I’ve been a parent for just about three years (though I haven’t felt like one for that long). I repeatedly admit my total lack of parenting know-how, partially because there is no one right way to parent, partially because I have no idea what I’m doing.
And yet people keep asking me what to do.
Not on my advice page, unfortunately, but in real life.
Later, my mom asked me if it was okay for Detective Munch to watch a TV show. “He hasn’t watched any today, right? So, as long as it’s not The Wire, go for it.”
Like I said up top, I’m no expert. None of us are. And yet I’m granted this authority over my child, like I have any idea what’s best for him. Sure, I have my ideas about how he should be raised: a Red Sox fan, a Dolphins fan, a music fan, a chocolate lover, a kind and thoughtful person, someone who sees the movie BEFORE reading the book, etc. But beyond that superficial stuff, I’m just figuring it out as I go, undoubtedly getting it wrong left and right.
I get some lucky broad pregnant and all of a sudden I’m an authority figure? All of a sudden I control some tiny person’s life? And now my friends, and my brothers, and my parents – who have a hell of a lot more parenting experience than I do – and other people are always asking me if my son is allowed to do something or have something, as if I have any clue!
It makes sense on a certain level, since he’s my son, and I own him. He’s my property. The last thing someone wants to do is damage another person’s property. So people check the instructions (me) before using it (my child) inappropriately (giving him a Yankees hat).
(Calm down. I don’t really believe that I own my kid. It’s just shorthand for the concept the I basically do. No, you can’t own another human being (anymore) and the very suggestion is insensitive to huge swaths of people – the majority of whom are very prolific commenters on the Huffington Post – to even joke about that. Besides, if there is any kind of master-slave relationship between parents and kids, we parents are the slaves. Let’s get real.)
Incendiary semantics aside, the point stands. No one wants to be responsible for hurting someone else’s kids or undermining someone else’s parenting. There are so many variables to raising children, and no one truly knows how those variables rank in terms of importance and impact, that it’s entirely possible that your friend’s offhand decision to expose your kid to pretzel Goldfish when he’s previously only had cheddar could result in him growing up to becoming a paint-huffing polygamist. You just never know. And so parents are the only ones allowed to have that kind of power and influence.
(Well, parents and teachers and television and video games and Joe Camel and Miley Cyrus and 2 Live Crew and that tough-looking kid at school your son starts hanging out with who kind of has a mustache and talks about Chinese stars all the time. Oh, and Marilyn Manson. But mostly parents. At least until middle school.)
One of the challenges of being a parent is accepting this huge responsibility that you’re pretty sure you haven’t earned and are positive you don’t deserve. You often feel like a fraud, and that might cause you to buck against or even reject your role. But you can’t. The stakes are too high. Rest assured, no one starts out as a great parent. Everyone feels like a fraud for a bit. It’s a ridiculous responsibility, being in charge of another life, with no guidebook, and there’s no way to be prepared for it.
All you can do is fake it. That’s what every parent does. Once you figure that out, and once you unlock the true secret – that your parents were faking it too – it’s a load off. It’s scary, realizing how lucky you were to turn out even slightly okay, but it’s also liberating.
We’re all faking it, we all know it, and it doesn’t matter.
All that matters is that our kids believe it.