Friday, March 21, 2014

Parenting With Grace - For Ourselves and Our Fellow-travellers

My Hero

A few months ago, I had a real breakthrough about parenting. It was inspired by a blog post I read, and I can’t find it now, but the gist was this:

Other people aren’t parenting at you.

Reading that was a real ah-ha moment for me. It shouldn’t have been, because I knew it, rationally, but in the thick of things it gets lost.

When Punk was first born, I felt insecure, overwhelmed, and often defensive.There were a lot of reasons for that: a huge chunk of it has to do with being an ACOA*. Another piece is just my personality: I’m high strung, a fact I’m constantly working to mitigate and make my peace with. But I was also in an incredibly difficult place in life. I was finishing my dissertation, K was working very long hours at a job with a long commute, I was dealing with my first major flare without having any idea what was happening to me, AND, I had a newborn.

I survived, but I was a twitchy mess. I didn’t feel like I was making parenting choices, I was desperately working from handhold to handhold just trying to get through the days and keep my head above water. And meanwhile I was meeting these other moms who just… seemed to have it together. It seemed like they had figured it out and I was just… staggering through. Their choices weren’t just their choices, they were indictments of me and my utter failure to cope.

Of course this was ridiculous, but it took me a long time to figure out the secret.

Everyone is just struggling through. Parenting means living in five foot deep water with heavy chop that threatens to bowl you over at any minute, and we are all just trying to make it from day to day. Hour to hour. And sometimes, minute to minute. And that group of moms who were so much better at it than I am? I got to know them all. They’ve become good friends. And they’re pretty damn amazing.

But so am I. And I’ve come to trust that, and them, in ways I didn’t think I’d ever be able to.

A good example of that came on a recent night. We were out at a local chocolate and wine bar (God I love this town so much) and we were talking about our irritation with a lot of kids’ shows and how annoying they can be. I made the comment that this was one reason we had started Punk on some slightly older shows, like Justice League.

“But that’s so violent,” one of the other women said.

In the past that would have withered me. But I just smiled, and waited, and that trust was validated when she followed it up with, “[My child] gets so upset by that stuff.”

And what flowed from that was a discussion about how different their personalities and tolerances for different things are. What could have been a point of judgment either way turned into an appreciation for our differences. My friend’s son is this beautiful, empathic and intuitive little soul, and her decision not to let him watch shows with a lot of active conflict honors him marvelously. Punk, on the other hand, is and always has been a little warrior spirit. She has an aggressive, active nature that has been challenging at times to temper and channel. For her, shows like Justice League give her a way to imagine herself as a hero and as a helper, to pretend at channeling that aggression against imaginary enemies rather than at everyday frustrations. It lets her imagine conquering those frustrations rather than being overwhelmed by them.

My friends and I won’t make all the same decisions when it comes to parenting. It wasn’t true when the kids were newborns, and it isn’t true  now. I imagine it will be even less true as the kids continue to grow into their own distinct personalities.

But it no longer matters to me that we make the same choices. What matters to me is that I trust my fellow parents: I trust and believe that they are making their choices, thoughtfully and with great love, and in accord with what is best for them and their families. Even better, I feel that I have their trust in return.

*ACOA: Adult Child of Alcoholics. In my family there are three kinds of people: active addicts, recovering addicts, and people who dodged the bullet so closely they heard it whistle past.

...I can show you the scar on the cheek where it grazed me. Metaphorically, that is. I don’t have any cool scars on my face. OR anywhere. My scars are all pretty boring.