Before my daughter was born I knew exactly what kind of parent I WOULDN’T be. My list of “things I’ll never do” was longer than my current grocery list.
It is easy to judge in the waning afternoon light, swinging on a hammock, eight months pregnant with your first child. There is no way to know any better.
That hope of perfect and idealism is something new moms all over grasp onto. It is the daydream that fills the hours until they get to hold their sweet babies for the very first time.
Then, reality hits. The best-laid plans are left out in the rain while a sleep deprived mom tries to make it through another day.
Suddenly you find yourself up to your eyeballs in situations you never thought of. Those “I would never” statements become laughable. In those nine months of pregnancy one detail is usually over looked.
Children have minds of their own and are as individual as fingerprints.
My daughter is about to turn four any minute. You can tell by her stretched out, no longer a chubby toddler, appearance. You can hear it in her use of full sentences when she talks. It is also in the slight hint of annoyance in her voice when asked to do something she would rather not do or in the shriek she emits over being told that cookies are not, in fact, a good breakfast choice. It is clear in the never ending questioning and subsequent debate that is the soundtrack of our lives.
It is clear in her yearning to make me happy. It is also clear in her inability to listen to simple requests to use her indoor voice when talking to me from 6 inches away. It is clear in her growing independence.
She has developed her own thoughts and opinions. Some of which are in direct dispute with some of my own. She has challenged me to rethink everything I ever thought I knew about parenting, life, and the world in general.
It is the most amazing and frustrating challenge I have ever accepted.
I try to approach parenting my child the same way I approach my entire life now. I throw away any and all “never” statements and open myself to the possibility that I actually know nothing and am continually learning. I try to stay in the middle of the road, learning from both sides until I reach my destination a better, more balanced person.
The mommy/parenting wars that I see happening online and at the nearest playground all the result of people hanging out on either side of the road, refusing to acknowledge that maybe their neighbor across the street is onto something and knows a thing or two. I know because I have spent my fair share of time on either side of that street before I finally stepped into the middle, tail between my legs.
It happens from trying to parent in black and white when the world is purple, blue, yellow, green, and red. It happens when we assume that there is a right and a wrong way of doing things. It also happens when parents are villainized for not being the serene, calm, gentle parenting poster child.
I try to do the very best I know how to for my daughter. I, just like her, am still, and will forever be, learning. In some ways we are growing together. And just when I think I have the hang of it she will turn over a new developmental milestone and I will have no idea what I am doing again.
I can either hold tight to my “nevers” or I can roll with it, enjoy the ride (yes, even the bumps), and maybe learn a thing or two. But, I have to be open to it.
And that, THAT, is the hardest part.
Saying to myself, and maybe to the friend I bump into at Target, that I was wrong and have no idea what I am doing, is humbling, a tad embarrassing, but also liberating. I realized that I needed to let myself off the hook. I no longer had to try and squeeze myself into a mold that never felt right; that I didn’t have to subscribe to every word of the newest parenting philosophy. That sometimes, in order to be a kinder, gentler parent, you have to start with being kind to yourself.
Also, that parenting styles come and go and they are never, ever, a one size fits all offering.
I will allow myself to fail. I will screw up and feel bad and apologize profusely all while teaching my daughter that Momma is human and humans are beautifully and perfectly imperfect. Perfection is all relative and I am doing my best to be the perfect parent for HER. Something that even this imperfect person can strive for.
She doesn’t need me to parent the way the newest book tells me to. She doesn’t need me to stay on one side of the road any longer, unwilling to hear what the people on the other side are saying or doing. She needs me to look at her, in this moment, and do my best. She needs me to be willing and open to whatever challenges and joys and hardships will come our way.
She needs me to love her the best way I know how. She needs me to be her momma, to parent her in a way that fits her and only her. She needs me to stop bullying myself for my own perceived failures and instead, simply, listen to her.
She needs me to never say, “never.”