Saturday, March 26, 2011
Parenting and Self-Judgement
Sometimes I am not a good dad....At least in my own estimation.
Sometimes, when the chips are down and the stress is high, we get to really see what we are made of underneath. It's during moments like these when we are not at our best that we often behave just the way our parents did to us....sometimes that's a good thing...sometimes it's not. I faced that alot the last couple of weeks as our family conducted a multi-room home renovation at the same time as we were trying to balance the needs of four kids...who quite frankly can get downright fussy with each other sometimes. My husband and I were both exhausted from all the work and were running on empty much of the time. It was during those nights...and especially the ones where I was alone...were I found myself being the emotionally distant authoritarian dictator my parents were to my brother and me. I was barking commands and expecting instant compliance because I didn't have the patience or emotional resources to deal with the fact that life might be hard for them too. I knew that that was not the parent I wanted to be but I couldn't stop myself. I went to bed most of those nights ashamed of myself and wondering if I even had what it took to be a father if this was who I was going to be when the going got tough. I would think back to my own parents and see the seeds of my own behavior.
Laying in my bed in the dark I thought of my dad who was the dictator.... and a yeller, if you were not doing what he said his bark was enough to make you move...and fast...and his bite was almost as bad. My mom needed to control us or she felt out of control herself. Guilt was used alot on my brother and myself. She was also a divorced mom with two boys and always seemed to be struggling with the basics of life. In stressful moments I find myself acting in these same ways and imagine my children one day thinking back on me and remembering only the bad times. I would never want to leave them with a legacy like that. I had hoped to do so much better....and always....ALWAYS...let them know that they are loved, no matter how stressful our lives may get or how manic and crazed I may get trying to make everything happen that needs to.
So I lay there in the dark and wondering if I was indeed the rotten parent I felt like. Was I just the accumulated and collected memories of my own parents behaviors being regurgitated to a new generation or am I something more? Was this just a rough week or is this who I really am when the dirty diapers hit the fan? Is it even possible for me to see myself through unbiased eyes?.....I still don't know.
I think alot of us tend to look back at the way we were raised and pick out the flaws. Perhaps it's because we feel our hindsight is 20/20 or that we've gotten so far away from that time that we have a new perspective on it....but we look at our own children and say, "I won't do (fill in the blank) to you."
What I couldn't remember in that moment was the day my dad taught me how to ride a bike by holding on and running behind me until I was doing it on my own. When I wasn't looking he let go and off I went on my own. I was having tons of fun and hadn't realized he had let go at all. I turned around to say something to him and realised he wasn't there got scared and immediately fell over. At the time, I was upset because I fell but my dad and mom were both there to pick me up and point out to me that I had ridden all on my own. That's how my dad taught me to ride a bike and I remember how awesome I felt when I mastered it. I got to have the honor of helping my son overcome his own fear of riding his bike and I have my dad to thank for giving me the tools to do that...and both my parents to thank for teaching me how to pick someone up when they fall.
My dad also taught me to be goofy with my kids...how to laugh, joke and have fun with them. That's something I am supremely grateful for because his bizarre sense of humor has made all of my life richer.
When my mom used to cook dinner she would always let me help her out in the kitchen. That was my together time with my mom and made me feel close to her. I made the salad from start to finish and helped set the table. It was the one and only place she would tolerate me being underfoot. She also taught me how to clean my own bathroom, fold the laundry, and how to change my brothers diapers when I was about 7 or 8....and I had to change alot of those stinky suckers. It may have helped lighten her load but it also taught me how to be self reliant. When I moved out on my own, I never had to look back home for help...I already knew most of what I needed. And when I came time to adopt my own kids I was already a diaper changing, baby feeding black belt...thanks mom.
My mom taught me how to braid my daughters hair by teaching me to braid hers when I was young. My mom, brother and I would watch t.v. in the evening...usually Magnum P.I. Dynasty or some similar show that totally bored children to death...and I would brush her hair while she taught me how to braid. Why she taught her boys to braid I don't know....I think it was just a way to connect with us and spend some mellow down time. However, it's a skill that came in handy with my own little girl and I'm proud to be able to do it for her...thanks again mom.
Every parent judges themselves. I know this to be true. It doesn't matter if you are a gay parent, a single parent, or a married stay at home parent, all of us want to give the best we can to our kids and it feels like there is so much at stake. I can honestly say that being a dad is the most worthwhile and important thing I have ever done in my life. When my husband and I brought kids into our lives it was because we wanted them and believed we were ready. We knew we would not be perfect. We knew the homes we had come from were far from perfect...and being honest..we both had a laundry list of things our parents had done that we would not do to our kids.
But as imperfect as our past can be and as much as we want to run from the bad parts. It's harder to put aside the judgements and see the good with the bad. I hope my parents will not be too hurt or angry that these memories are the ones I walked away with....and I hope with all my heart that my kids will have a lifetime of happy memories to balance out the times that were tough. And one day I hope they will be able to give their own children the best of my parents, me, and what they bring to the mix as individuals in their own right.
I began this post with the claim that sometimes I can be a rotten dad, and I guess sometimes that may be true. All of us have our times when we are not patient when we need to be..or when we yell first and ask questions later. However, judging anyone, including ourselves, on the basis of our flaws alone is missing half the story. Yes, my mom and dad are in me and sometimes they come out in ways I hoped would never happen...but in just as many ways they show themselves in the good moments and the triumphs too. What kind of parent I have been will have to be decided by what kind of people Daniel and Selena become and by then it will be up to them to decide what to do with how we raised them. Perhaps they will have some things that they will not want to carry forward to their children...and that will just have to be o.k.
In the end, I love the kids immensely ...I would not change what I do for anything..even on the bad days. I am proud to be Daniel and Selena's dad and grateful for them everyday. I hope that I give them more good days than days they would rather forget...and I hope that they remember the good in them when they have fallen under the shadow of doubt. I will be their everyday to remind them.
Until next time dear readers...