You are a Good Parent
Rachel and I have been home for most of the week with an icky little virus. Fever and lethargy is all it entails, thank God. Over the last day or so the sickness has subsided and we have been given spurts of energy in ebbs and flows, although at different times. It is sort of frustrating because just as I’m ready to tackle some chores Rachel becomes fixated on snuggling and dozing off to a nap, and just as she’s ready to go for a walk outside I am sunken in the couch ready to watch Secrets of a Stylist. It’s in moments like these that I can forget we are both kind of sick and get overwhelmed by my incompetence to give my daughter everything she wants, or in a worse scenario, what she needs. A flood of negative, self-accusing questions come to mind. Why can’t I communicate better with my daughter? Why does it seem like I never understand what she’s trying to communicate to me? Why am I constantly reacting to every grunt and gesture, rather than being proactive, setting up a routine for our days? Who is in charge here? Why am I not creative enough to offer suitable distractions for her? Am I really not cut out for this? The uncertainty is demoralizing, coupled with lethargy it has been paralyzing.
I don’t only have these moments when I’m sick or overly-tired though. I can feel this way on normal days too and something tells me this is a familiar soundtrack in the minds of many parents, dare I say mothers especially. Here’s another factor that complicates things: unsolicited involvement of strangers. How did it come to be that complete strangers think it’s their place to comment on our parenting skills? I certainly don’t think the intention is to be helpful or kind or protective of the child in question. It is strictly to get inside your head and convince you of all your worst fears. I am a bad parent. I am not cut out for this. Thank you, complete stranger.
Unfortunately this happened to me yesterday when I took Rachel to the library and she had a temper tantrum in the middle of the children’s section. Why, I don’t know (and isn’t that the cruel way that temper tantrums work?). As we were leaving, a stranger approached me and began grilling me about my daughter and foolishly I answered her questions until finally she asked, why are you here instead of at home caring for her?
I was stunned. Thankfully another stranger, a kinder one, intervened at this point and politely told the rude stranger that none of this was any of her business. Public humiliation averted. I think. But it did get inside my head and make me consider her comments further. It’s not the first time a stranger has questioned me, although never has the instance been so mean-spirited. But I do wonder, what is it about the domain of parenting that makes everyone feel like they’re better at it than you?
Maybe people feel like they’re on Casey Anthony alert- looking to catch the next negligent parent and make an example out of him or her. And sure, there are bad parents out there, but does that mean that strangers can spot them? Isn’t parenting hard enough without the constant scrutiny? Shouldn’t we be supporting parents rather than judging them based on short, superficial interactions?
Remember that negative, self-accusing soundtrack of questions? Many parents are trying the best they can. They are also pushing themselves to turn that soundtrack into a list of motivating goals: Be more sure of my abilities. Set limits. Plan and direct each day. Be a more creative parent. Learn the distinction between being responsive and being in tune (strive for the latter). Have patience. Do things to help me feel more energized. Engage. Have a sense of humor. Be confident- you are in charge.
I am humbled by the art and skill of motherhood and challenge myself to be a better parent every day. I struggle in particular with the confidence thing. I am sure you do too. But one thing that is echoed in almost every parenting philosophy book and that you’ll hear from each of your children’s grandmothers (the real experts) is the importance of projecting confidence. So I say, next time you see a stranger and you question the care they are giving to their child, before you say something judgmental or mean, stop and consider just saying the following: You’re doing a great job. You are a good parent. Have a great rest of the day.