Friday, January 10, 2014

Showing our Parental Cellulite

With the Olympics coming up, it feels right to talk about the oft overlooked, yet perhaps most competitive of sports...Parenting.

It happens from the moment we give birth and compare our choices to that of the parent in the bed next to us. From the unspoken understanding that our child is in fact cuter than any of the others in the nursery to every single benchmark in our children’s’ lives we measure our success based on the degree of success or perceived failure of our fellow parents. We breathe a sigh of relief that our child spoke their first word and stepped their first step before the “So and So’s” across the street. And we lament and fret sleeplessly over the fact that “Mr. & Mrs. Perfect’s” son is reading chapter books at age 3 ½ while our child is playing with an empty box.

We do it. We do it consciously, we do it unconsciously, it soothes us and tortures us and drives us to say and think ridiculous things. It justifies our actions and paralyzes our instincts and it has nothing to do with our children and everything to do with the reality that we feel desperately unequipped to parent.

I would like to say that I have found a solution to such practices; that my obvious wisdom as gleaned through the arrogance of having a blog on parenting has shed light on this unspoken yet rampant plague of parental competition. I would love to say that if I wasn’t so relieved that someone else’s child got a worse grade than mine on that last English assignment.

And I truly believe with my whole heart that the entire issue can be summed up, as in all things, with how we communicate on Facebook. You’ve seen it, you’ve done it, You’ve posted that picture or video that shows your child’s excellence and superiority to the average bear. They got into college, they burped their first burp, they scored the game winning shot, they said something disarmingly precocious and advanced for their young years, they told you they loved you in a better than Hallmark way. They achieved, they succeeded, you obviously did something right while graciously claiming none of the credit except in your own soul which writhes and twists every day with the fear of screwing your kid up.

And those victories are great, and they should be celebrated and liked and shared. They absolutely should. But what would the world look like if we shared our failures as well? Not for sympathy, not for bucking up, not for fishing for compliments. What if we shared our failures or struggles simply to erase the shame of them.  The other day, one of my Facebook friends posted that her child had a massive tantrum over something the rest of the world would surely consider trivial, and I was so happy. Not at her child’s suffering, but at the bravery to say, “Hey this is not all unicorns and the Brady Bunch. Sometimes the rainbow gets graffiti-ed.”

“But Mary, if we erase the shame, aren’t we just justifying bad choices and behavior and issuing a guilt free get out of jail free card.” Sure, that could happen, if we weren’t moral humans who torture ourselves at every misstep. Just as our children know that getting a D isn’t great and they feel horrible about it, we know when we’ve blown it as a parent and whatever torture we deal ourselves is a hundred times worse than what others may think or say. Just as sharing our victories gives us and them hope, sharing our screw-ups may bring an end to all the suffering in silence. Surely I can’t admit that I gave my child no vegetables with dinner last night and that, in fact we ate a sodium filled frozen dinner, for then it would be known that I am an imperfect parent.

Well, you are. We all are. And we want to be better. So we read books and blogs and go to seminars and compare ourselves to others because we are responsible for this human being whom we love more than, well, every other thing ever, and in order to wake up tomorrow and try again we have to feel we’ve done something right. So we post a post that proves that “I got this.” And we need to keep doing that and…we need to sometimes let the world know “I don’t got this.” Because parenting is so hard, brutally unforeseeably hard and perpetuating the myth of unicorns and the Brady Bunch creates an unrealistic ideal that distracts us from our real job: seeing our kid for who they truly are and helping them learn how to stand on their own two wobbly flawed and fabulous feet.

So keep posting the good stuff, by all means. But let’s occasionally show our parental cellulite as well. I’ll start.

I can’t get my kids to brush their teeth and I’ve stopped trying.

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