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 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...


  1. We all feel like we are rotten parents sometimes. it never changes. My kids are in their mid twenties and I still feel like a bad parent sometimes. I am not though. I am there for them when they need me and lend an ear when they need to vent and a shoulder to lean on. I remember when they were little, and I felt the guilt when I thought I was being so tough and being so busy that I might have neglected them. We all do the best we can. I know you and Jay work very hard. it's normal to worry about these things, you wouldn't be a good parent if you didn't worry.

  2. Hi

    I'm a single mother that had no help from my son's father in the raising of our son, I'm now doubting how good a job I actually did now that I see the choices my son is making as a teenager.
    He became a very younger dad, he is 17 next week.
    I love my son but in his choices I'm doubting how good a job I really did. There were and still are some days he drives me insane and I wonder what else I could have done!!
    I think that is something EVERY parent in the world can probably relate to at some point in their child-rearing days.
    I enjoyed being a mum and I enjoy being a grandmother but some days I want to resign from the job even now.

    Thanks for reading

  3. Hey bella...even when I'm kicking my own butt I know that after a certain point, my influence stops and their personalities take over. I guess we can't spare them making every mistake...but hopefully they will avoid a few.


  4. hey Bryan

    Thanks for that. I have started in a new goal life now that my son doesn't need me as much anymore.... and I cant stop his choices so I had to let the stress go and get on with my own life. Mind you that took alot of doing trust me the letting go was no piece of cake.

    My son and I had some very hard times over the last 16 months and what I found was the lack of help and support for me as a parent which prompt me into going back to higher education so I can help other parents..

    That lack of support is what had me wondering if I was a bad mother even if deep down I knew I did the best job I could at the time but like I said I was in a very bad place for a long time and it took me a while to regain my confidence in myself.

    I stumbled onto your youtube page on Friday looking for some information on a research paper I have to do and I love your and Jays outlook on life. I was in-thrilled. So thanks and I hope you say strong in your battles ...

  5. Hi Bryan ;

    I don't know what is it like to be a parent but all i can say when you feel like this just look at your picture with Daniel in background of this site, look at the last video you uploaded to youtube and see Selena's happiness when you are braiding her hair. Your kids are proud to be your kids as much as you are proud of being their father. If you still judge yourself for being a rotten dad go check the blog competition that Jay put you in few days ago. Every vote you got there given to you because we all know that no matter what you do you just can't be a bad dad. It's normal to judge yourself and it will help you to see your flaws (really having hard time to even think about you got one ) Just try not to be this hard on yourself. YOU ARE A GREAT DAD.

  6. You and Jay are great parents! Don't be so hard on yourself.

  7. This is the power of writing: you start one place and you end up somewhere else. When you work out the kinks in your thinking, change takes place.

    I've been following your blog and your Facebook for a while and I can honestly tell you I couldn't be more impressed by what you and your husband do. Someday, people are going to look back and realize how bigoted our country has been and is right now and see you guys and know you're no different. Have faith in that. And your children are beautiful and adorable by the way <3 Stay strong all of you <3

  8. Thanks for this, Bryan. I don't have kids but I can relate to what you wrote. It touched me deeply.

  9. Don't worry Bryan, you can only do what you can do. If you see issues with yourself, that's part of improving them :) It's very obvious your kids are happy. There is a reason for that. The reason is you.

  10. You make some very good points in this post.

    Number one is that the children in gay families were actually wanted children, not accidents. That's something the bigots can't seem to wrap their minds around. We want to do better for those children.

    And I think because of your experiences growing up you won't be anywhere like your parents.

    I know I wouldn't be though I see elements of myself rooted in the authoritarian which scares me a bit. It's why my M.O. is to be the permissive one.

  11. i will always yo always happy :)
    greeting from Indonesia :)

  12. I am (happily) not a parent, but I do have a couple. I can tell you that if your kids do not already understand everyone has their days, and just because you are yelling at them does not mean that it is their fault, then they will. Probably sooner than you think.
    Wile they may hold these times against you, like you are doing with your parents, and they did with theirs. They won't blame you.
    You both seem like grate parents, and frankly I think when your kids look back, the good will far outweigh the bad.

  13. Hey Bryan,

    This might've been asked before, but I hadn't discovered you guys yet until recently... so:

    How come you guys don't post all your new YouTube videos embedded in the page as regular blog entries? That would make so much sense, I believe. Even if not all of the videos can be watched in, say, Germany for example (which BTW doesn't keep me from voting like hell for you, over at!

    Thanks for the visibility! I'm sure you inspire your kids just as much as you do the rest of the world. :)

  14. Bryan..TRUST ME!! In the crazy society that we live in you and Jay are like "beacons" as to what loving parents should be. The happiness on your kids faces actually comes through the computer screen and into our hearts! You guys rescued two beautiful souls and have given them security, love and "one heck of a good childhood!"
    Mike Huckabee..who is against gay marriage and gay couples adopting and who now is the front runner in the Republican party for President in 2012 said once about gay couples adopting..he said "Children are not lab rats..." He really needs to visit the Leffews...

  15. Bryan, dear-dear Bryan,

    you are an amazing self-therapist and you're SO MATURE as a person. Please don't ALWAYS be a perfectionist. You HAVE a right as a parent to make mistakes and yes, even to yell at them from time to time. Oh boy, I know SO MANY kids who would give their lives just to have parents like you. SO MANY parents don't even think about guilt when they do nasty things to their children. When they beat them almost to death, when they drink and make kids responsible for their moods, when they make them do the whole household and NEVER appreciate their work. Or when they spend months working and never show up to play or talk with the little ones. Bryan, please don't torture yourself. You really ARE one of the VERY BEST.
    Love and peace to your family!

  16. Oh Bryan...
    DON'T WORRY!!!!!
    You are an amazing parent. Have faith in yourself!!! Your children are incredibly lucky.