Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Hardest Job Ever Judged

There are countless articles that talk about the competitive sport that is parenting. I try not to read them because they generally piss me off, but I've read enough to know that judging and shaming parenting styles is a perversion that isn't going anywhere any time soon.

Personally, I admit to comparing myself to other mothers all the time. I see their posts on Facebook about how they woke up before the sun to make their kids pancakes using organic flour they milled themselves, served from the cow they raised and milked to make sure their kids don't ingest growth hormones. It makes me feel a little guilty for grabbing a bagel and apple for my kid as we fly out the door. It's admirable to spend every waking moment catering to little ones in hopes that they will never lack for anything, but I am not that kind of mom. I am probably the opposite. It makes me proud when my kid works for what she wants. That doesn't mean her needs aren't being met, or that she's not privileged in many ways. She lacks for nothing and has a ton of crap she doesn't need. She's been on more vacations than most adults I know. She's visited more cities than my mother. Her closet rivals my own. But, I constantly tell her no, veto her requests, draw the line at certain luxuries, and make sure that she is aware of her privilege. My fear is that I will raise a self-centered asshole, and the world has plenty already. I don't want to add to that population. 

Parenthood wasn't really my choice. My kid came into my life and it seemed like God was telling me to take on a challenge I had never envisioned for myself. My entire life I knew that I did not want to be a mother. I never felt the urging of my uterus or the tick-tock of a biological clock. Incubating another human inside me was never on my bucket list. 

Don't get me wrong, I adore my daughter, and am forever thankful that she is mine. I just never wanted to be responsible for a child of my own. But, life has a way of taking what you think you know about yourself and turning it on its head and therefore, I became a mom. 

My kid is pretty great, as many people tell me. The problem is, I have super high expectations and it takes a lot for me to see the greatness that others see in her. It is a blessing and a curse.

It is a blessing because I firmly believe that people produce what you expect. If you expect nothing, you get nothing. But, if you believe that a person has amazing capabilities and you hold them to those standards, chances are that they will read that vibe from you, appreciate that you think so highly of them, and do what it takes to meet your expectations. That is what I want for her. I want her to lead an amazing life. I want her to be kind to others and put them first as often as possible. I want her to be a leader among followers. I hope that she develops compassion and gumption, and I let her know this as often as I can. It usually comes on the heels of reminding her that actions have consequences, and that having a choice is one of the most important freedoms we have, and we should not take that lightly. 

It is a curse because I don't fit the mold in this day of "all positive, all the time" parenting. It seems like it's not enough to enroll your kid in the best school you can afford. Today parents brag about non-traditional curriculums and home schooling. You used to be doing good by your kids if you got them the latest video game for their birthday or Christmas. Now the kids and their peers expect you to stand in ridiculous lines to buy them the latest gadgets and games the day they come out. Allowances used to be earned and now my kid tells me that her friends get $20 a week because they "need it". What ten year old "needs" an income? Of course my kid wants money, too so I told her she can earn it by doing at least one chore per day. I made it clear that she will still be expected to help around the house for free because we're a team and that's what it takes to keep a household running. She didn't like it but she didn't argue too much, either, which made me proud that her feelings of entitlement are in check. But, it's another example of how my expectation differs from other parents. My daughter lives in my house as much as I do. I don't see why I shouldn't expect that she take responsibility for her home. It's not like I'm expecting her to bust out the snow blower and clear the driveway after ten inches of snow, but if the trash needs to be taken out, the dog fed and the bathroom cleaned, there's no reason she can't be expected to take care of it, without expecting something from me in return.

Most of the time, I feel like I'm at a loss for being the kind of mother she doesn't fantasize about shanking. I don't believe that children and parents should be friends. I tell her all the time that I am not her friend, I am her mother and the difference is that I take responsibility for her future. That also means that most of the time, I am the "mean" mom in the group. I don't coddle, I set firm rules and I make sure to have a life outside of being a mother. There are moms who dedicate all their time outside of work to being with their kids. They don't believe in babysitters or Ladies' Night Out. They take their kids to adult restaurants even though their kids are prone to tantrums. They assume that their kid is invited anywhere they are, and when that isn't the case, they are offended. I am so far from that parenting style that it boggles my mind how women can do that. In my heart, I don't believe them when they say that being a mother is all they need out of life. We are exquisitely made with talents, needs, and dreams. I don't see how one aspect of life can fulfill all that we were crafted to be. But, perhaps this is just one of my many flaws.

I'm sure I have lost people in my life over this opinion. In fact, I know that I have because there are people I was close to before motherhood showed us how different we were in our approach, and we've been distant ever since. Becoming a mother has tested my limits not only in taking care of another person, but also in what I can tolerate from the adults around me. I gravitate towards other mothers who believe in mother/child vs. child/friend relationships. They share in my view of the importance of carving out a life for themselves outside of being a mother. It's sad how many times I have felt judged by other mothers for making time for myself. Mothers who can't understand why I would want to go on vacation without my daughter, or who make snide comments about my allowing my daughter to attend sleep overs so I can have a night to myself. At times, those reactions make me feel like the worse mother on the planet. But then I take a step back and remind myself that:
  1. I am doing what is best for me and my child, which no one else on earth is responsible for.
  2. My child isn't the one complaining or expressing a need that I am not fulfilling.
  3. Motherhood is constant work and there are no rules for how to do it right.
  4. There are no guarantees that no matter what we do we will raise productive members of society who are kind-hearted, good people.
  5. I do a ton for my kid and she has a good life, even if I don't cater to her whims, or give her the false impression that she is more valuable than any other human, myself included.
Sticking to my parenting beliefs isn't easy. They are mostly outdated and unpopular with the "be their friend" parenting models so prominent these days. They are also a work in progress, as am I. It's sad that as so many of us embark on the hardest job in the world, so many choose to critique the efforts of others, instead of encouraging those who are trying at this parenting thing. No one has a definitive formula for getting it right, so all we can do is resolve to make an effort every day and leave the discernment for jury duty.

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