In case you missed the intro to this mini-series of blogs I’m writing, I’m essentially sick of people Hallmarking and Disney-fying parenting. I’m sick of the mythology that parenting is the single most amazing experience any one person can have.
I appreciate that most people concede that “parenting is hard.” But no one talks about how hard. And in what, exact, ways it’s hard. So, I decided to dedicate a series of blog posts to the sober side of parenting. If you want to know more about my personal journey to becoming a parent, check out the first in the series on October 26th “Do you Respect Your Kid.”
Today’s topic is about the role of the parent. I don’t think we really talk enough about our roles as parents. We talk about how hard it is to get our kids under control, we talk about how stressful it is to deal with our kid’s problems…but we don’t talk about our actual role in their lives. I think we don’t talk about it because it’s taken for granted. We’re the parent. We parent. But “parenting” is such an abstract concept and the responsibilities is covers range wildly from person to person.
Some people think their role as paret is to provide. Provide love, provide food, provide shelter, provide access to experiences, provide guidance, provide a model, provide a moralistic belief system, provide access to resources.
Others think the main role of a parent is to protect. Protect the child from harm, protect the child from pain, protect the child from failure, protect the child from themselves.
Still others believe the main role of a parent is to love their child unconditionally. Period.
I happen to think that my role as Z’s mom is to be her chief advocate —- this means that my objective is for her to become a functioning, thriving member of society who is balanced and able to pursue whatever dreams she cares to pursue. In order to achieve this objective, I must provide her with security, exposure, processing and respect. Moreover, I must have the long-game in mind as we make decisions along the way. (As some of you recall from my first blog on this subject, I said that my one goal in raising my toddler was to have a cooperative teenagers — this was playing the long game. Now, as she’s entering late teenhood, I’m continuing to think seriously about her post-high school years through graduating college (if that’s what she chooses to do) into her early to mid 20s.)
If a metaphor has to be chosen, I would choose “coach” for parenting. I choose it because there is an inordinate amount of teaching and modeling and disciplining that must go into parenting, but there also has to be vision and cheerleading and insight and humility, too.
That last one, humility?, is a doozy. How to balance the authority and confidence it requires to take responsibility for another human being’s life with the humility one needs in order to keep yourself in check? Being a parent, means being humble. I learned that fast and hard when my kid was young. One week she’s into pink and Barbie dolls, so I thought I knew her. The next week I bring pink and Barbie dolls and she’s into Rugrats and Brown everything. Every time I have thought I’ve caught up to her, she has already moved onto the next new frontier of who she is. I always feel behind. And that, my friends, sucks.
But I don’t berate her or make fun of her for changing. She gets a little exasperated with me for not keeping up. I let her. It makes sense. After all to her, her progressions make total sense. While from my angle, they seem like stealth moves of a super spy.
Being the Parent to me means giving my kid every single advantage possible - emotional, intellectual, cultural, educational, financial, experiential - so that when I’m not around 24/7, she has enough tools at her beck and call to be able to keep herself afloat. To do this requires imagination, ingenuity, resourcefulness and boundaries. All teachers must have boundaries or else they can not teach. Same goes for teacher-parents.
And being the parent is lonely - particularly for single dads and moms, like me. Like right now, at the very writing of this word, I would love nothing more than to go into my kid’s room, get her up from her homework and siddown and watch a movie with her. She’s so fun to watch movies with. But it’s 10:32 pm. And she has school tomorrow. And she has homework to do. And I have to let her do her work.
So, I do my work as a mom, while she does her work on being a kid.
Next blog in Parenting: The Sober Side — The Green-Eyed Monster — Resentment.