacks for us in the afternoon."
"Mommy, you're a good mommy when you play spy games with us."
"Mommy, you're a good mommy when you read me stories."

You get the idea.  These days she says it to be funny and because she can make me roll my eyes at her.  But I've recently also begun to think a little more carefully about what she's saying...testing it out, in a way.  Because as cute and sweetly innocent as those statements are, in reality it leads to an awesome question to ask of myself:

What kind of parent do I want to be?  What does make me a good mommy?

There are at least a few things that come to mind when I feel like I'm being the parent I want to be:
  • When I'm lounging around talking with the kids or being silly with them...for example, when I pull out my Nasty Momma character (see this post if you don't know what I'm talking about) and see my kids seeing me being goofy.
  • When I stick out a lengthy tantrum (or the tenth) with one of the kids without getting frustrated, because if I can do it the fruit of my patience manifests in the form of the child turning to genuine tears and/or having a great conversation with me about what happened.
  • When I'm reading out loud to the kids and really and truly not worrying about the mess in the kitchen.
  • When the kids and I are engaged in real and hard conversations about God and spiritual things and big life questions.  I love these conversations, and love exploring with the kids some of the things I don't have answers to.  I love the questions they come up with (and sometimes their answers too!), I love when they explore beyond pat answers and push me with their why questions, and I love when we're left with questions hanging to explore further another day.  I sometimes feel as if I shine as a Mom when these moments happen.
  • When I feed them healthy meals and snacks I love knowing that I'm nourishing their bodies, too.
  • When my tone of voice and patience level are unperturbed, even in the face of some big problem.
  • When we have a great h/school morning and I've been calm and encouraging.
  • When I read my kids Bible stories and we have a great conversation afterwards.
  • When I remember to pray for my kids and my husband.
  • When not only my tone of voice is gentle but my heart as well.  When words of grace and understanding, rather than punishment, flow from my lips.
  • When I remember to take care of myself, too, so that I can be a better parent and spouse.
The challenge is, of course, that I'm not perfect.  I can't always be this awesome mom I wish I could be.  It is such a struggle because, though I have enjoyed many of these experiences I've just described, I've also really messed up a lot of times.

There's something that keeps coming to mind when I think of how to be the parent I want to be while still allowing for a significant margin of error and lost opportunity.  This is what it seems to boil down to for me:

The times I am the kind of parent I most want to be are when I understand with absolute clarity in the moment that these often-hard-and-draining days are the very days I will look back on and cherish as the best of times.  Life, real life, is gritty and in-the-moment and imperfect and hard.  Being the parent I want to be is savouring that very instant, whatever it is, making the most of it.

The kind of parent I want most to be is when I know, know, to the depth of my being, that...

...I was made for this.

I was made... watch my child raging on the floor and to sit on the floor beside him because I know the moment's coming when he will crawl up my legs and into my arms... engage and be with a child in heart-to-heart conversation (even though my heart breaks so see my child in pain) because I know that this moment will lead to greater strengths on a later date... struggle to get everything done and to choose not to worry too much about all of the stuff that doesn't get done because I'm not going to remember the mess in twenty years... say 'no' to things that aren't in keeping with priorities because that means I'm saying 'yes' to the things that matter the most... sit on a child's bed for that extra five minutes rather than crawling into my own as I so desperately long to because I know in the face of my need for space that the time will come when I wish I were still asked to sit there... squelch the face of my frustration when I answer the hundredth question of the hour because I know the day is coming when I'm not going to be their source of expertise any more and that I'm gonna want to turn the clock back... scratch and grasp and hold on tight to help my little ones develop into the people that they were created to be, even knowing that this might look different than I'd imagined it to be.

These are my moments; what I am needed for; what I was created for.

There's no fifteen minutes of fame for this girl; my fifteen minutes, the ones I want to keep and not regret, are being lived in the making of pancakes, the application of the fourth bandaid of the day, the nurturing of little souls, the tucking of children into beds, and the doing over of the same the next morning.

I was made to mother these children, be a wife to this man, to grow into myself as a child of God, to live right now.

It is when I understand this to the depths of my being that I am the parent that I want to be.

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