“Out Mothering” Our Children

You’ve been there. You are in a public place, your kid is screaming, other women are giving you piteous, meaningful, I’ve-been-there glances and you don’t have a shred of compassion or patience left. You’re spent and you are at least an hour from home. You’ve done all the positive parenting bullshit like getting down at eye level, meting out appropriate consequences, wringing out the last ounce of compassion you can find before you just pick the kid up and leave, feeling totally shredded.

When I gazed into my daughter’s infant eyes, I didn’t burst with love as most women do, but I did feel this warmth of compassion that told me, erroneously, that I would never, ever, get cross or frustrated or angry with this child. My perfect little peach. But then she turned two point five and all hell broke loose. She became this wild animal that anyone – including me – would swear was hopped up on sugar (turns out, blessedly, she’s not really all that into sugar) who literally runs everywhere and even jumps when she is standing still because apparently, she’s got so much energy to burn, she has to stay in perpetual motion.

Of course I am exaggerating. Most of the time she is playful, loving, kind, considerate, generous, adorable and wonderful. The two percent of the time she turns into a toddler werewolf makes me want to take a one-way trip to Jamaica after getting full-blown reconstructive plastic surgery.

Not only do I think I was ridiculous looking back on those early months when I thought that she would stay a peaceful little angel that slept soundly for hours on end in the daytime. I guess what I am even more surprised at is the thought that somehow I would get to skip these stages that all parents must pass through. I guess that I thought that I was special. Or that she was so special that we would never experience the “terrible twos” or the not eating or the not listening or the constant running like we are on a hamster wheel in hell. What caused this hubris? This notion that I could escape all that everyone else could not?  

The reality is, I’m not quite sure. But I do think it has something to do with unrealistic standards we set for ourselves as mothers. And I do know the consequences of such thinking can be difficult and, without being overly dramatic, disastrous. We think we can “out mother” our children. Like, if we just mother (or parent) well enough, then we will escape difficulty. And that when we do experience difficulty, it’s on us. We didn’t do it right. We failed in the pursuit of perfection as parents, as mothers, as people.

I believe that we live in a time and place that nurtures this thinking. That everything wrong with society is the result of poor parenting. And that really pisses me off. I get pissed off that the reality is that two-year-olds act like maniacs because they are two, but parents get blamed for them acting like two-year-olds and doing two-year-old things. And maybe here, the blame is somewhat internal. Or it feels so omnipresent because we have internalized this idea so completely, so thoroughly that it becomes the measure by which we evaluate everything we do as parents – that is, is my child acting socially acceptable enough for me to be considered a “good parent”? If that is the measure of our performance, then we will never win.

Perhaps being a good parent is not about how our children behave (not that this is unimportant) but rather how we respond to the stages as they present themselves. The struggle I recently had was more about taking Aya’s behaviour personally and allowing the judgment of others – real, perceived, and internal – to affect my perception of the situation and my response to it. (Sidenote: I am also sick af, and so that isn’t helping). Children are in this constant state of trying to figure out what it means to be human and if we restrict the parameters of what fully human adulthood looks like too narrowly, we might stamp out their creative ability to become who they really truly are. Who they are isn’t about us – not completely - and especially as they become adults. If we actually want them to be happy, perhaps we can nurture them the best possible way we can, with as much patience as we can muster, while not always contemplating what this or that will mean for who their future self will become. That, or we just hand them over to their grandparents and say we gave it the ole college try.

I don’t know exactly what it means or what this looks like day-to-day but I am prepared to experiment with detaching future outcome from developmental stage and also detaching it from who I am as a parent.

We’re all in this together. Set’s not make it any harder on ourselves than we have to. K?