Saturday, June 1, 2013

From the Parents of Small Children

A friend of mine recently posted the following article to his Facebook page:

I don't read Parenting magazine or pay much attention when people try to give me advice on how to raise my children. Evidently, there is a wealth of parenting advice available both in print and on the web. I have somehow managed to miss most of it. Not because I don't think I could benefit from a little advice or guidance. I don't know everything. In fact, I know astonishing little considering I have three children. But I follow my instinct, gut and common sense. I set the bar somewhat low. None of my children play with their own poop or smear it on the walls like chimps at the zoo as I have heard other children do, so I think we're doing all right.

Ironically, being the father of three children, I don't have time to read a lot about parenting. I spend 95% of my time and energy when I am not at work parenting, so the last thing I want to do with the remaining 5% of my life is read about parenting.

But the author of the above article--whose job it is doubtlessly to not only inform, but be witty, controversial, and, thereby tangentially, sell online advertising--has been exposed to more than his share of parenting literature.

I don't think his approach in this article is unique. Of the few pieces I have read about being a parent or the actual act of parenting, most remind us that we, as parents, are human and fallible. I think most articles are meant to diffuse those who try too hard which, in my estimation, is probably a pretty small percentage of parents in general. Of course, no one would read an article telling them they weren't doing enough as a parent.

And I agree with the author that we are human and fallible. Me more than most. But I also believe it is a very slippery slope to navigate once you allow yourself not to do everything in your power to raise the best children you possibly can. Maybe I bear this responsibility heavier than most.

Unlike Steve Wiens, I do appreciate that they grow up too fast. Sam taught me this and it was one of the only things that kept me sane when I was lying with Clementine on my chest on the love seat in the living room of our house in Brazil at 3:30 in the morning. I didn't fit on the love seat, and my feet hung off one end and my head off the other. I was far from comfortable. The rainy season had returned, which meant that commercial jet airliners would buzz our house every five minutes as they approached the international airport. I could see the lights coming from far away through the cloud cover, ethereally like extraterrestrials in the night. The noise would fill our entire house for the briefest of moments, before screaming away. Somehow we all grew accustomed to the sound. Even Clementine, eventually. But knowing that Clementine would not sleep on my chest at this most un-Godly of hours forever is one of things that made it bearable. At times, even pleasant. Despite, or perhaps because of, the airplanes.

And I don't think it is okay to be a crappy parent. Don't beat yourself up about it either, but your children are not the enemy.

I know the author is not saying it is okay to be a crappy parent, but once you hold yourself to a lower standard, when do you stop? I know every parent needs time to themselves. All parents function better after a morning run, yoga without kids hanging from every limb, or beers with a friend, but, sadly, we all know the parent who does nothing but make time for themselves. While I understand the intent of articles like this one, I would rather aim to achieve ten things and only accomplish seven than aim to achieve five things and successfully achieve them all. Yes, there is some disappointment associated with the former--I might even think myself a terrible parent--but at the end of the day, I would have more to show for myself.

I know that neither Elise nor I would ever want to look back and wish we had done more. That we hadn't given every iota of our being at that time to being the best parent we could be. I do wish that I had no other responsibility than to play Legos with Sam every morning, but I know that one day he will understand that I had to balance his wants and needs with my other responsibilities, namely to his brother and sister and mom.

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