I’ve read and re-read this blog, and it is my opinion that this one reads better if you do it out loud. Trust me.
************************************************************************************ There are three stages to parenting.
We begin with preconceived notions. We all start from different places. Some of us have never been around children. Some of us babysat. Some of us raised our brothers and sisters. We think we will draw from these experiences, as well as how we ourselves were raised. There are two “how my parents did it” camps. One side wants to do everything exactly like how they were raised. The other side swears to never turn into their parents.
None of that really matters. I mean, it sort of does, but really, no.
Next comes the advice stage. Any advice that happens pre-pregnancy gets tossed out with the junk mail. Then there’s the advice we get while pregnant. Most of this typically begins with unsolicited, terrifying stories of childbirth. As a woman and a mom, I can say without a shadow of doubt that EVERYONE HATES THIS. JUST STOP IT. I’ve honestly given a lot of thought to why this always happens (usually AT the baby shower, because, what better time and place to scare the shit out of a new mom? Let’s wait till she’s the size of a house, then put her in an ill-fitting dress and sensible shoes, because her feet look like pasty footballs, and give her lots of sugar, and surround her with normal-shaped women holding plastic cups of wine, and force her to play dumb games when she would rather be wearing sweats and fuzzy socks and sleeping on the couch), and I really don’t understand it. We all hate it, so why do we do it? As women, we need to rethink that approach. Seriously.
It’s the advice we get after becoming parents that matters. I’m not talking about the unsolicited, judgey (I just discovered that’s not a word and I’m a little sad right now) social-media advice. That’s the parental-advice equivalent of watching Judge Judy for legal help. The important stuff is the advice we ask for. The “good” advice comes from parents, family and friends. People we know, love and trust. People who have been there, done that.
And here is my advice on taking advice. TAKE IT ALL. Then file it away. Write it down if needed, or keep a mental Parenting Encyclopedia Britannica (for anyone under the age of 40, that’s old-people’s Google) to refer to later. But don’t expect to read a book or watch a video and know what to do. Cookie cutters don’t work when it comes to raising children (unless it’s Christmastime and you are actually MAKING cookies). There is no one-size-fits-all (regardless of how cute that sundress hanging in the center aisle of Walgreens looks. But I digress…) in parenting.
Children are like stars and snowflakes. Not a single one is like the other. Some burn brighter, and some melt faster. They are all different. If we all start from that place… a complete understanding and acceptance of their uniqueness… then we have a real shot at raising great humans.
Finally, there is the “becoming parents” stage. The big time. The show. This is the true test. The real deal. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is all of those sayings. This is also the moment when every single preconceived notion flies out the window like a freaked-out sparrow who was aiming for your side-view mirror, but accidentally flew into your truck, and hit you in the head, and you screamed, and in your moment of panic made a noise that only dogs could hear, which turned out to be a good thing, because your dog barked, and the bird did an about-face (who knew?) and vamoosed.
The “Planners” inevitably end up raising hippies. And the “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” moms give birth to Republicans. It’s fate. It’s Mother Nature’s wackadoodle way of keeping us on our toes. We are THE reality show for the gods. If you know this going in, and accept it, you might actually survive.
I wasn’t given the luxury of deciding how to raise Skotchdopole. I did the best I could with what I had. She turned out great, and I can take absolutely zero credit for that. And she has given me two step-grandkids, a grandson, and a step-great-granddaughter. I get to watch as she navigates multiple parenting waters, and I am constantly in awe at what a natural talent she has for doing the mom-thing. She lives in a perpetual fog of self-doubt, however, and try as I might, I can’t beat it out of her. But I get it. And she will look back in 20 years or so, and realize what a phenomenal job she did. I hope I’m around for that day!
Doofenshmirtz came along 12 years later. I had the wisdom and means to raise her how I wanted.
