On Tuesday I read a great post on Baltimore Magazine’s “Learning to Crawl” parenting blog. It’s essentially a confession from a father that he is a terrible parent.
The post is largely facetious, but only because it’s written by a man who has been a parent for five years now. Had it been written by the same man prior to his son’s birth, I imagine it would have been a lot more serious. Because before he’d actually had the kid, the guy didn’t know what he was talking about.
The post is really about the futility of parenting decisions that are made in a vacuum. Kids aren’t lab rats; in fact, it doesn’t take long for us new parents to realize that we’re the lab rats. We’re the ones being tested. And, as the post enumerates, we’re the ones that are constantly failing.
Only not really.
I’d like to say that the only way to measure a parent’s success is by the end result of the child, but such a “the ends justify the means” mentality allows far too much leeway for objectively bad (read: abusive) parenting. But given that so much of raising a kid is a combination of guesswork, trial & error and blind luck, I think it’s somewhat acceptable to say, within reason, that if your children grow up to be decent, relatively well-adjusted members of society, then you probably did a pretty good job.
There are a million schools of thought on how to best raise a kid, and a million more on how you might damage one. Most well-meaning parents, like the gentleman in the blog I referenced above, start out with a game plan: a perfectly plotted roadmap designed to develop the best possible human being by avoiding mistakes and doing everything right. Unfortunately, most of the stuff in that roadmap is at worst superficial and meaningless and at best 100% uncontrollable.
Half the stuff in the “Learning to Crawl” blog’s list of broken rules is on my list too: no TV, no bad music, no bad food. It’s fun to imagine all the ways you’re going to do things differently, do things perfectly, when you are first starting out as a parent. But soon enough being a parent stops being speculation and starts being your life. And sometimes life is all about surviving.
The fact is, rules were made to be broken, even ones that seem to make perfect sense. Because when you need some time to yourself, or need the kid to eat something, ANYTHING, or want to put a smile on your son’s face, or need to prepare a child for the forthcoming gender wars, you find yourself having to bend your rules a bit.
Doing so doesn’t make you a bad parent. It makes you a normal fucking person. Rules for behavior always seem great in theory, but when you’re faced with the actual existence of a unique person with his or her own personality traits, more often than not those rules end up being total bullshit. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Most people understand this. But, like with every aspect of life, some people are judgmental assholes.
One of the most irritating aspects of being a parent is all the other parents. They love to judge when you admit you let your kid watch TV once in a while, or that his favorite food is french fries, or that he plays with plastic toys. Remember how annoying it was when you were a kid and your parents lorded over you with their “experience” and their “authority?” Always pretending they knew best, like they had all the answers in some magical answer book? And you figured that one day, when you “became” an adult, you’d inherit the magical book with all the answers too.
Well, once most people get a little older, they realize that parents are only people too, fumbling around trying to do their best, without a blueprint. Except those Other Parents. They not only think that there is a magical answer book, they think they wrote it. But when it comes to parenting, there’s no such thing as “answers,” there’s only what works for you, what works for your unique household and your unique kids, and doing what you need to do to raise them the best way you can. And that’s what makes that blog post stand out. In a sea of Other Parents pretending they know better than everyone else, it doesn’t pretend anything. It’s just realistic and honest and true.
One of the keys to being a good parent, and to being a good person, is understanding how little you don’t know (which is why teenagers are so unbearable; they haven’t figured that out yet). There’s knowing more and there’s knowing different but there’s very little knowing “best”; and, when your parents told you that they did – unless you were convinced the earth was flat – they were only doing what all parents do: improvising and bluffing.
Everyone is making everything up on the fly, parents especially, and if that means tossing out some early assumptions and violating some early rules you put in place, so be it. It’s called learning and adapting.
The minute anyone thinks they are done doing either of those things is the minute you should be done with them.