I read an article in the Boston Globe the other day about Moms who blog about the trials and tribulations of parenting, who admit to how hard it is, and who have, as the article implied, dubbed themselves the "Bad Parent Movement".
Now, since I am new to this concept and have been known to miss out on major trends of all shapes and sizes, I am not going to launch into a commentary about this nomenclature. I realize blogging as a 'bad parent' is a literary way to flip the bird to the major media outlets who, for the most part, do little to alleviate the pressures parents feel to be perfect. It seems like a logical reaction to all the Sitcom Moms who keep a clean house, juggle three kids, solve their teenager's angst and prepare a home cooked meal all in the tidy span of a 30 minute television show.
I resist being included in trends, however I applaud those Moms (and Dads) who blog about the realities of being a parent and I would be honored to be included in their ranks. By my way of thinking, we are far from being bad parents. If anything, we have a frighteningly real sense of how important a job it is; every little decision feels riddled with implications and pitfalls. We understand with stark clarity that these little lives and personalities have been entrusted to us; we know how influential we are. And, if these other parents are anything like me, we wonder on a daily basis if we're really up to it. We are, after all, human. It is not out of disrespect for the importance of Parenting that we write about all the ways we screw it up, it is in deference to it.
I don't know what I would do without my friends, and by friends I mean those people I don't have to be perfect around. Those people who get it. The people I call when I've just about had it, when I feel like I can't take it for one more second. Their words of wisdom and support follow me everywhere I go, and I tap into their vast resources all the time.
Today, for example, I was riding in the car with Greta when out of the blue she says, "Mom, is it true that you can have a baby when you're only fourteen?"
Gulp. I am only allowed to panic for a few seconds, otherwise she senses that she is on to something good and she will sink her teeth into it and never let go. The words of my wise and funny friend Damomma pop into my head: Only answer what is asked. Don't presume she knows more or less than she is telling you. I think of my ever-resourceful friend Karin, who told me: when I'm stumped, I like to answer a question with a question.
So I do both. I say, "Yes, it is. Why do you ask?"
She replies, "I dunno. I was just thinking about babies and wondering if you were ever going to have another one. If you can have them as young as fourteen, what about forty? Is that too old?"
I breathe an inward sigh of relief. This feels like more familiar territory. But I'm still cautious, so I answer with the truth. "Forty isn't always too old, but we love our family just the way it is."
She said, happily, "I do, too."
Had I been left to my own resources on that one, I would have over-answered. In my rush to protect her from what I fear she may know I would have answered things that weren't asked, dropping little pieces of my adult world into her lap, things she may not be ready for. Because I have my posse, my friends, we share how we've faced the tough things - both how we've done well, and how we've failed. So we can all learn.
Another good friend of mine struggles with disappointing her kids, it just breaks her heart to say no. Her son asks daily to go do things, as all kids do, but she has a young baby at home and finances are tight. She feels guilty saying no - she feels like she is failing him. So I let her in on a little secret another Mom shared with me. If her son (he is 4) asks to go to the arcade, for example, she smiles brightly and says "lets see if they are open!". She pretends to dial, pretends to speak to the manager, and hangs up. Then she says, "sorry, honey, that was a good idea but they are closed now. Do you want to do a puzzle instead?" This may seem like a drastic measure to appease a child, but the person it is really helping is her. She has to say no, but now she can do it in a way that makes her feel less guilty. Its all good. Instead of feeling badly about saying no, she knows she is part of a network of Moms who are juggling the same feelings, the same difficulties. She is part of something bigger, not alone and just trying to hold it all together.
If we don't share all the ways it is hard, all the ways we mess up, how are we supposed to learn? Parenting is like a bad neighborhood - you should never venture there alone. And when you're in a foxhole, who do you want in there with you? June Cleaver?