(I seriously just had to take a break from writing that because I was laughing so hard. She’s lucky to have survived the first two years of life. We both are! Baby gates were just fun obstacle courses for her. I had to install an interior deadbolt at the top of my front door to keep that little escape artist from heading to Vegas in the middle of the night. She never slept. She threw fits…only in public, and always without warning. The kind of fits that made strangers wonder if I was abducting her. I’m convinced the only reason they didn’t intervene is because they were afraid that at some point her head would spin around and they would be covered in projectile pea soup. I don’t remember eating for two years, and I certainly didn’t have a social life. I fantasized about tossing her out of a moving vehicle. But I can admit this all now, because we both survived and she turned out pretty okay. She found awesome somewhere between age 3 and 4, and people used to compliment me. ME! Are you kidding? I had nothing to do with it. If her feet had been able to touch the gas pedals, I could have given her a VISA and the car keys and let her go live her life. Of course, some people frown on that, so I kept her for another 14 years and let her cook a bit longer.)
Originally, I chose to be a stay-at-home mom, because that’s the best, right? Well, she had other ideas. She’s a social kid, and I just wasn’t enough for her. I introduced her to Rosie (O’Donnell) and Steve (the guy from Blues Clues, who became my crush for the first year of her life… anyone else? No? Just me? Whatever.) but she needed more.
Due to the age difference between her and Skotchdopole, she was essentially an only child. Because of her social nature, there was never a lack of “bonus” kids at my house. (I’m getting a little misty as I type this, because this is my “Empty Nest” year. There are so many “bonus” kids who call me mom, and I miss them all. Every. Single. One. And if you are one of those kids, and are reading this now, please come and visit me!)
At this point, I feel like the title of the blog should have been “But I digress…” I’m sorry, I will try to get back to the point. What was it? Parenting, right? Just kidding. I knew that. Oh yeah, there’s something else. Parenting kills brain cells. It’s a proven fact. Don’t ask me to cite references. Just hang out with some moms and pay attention.
Like every other parent, I constantly question if I am doing a decent job. If we stay at home, are our kids getting the best care from us, or are we isolating them? If we work, are they neglected, or do they need time away from us? Here is my advice to tuck away… Both answers are right and wrong. And that goes for just about every choice you will make. Accept it. They will hate you anyway, so don’t do it for the love. They will get over the hate and love you later. If your kid doesn’t yell “I hate you!” at least once during their childhood, you aren’t doing it right. If you feel like a failure, embrace it. THAT is what makes you a great parent. We all know those self-righteous assholes who think their kids are perfect. (Yeah, how are those kids doing?) Keep questioning yourself. Reinvent.
Besides food, shelter and an education… stick to the basic stuff. Love them. Listen to them. Pay actual attention to them. Read to them. Believe in them. Be their best advocate. Lie to them when necessary. And here’s the tricky part… (write this one down, because this may be the best piece of advice that I can give, that I really never took, but wished I did) be the best YOU that you can be. Stay educated. Keep your friends. Stick with your hobbies. Follow your dreams. If you take time for yourself, you are not neglecting your children. You are creating a great role model for them!
Becoming a parent is not catch and release. It’s just catch. Then it’s trial and (a lot of) error. There will be crying and gnashing of teeth. There will be fevers and bodily fluids. There will be stray animals and fund raising and parent-teacher conferences. There will be road trips and stargazing. There will be last-minute requests for 100 cupcakes and midnights spent finishing science projects and assembling toys from Santa. There will be proms and broken hearts. Tattoos and piercings. And there will be laughter. Lots of laughter.
You will catch yourself saying things like, “I’ll hold the ants while you grab the pizza”, and “Don’t put your mouth on the vacuum cleaner” and “Mommy will tell you where the Twinkies are if you let her sleep 10 more minutes”. During times of stress, you will open your mouth and your mother will fly out. You will call your children by the wrong names (including the names of pets). Keep going with the flow. The how’s and when’s may never be determined by you. I can say that most of my teachable mother-daughter moments happened by accident.
I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by some amazing women, who also happen to be fantastic moms. They are all in different stages of parenthood, and it’s beautiful to watch. I love being a part of all of their lives, and I honestly wish I was talented enough to write one fat book about all of their trials, tribulations and talents.
Some of us wanted kids, and some of us didn’t. Some of us planned kids, and most of us didn’t. I know people who never planned on having children who are fantastic parents. (I could tell you a very specific story about one of my best friends, but that’s a blog for another day.) And I’ve also met people who deliberately had children who really had no business becoming parents. Don’t worry, “bonus moms” exist. As both my daughters can tell you, there is a special bond between “second moms” and kids. Sometimes it really does take a village…
p.s. thank you Thia. 🙂