Last week, I wrote a piece about many ways parents constantly second-guess themselves. I surely missed a lot of examples, which was inevitable; every parent has different anxieties, and every parent questions themselves in different ways.
But no matter the specific details of your insecurities, it all boils down to asking yourself the same thing: Am I a good parent?
I get irritated with my son far too easily.
I’m nearly forty and he’s under five; our energy levels rarely match up, our stress levels never match up. I know this and yet I allow myself to get aggravated far too often. I bark at him too frequently, I lose patience with him too easily, I find myself pawning him off on his mom too much. And I take the easy way out, racing him off to bed after a long day, speeding through the bedtime story, accelerating the nightly snuggle, just to get to that glass of wine and that latest episode and relax.
These are not things a good parent does.
Do I love my son? Of course. Do I have fun with him? Do I provide for him? Do I take care of him? How dare you. I have my good moments – we all have our good moments – but the good moments are easy. And that’s why they don’t count. We all love our kids. You don’t get points for that.
As a parent, you’re only as good as your worst moments. It’s the bad moments that impact you. It’s the bad moments that make you question yourself and make you try harder. It’s the bad moments that make you a better parent, because it’s the bad moments that you worry your kids will remember, and, of course, it’s the bad moments that they always do.
The quality of your parenting is reflected in your children’s behavior. That’s your gauge; that’s the only way you can tell how you’re doing. And when you see your kids adopting your bad behavior, when you realize they’ve absorbed and internalized you at your worst, that’s when you just know you’re not a good parent. (You also know when they start wanting to be Darth Vader.)
I see my son get easily frustrated; I hear him say something cold and sarcastic; I watch him lose patience and raise his voice, I witness him snap at Mom and Buried or Uncle and Buried without provocation, and I know he’s learned it from watching me. And I know I’m not doing a good job.
I see his good qualities too. His easy laugh. His eagerness to involve others. His intense curiosity and impressive ability to see through bullshit. When he says something funny and sarcastic. I attribute most of those to his Mom, but I like to think I’m responsible for some (mostly the sarcasm). And I do have the occasional hot streak. I’ll go stretches when I’m patient and caring and compassionate and helpful and understanding and firm without being shrill and everything is hunky dory.
Then I’ll have that one slip-up and I’m back to zero again. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s soul-sucking. It’s Sisyphus. Every day. Thankfully, you do get points for trying.
Because when all is said and done, being a good parent isn’t about throwing a perfect game. Or about some unattainable, abstract standard of “good.” It’s only about being good enough. For your kids. For your family. For your conscience.
Parenting isn’t about eliminating the bad moments, it’s about reducing them. It’s about recognizing and moving past them. It’s about getting back under that boulder and pushing it up the hill again. Every day.
Am I good parent? No. But that’s a good thing.
I’m not satisfied with my performance as a father, and I hope I never am.