The only reason I feel remotely qualified to write any of the following is because I have been a dipshit parent. On so many occasions.
I’m guessing that I’m not alone.
Maybe that’s the first lesson here: Admit that you have most certainly been a dipshit at some point (perhaps many) in your parenting career, and you are one step closer to being less of a dipshit going forward.
You could call this self-awareness or humility or mindfulness. I like to call it being a full-grown person with a conscience.
We’re all flawed. We’re human. This is a sound (and obviously, inescapable) position from which to consider our parental predicament – or enlightenment, as the case may be. Even when we strive to be our very best selves, we stumble along the way, we lose patience and perspective, we grow angry and anxious, and we forget to take care of ourselves in many of the ways we expect our kids to take care of themselves.
Ironic? Yes. Pretty much unavoidable? Also yes.
Which brings me to a tenet that used to annoy me, but now brings me a measure of comfort: It is what it is. Things are what they are. A is A. “Rose is a rose is a rose.” You can’t change a rose into something else, and why would you want to? Nor can you change the relentless onslaught of parenting into something else, even though you might very much want to.
What you can change is your attitude towards it. For example, don’t be a dipshit like I just was and call it a, “relentless onslaught.” Robert Merton would tell you “the positive feedback between belief and behavior,” will make your predictions – even the false ones – come true. Why not, instead, make your self-fulfilling prophecy a little more positive?
Do you consider being a mom or dad the most important job of your life? This perspective helps me when I need to say no to work so I can say yes to my kids. Do you see parenting as an opportunity to challenge yourself in completely new ways? This kind of thinking grounds me when it feels like my personal goals are getting the raw end of the deal.
One Type-A friend of mine described parenting as a series of enormously humbling, sometimes ass-kicking reality checks, which, in her case, has helped her be less controlling, less overly structured, and more understanding of others. Now that’s a gal who’s making lemonade out of lemons.
Should we care if we’re not perfect? No. Perfect is not a thing. Or at least it’s relative and not for anyone else to define.
Will living life, and raising kids while you do it, be easy? Of course not, dipshit. Qué será, será. What’s next?
Should we approach this vitally important responsibility with a can-do attitude – the same can-do attitude we encourage our kids to have when they approach important responsibilities in life? Of course we should.
Will there be times (like tonight) when even a can-do attitude is no match for two cackling, drooling, manic boys on a double-snow-day high, who decide to play naked Wiffle-bat tag while also “brushing” their teeth? Damn straight.
I tried to be present with them in their moment there, but instead ended up declaring “Two minutes!” until stories and songs start dropping like flies should they fail to calm down, finish brushing, wash faces and hands, and get out of their stinking long underwear and into bed.
I was not smooth. I did not Jedi-mind-trick them into submission. I straight-faced it and relayed orders, even while thinking to myself, “Look at them. They’re ecstatic. Push too hard and everything will crumble. Relax, they can sleep in tomorrow.” I felt like two people at once – the actor on the outside unable to access the discerner on the inside.
Now they’re asleep, and I’ve had some time to think (and, of course, critique how I just handled that….) In any given day, here’s what I’m trying to do: accept my fallibility while simultaneously searching for ways to be less idiotic in the face of it.
This is basically why Dante spent the last 12 years of his life writing the “Divine Comedy”. He knew he was damned like every other mortal, but he nonetheless wrote more than 700 pages about an imagined, posthumous journey toward redemption.
Fortunately for us, we are not in hell or purgatory, and – news flash – we’re not in paradiso either. We’re here, in the exciting, unpredictable, impermanent, unhinging plenitude of our lives, just trying to figure it all out.
Our cups runneth over. So do our kids’ cups. We wind up cleaning up after ourselves, and them, a lot. Instead of bitching about it, (like dipshits), we could take a moment to notice that our lives overflow because they are abundant.
I’m not talking monetary abundance, (haha, yeah…no). I’m talking about the abundance of love that happens among families, even though it doesn’t always look like love. I’m talking about the abundance of friends, who invite you and the rest of the neighborhood to come over for sledding, and then they feed you, give you beer, and keep your kids an extra three hours so you can get some work done because you were supposed to start at 10 and now it’s four, and you still have to dig out the car.
There’s a reason Dante called his narrative poem a comedy even though all 14,233 lines of it muse on being dead. It’s because that desire to live (do good things, bad things, achieve things, feel things, fall in love) and propagate life (find mates, have sex, make babies, have more sex, and so on) is a total gong show – a flea circus for any aliens who might be watching.
Parenting clearly falls in there, too, but that word has such a how-to implication, and I’ve used it enough already. Like “working” or “schooling”, “parenting” can sometimes feel isolated from life as a whole, but it’s not isolated at all. It’s not even a category or a subset of life. It’s how those of us who’ve chosen to have children live. It’s us teaching other people about life.
It is life.
We forget that, existentially speaking, raising kids is where it’s at. We get mired in the details and freak out about the generalities, or vice versa. We get hardcore about stuff we might have been easy breezy about before. We think we’re going to be one way, and then we’re not, at all.
When I discovered I was pregnant with my first son, I immediately set about deciding what sort of a mother I would be. I would have a natural birth (no drugs!) and breastfeed pre-umbilical-cut-latch through age two. I would never co-sleep – not in a million years. I would not use disposable diapers unless they were 100 percent compostable and chock full of wildflower seeds.
As my children grew, I would feed them only the freshest organic foods prepared by my own two hands. I would can things and bake things while they played contentedly on the kitchen floor. I would not tolerate whining at any decibel. I would reject all toys made with fossil fuels or in anyplace resembling China. I would homeschool and Waldorf School and worldschool at regular intervals. I would document my child’s developmental milestones like a monastic scribe.
I would be the mother of mothers. I would rule the kingdom of my children with unwavering benevolence, stability, and grace. And they would adore me without fail.
From my current vantage point, this is all an enormous laugh riot. I get a real kick out of myself just thinking about it. How quaint! How strangely ambitious! How doggedly principled! How unrealistic and kind of irritating!
At the same time, I’m glad I was that hopeful and earnest. Why shouldn’t I have been? Those were legitimate, health-conscious, earth-loving instincts on my part. Every single day of those 40-odd weeks, I lived with that precious little orb of wild potential swirling around inside me, just dreaming about all the ways we would be together someday.
Did I ever dream that my kids would unravel me and then reassemble me again into a scrambled version of myself? Did I ever dream that I would feel so uncertain of the right thing to do? Did I understand that my own body would literally ache whenever my kids felt pain?
Could I have imagined I would say things like “Hey now, they’re called private parts for a reason, champ,” or “How many times have you dispensed that whipped cream directly into your mouth today?” Would I have thought I’d get totally conned by an eight-year-old, who convinced me of his hurt feelings when I found him hiding in the closet where he’d been playing video games on the sly?
The anti-climactic short answer to all that: No.
But the friction between who I thought I would be, and who I really am as a mom, is not what makes me a dipshit. I’m a dipshit when I judge other people for not standing where I stand. I’m a dipshit when I believe I need to act a certain way because some other parent said so. I’m a dipshit when I whine more than my kids do. I’m a dipshit when I expect that, because I got it right one time, that I’ll get it right every other time, too. I’m a dipshit when I forget to be grateful.
So, keep your head screwed on. Allow people their dreams. Look into your own eyes in the mirror and be honest about what you see. Listen to yourself speak to your children. And, with all your heart, shoot for nailing it most of the time and forgive yourself the rest.