I just read a blog post that got my oversized cotton-granny-left-over-from-maternity-days panties in a wad. It was one more skirmish in the un-Civil War, the war between the blue and the pink. Not the boys and the girls, I’m talking about those who like to vent and those who advocate rose-colored parenting glasses, or at least a grin and bear it stance. The former camp likes to be honest about their struggles, seeking camaraderie in the trenches of parenting, while the latter thinks if you are unhappy you must be selfish, mean-spirited, dumb, lazy, or such a Negative Nancy or Neil that you all but refuse to make the necessary changes. So after reading the post entitled Stop Putting Down Your Kids, by Tara R. Wood, posted by Mamapedia and also at www.tararwood.com , I decided to enter the fray.
Anyone would agree, that once you read the parenting blogs, that you see a lot of humor-couched unhappiness about being a parent. I’ve seen a lot of dark emotion, complaints and snarkiness. I’ve seen mishaps retold in smelly or painful detail, but I’ve never seen putting down one’s children. What I do see a lot of is people describing how their lives have been upended, how they couldn’t work any harder and yet somehow they sense they are failing miserably, either themselves or their children. I’m not sure how feeling overextended because you have given nearly every fiber of your being to your children is selfish, as Ms. Wood claims. Selfishness, i.e. withholding ourselves from our children, from our households, is not the problem. It is the reverse. Parents are desperate for some personal time so they won’t feel so spent, angry and somewhat desperate.
Ms. Wood equates talking about survival, about how to make it through the day, with ranting about how much you detest your children. My mother was a single parent, and even though I had a great childhood, I knew things weren’t easy. I cannot imagine what my mother went through to send me to private school, dance school and an Ivy League university. Hell yeah, she survived, and triumphed. We both did. Do I think she loved me any less because I knew how hard it was for her then (and I REALLY know now)? To suggest to most of us, who work our butts off to make sure our kids have the best of everything our resources can buy, that venting about our children means we love them any less is ludicrous to the point of being insulting. To insinuate that we are selfish because we acknowledge that our lives have been made difficult denies our needs as parents. Surely there are things all of us could do to feel happier, however, to imply that we should simply change things we don’t like (and shut up) is insensitive to the realities of most of our daily lives.
As a parent, I personally will say that I need to adopt a childrearing version of the AA serenity prayer. I’m trying to realize that I can’t always be in control, a difficult thing for a perfectionist dancer to do. This loss of control is what I’m reacting to so much of the time. It is maddening to try my damnedest to get someone to eat, sleep, stay on schedule, use the toilet, get dressed and go out and have it all blow up in my face. It is infuriating to clean the house to find it moments later, looking like the Tasmanian Devil and Pigpen just threw a party. I know that my children are human beings, not projects, productions or reports. They have their own needs, their own personalities to assert and their own agendas. I shouldn’t apply the check off the list, wipe your hands clean mindset at home. But I think I should be able to do so, and I continue to try, and it’s a source of stress. I think most of us are intelligent enough to know what’s broken. Ms. Wood, a trained psychologist should know that parenting issues aren’t appliances; they can’t be instantly repaired.
As for being selfish, I do miss who I was before children. I miss the things I used to do, how I used to look, how I used to feel (not able to fall asleep at a stop sign), my relationship with my husband. But I waited until I was ready to give those things up (all except the last one, which is another story); until I was ready to be there for my children who would need me for everything. I love my children with a depth that I cannot articulate. Since they have come into my life the phenomenal joys I’ve experienced have multiplied exponentially. But so have some difficulties. Nothing major luckily, just garden-variety annoying day-to-day problems, many of which I must learn to respond to with a fiddle-dee-dee.
Now, I’ll admit the author, Tara R. Wood had some good points. There should be more celebrating of what our kids do. It’s a lot like the friend you have who only tells you how her boyfriend blew her off for a night with the guys, but never about how he took care of her when she was sick. We should talk more about the wonderful, blissful, pure moments that make us whole, those harmonious times that are the highest highs of parenting. I agree with Ms. Wood on this front. Why do we keep these moments largely to ourselves or share them with our close family? Why are the sites/blogs that do this private or low-readership, as opposed to the wildly popular bitter comedy style blogs?
Still, I think, and apparently Ms. Wood does too, that some venting and complaining can be therapeutic. I wholeheartedly disagree, however, that the commiserating we do goes hand in hand with putting down our kids. The anecdotes we share DO lead to discussions of child development, how to be a better parent and how to take time for ourselves. And yes, we might say that Little So-and-so is driving us crazy. Even crazy with a few expletives thrown in for effect. Who wouldn’t be effing crazy if one of the people you love most in the world let go of your hand in the parking lot and almost got hit by a car? True story. But I do believe it’s possible to say it with love - the love you have for your child warts and all. Not love as an afterthought or qualifier. Love as a main ingredient. A dizzying, heart-stopping, would-fight-a-tiger-for-that-child love. When someone says I’m ripping apart my children because I need to talk about me, my Mama Grizzly comes out. Mama Grizzly who does have her hands full, and needs someone to understand, to laugh with and maybe a shoulder to cry on, so she can continue to give her family the love they need and deserve, herself included.