Leave It to Beaver

(Recognize this perfect family? Guess what? It wasn’t real.)

Recently, it has come to my attention that some parents awaken each morning to the joy of perfect, sunny children who always do what they’re told or, if they do misbehave, respond quickly to loving, gentle correction. These parents never raise their voices, never have a drink at 5:00 unless their rosy-cheeked children are in the care of a trusted babysitter they’ve known for years, never leave the house with a toddler attached to one shin and mascara smudged under one eye. They embrace the joy in every stage, every day of parenthood, wishing only that the clock afforded them more hours with their precious little ones. Yes, they’d like more time for sleep and adult interests, but they never have days when they really think about the activities they miss and wish they could have them back. In short, they are the people who say about parenting, “It’s all good.”

I think these parents are lying, very possibly to themselves. And they’re giving complexes to parents, especially new parents, who feel otherwise.

Parenting is not “all good.” Yes, it’s wondrous, enlightening, life-giving and loving beyond anything I could have imagined before I became a parent. In parenting, all the things you’ve heard are true. You will find energy and strength you didn’t know you had. You will hold something tiny and feel more love for it than all of the love one universe can contain. You will laugh in amazement at your own wit come back at you from the lips of your child, marvel at her accomplishments that already reach beyond what you could achieve and never tire of speculating about her future.

But all of the other things you have heard about parenting are also true. You will be more tired than you have ever imagined possible. You will be enraged to the point where your senses threaten to leave you because the kid is pushing your buttons and WILL NOT LISTEN TO REASON. You will quake in fear at the encroaching threats of the world, all seemingly aimed at your offspring, you will constantly feel the push-pull of your child’s growing desire for independence and you will run the treadmill of trying to keep up with all you need to know so you can teach it to your kid.

You will always be afraid you are doing it wrong.

Parenting is illuminating and humorous, maddening and sometimes breathtaking. But one thing it is not is “all good.”

I write this because I’ve recently read a few articles like this one on The Huffington Post and participated in a discussion on LinkedIn where parents were expressing sometimes tearful frustration over the pressure they feel from bloggers and others who only portray the positive side of parenting. I’m not sure why people do this. Perhaps it’s parental competitiveness, or an unwillingness to admit one’s imperfections in public, or maybe something else is at work.

The blogs I tend to return to are the ones that approach parenting honestly, which means they offer a mix of the positive and negative. Overall, they’re balanced. They ask questions. Sometimes their writers get things right. Sometimes they get them wrong. Sometimes they don’t know the answers at all. Just like the rest of us.*

It’s easy to talk or write about the positive aspects of life with kids. There are so many of them, and many of them are worth noting. As a writer and blogger who aims to seek out the universal in life’s everyday and special moments, that’s part of why I do what I do. (Besides, who wants to sound like a complainer?)

But no one has a perfect life, and to pretend otherwise is to deny reality. It’s important to acknowledge those difficult moments and how hard it is to deal with them: the bloody noses your toddler gives you (two, thank you); the temper-tantrums your child should have outgrown by now but hasn’t (can’t take it anymore); the adolescent push for independence that began before age eleven (already??), and the resentment that comes with it when you have to say no again and again. These all suck, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting they drive you crazy.

By telling the truth, you just might make some other parents weep with relief when they realize they’re not alone.

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*Note that there is a difference between websites that exist for the specific purpose of giving advice and blogs where writers explore a particular subject area or two. The former won’t express a lot of doubt, because that’s not their job. The latter can be more varied in nature.

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