I started this blog as a way of finding my footing on some pretty shaky ground and getting back to feeling at peace with who I am (and in many ways rediscovering who that is). One of my goals is that feeling more peaceful and centered will allow me to be the parent I want to be.
The Man and I had a conversation the other night. Sundays always seem to be tricky at our house. Either the big kids are wrapping up their week, or the Man and I are wrapping up our ‘alone’ week and getting ready to transition the big kids back in. With the Eldest this is usually remarkably seamless, with the Youngest of the Eldest, not so much. But that’s a post (and a few therapy sessions) for another day.
Our conversation circled around to a place where I clarified my current perspective on parenting for him. Or more accurately, what I can and can’t do and still remain sane.
When the Eldest was a tot, and yet to be diagnosed with Aspergers, things were remarkably tricky. See, I used to teach preschool. If anyone can wrangle a group of 3 – 5 year olds and engage them in some age appropriate tomfoolery, I’m your gal. Or so I thought I was. But the Eldest being who he was, who he is, has regularly and from the moment of his birth challenged every preconceived notion I’ve had about just about anything. Someone I know said that when you become a parent it recarpets your brain. I think when you become a parent of a child on the spectrum, there is an entire demolition that takes place in your brain and the rebuilding process can take months, that’s if you can even get the contractors to show up.
To say I felt like a failure on a daily basis is an understatement. Often it was hourly. Sometimes he would scream for 20 minutes because it was time to get dressed or what we were dressing him in wasn’t in line with his current fashion sense. It wasn’t really that of course, it was sensory, it was us not marching in line with the little drummer neuron pathways in his brain. I’ll never forget the summer we put a t-shirt on him for the first time. He screamed and cried and tugged on his short little sleeves in the most valiant attempt to extend them down to his wrists. At the time I was alarmed, confused, knew in that little pit in the corner of my heart that something was not quite right here. And now when I look back, I see we were both confused, both alarmed; he at the sudden, abrupt and unexplainable shrinking of his shirtsleeves.
I’m not a person who takes failure lightly (perhaps another reason I stopped writing… but I digress). On top of the already intense post-partum depression, the mental beating I was giving myself because of my ‘failures’ was brutal. I had these incredible ideals about what we should be doing with him, what we should be feeding him, how we should be parenting him, what toys he should play with, what clothes he should wear. I had rules. So many rules. Some of them, it turns out, were the right thing for him. Those must have come from that mama bear place of knowing. The rest were born out of pure fear of failure with a heaping dose of anxiety mixed in.
I had friends, one of them who has since become rather infamous in the mommy blogger world, who lived (and is living) that dream I had. Everything is wood and wool and organic and so close to nature if they aren’t careful they’ll compost themselves by accident. Many of my friends homeschooled, something I desperately wanted to do, but financially was not even close to being an option. I was terrified of being found out as a fraud. I wasn’t really crunchy; I looked like I was, but when you took a bite out of me, I was kind of chewy and maybe even a little stale. I didn’t fit the mold and though I tried, according to the checklists I was certainly no ‘attachment parent’. But I kept trying dammit, white knuckled and the whole bit, I wanted to be the parent I thought I “should” be, not necessarily the parent I was or needed to be.
Right around the time he was diagnosed I had a falling out with one of my friends; one whom I held in extremely high esteem. I always told myself I wouldn’t put anyone on a pedestal, and maybe I didn’t exactly do that with her, but I really deeply cared what she thought. It was the separation from her then the subsequent separation from my ex that allowed me to release some of the shackles I’d locked myself in. I realized that in so many ways she was wrong and what was right for her family, was simply not right for mine. Coincidentally I also returned to work in a field where parents are abusive to their children and that was the final click, the final release.
What I was doing may not have been perfect in the unrealistic ideal I had set for myself, but on the parenting continuum, I was doing a phenomenal job. Sure I yelled and we didn’t eat 100% organic and I didn’t make all my kids clothes. And there were times when I was doing an even worse job, but made improvements, adjustments, moved forward. Given the circumstances, we were doing okay. There was plenty of room for things to be better because isn’t there always? Yet I wasn’t focusing so much on what I wasn’t doing anymore, I wasn’t so fixated on my failures.
This is what I said to the Man last night in the middle of a conversation where he was critiquing a parenting decision I made (an insidious one if you ask me, but a point he felt like belaboring nonetheless, over what would ultimately be that picture at the top). I am a good enough parent. I love my children, I connect with them, I listen to them, I feed them healthy, nourishing food, I try to have a nurturing emotional environment for them. I’m leaps and bounds ahead of my own parents in these departments (who did exactly the best they could given their circumstances). I’m not perfect. I’ll never be. But I’m real. And those bald spots you see, those are where I’ve rubbed up against what wasn’t working to squeeze my way towards what would work. That is all I can do. To try to do more, to try to attain elusive, perceived perfection will never happen and I will die trying. I’d rather live my imperfect life than stop living trying to attain a ‘perfect’ one.
Parenting is hard enough work. Constantly placing ourselves in a line up with other moms and comparing every last detail to our own parenting work does nothing to help us be better parents and better people. Owning our successes, our failures and being willing to work to change what isn’t working (and to know when it’s okay to just stay still) go a lot further. We can learn from other parents, other people’s experiences, but can’t ever make their’s fully our own because intrinsically, it’s not. We can only take the bits that fit into our puzzle, but can’t make ourselves crazy trying to fit a square pegs into round holes.
I was thinking about my dad the other day (I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately, but that too is another post, and a host of therapy sessions, for another day). I realized that my greatest accomplishment and the thing that so vastly sets me apart from him as a parent is admitting when I’m wrong. We all make mistakes, we are all human. When I do the wrong thing, I admit that to myself AND to my children. Showing them my humanity will put them in touch with their own. It is perfect to be imperfect. It is okay to apologize to children. In fact, I’ve been waiting my whole life for my father to do just that. My children though, will never have to wait.