I’m not the parent I thought I’d be. I had big plans, big plans before having kids. I was going to be endlessly patient, I wasn’t ever going to yell. I wouldn’t swear under my breath (on a good day). My kids would be HAPPY. They would be well adjusted, content. Polite, confident. Neat. Clean. My kids were going to be living proof that I was a good parent.
Because somewhere along the line, I totally got the message that good parents have good kids. And kids who have problems have bad parents. I don’t know where — it’s not even something I intellectually believe. But on some level that I can’t quite access and certainly can’t consciously change — I believe that if I was a better parent, my kids would never have any problems. They’d never cry or throw temper tantrums. They’d never be rude, or get a bad grade, or walk around with hair looks like it was brushed some time last week (I brushed it earlier, I SWEAR).
It doesn’t work that way. I hope it doesn’t work that way, but maybe I’m just trying to convince myself of that. Kids are who they are from the moment they’re born. I can look at all three of my kids, and trace back their dominant personality traits right back to their first days. And I wouldn’t change them, even if I could. Because their hardest struggles go hand in hand with my favorite things about them.
I love these three so much — and I fail them all the time. Because I’m not the parent I hoped I’d be. I yell. A lot. I forget to give them chores and then complain because they don’t help out around the house. I alternate between giving them too much responsibility and then forgetting that they’re old enough to zip their own coat. I nurture more than I should and try to tough it out when I shouldn’t. Should’ve, could’ve — isn’t that the mother’s mantra? Because looking back, I can see so many ways that I could have done better.
And I’m not even close to done with this parenting thing. I’m a good fifteen years away from my youngest turning 18 — and after eleven years of being a mother, the one thing I’m certain of is that none of us are really good at this. All of us screw it up, over and over again — and the worst part is that we don’t even know we’re doing it. So many times, we think we’re doing the right thing, and we’re not. We can read all the books (and believe me, I’ve read ALL the books) and listen to all the advice, and at the end of the day, none of us know what we’re doing.
This sounds like a vaguely depressed post, but I’m not depressed. Because I think, now, that this is what it’s supposed to be. Think about it: how many of us know how to love someone? Even with my husband, I screw up the whole “devoted wife” thing a lot. Being a partner doesn’t come easy to me, and I get aggravated and impatient and frustrated when I should be more open and communicative and responsive. And we’ve got a really strong, happy marriage. Despite the failures.
In the end, we’re going to fail. All the time. As parents, as spouses. As daughters and sisters and friends. I’m nowhere near as good at this as I’d like to be. But I want to be, and I guess that’s why I’m still vaguely optimistic. Because I’m a better mother today than I was yesterday. I know a lot more now, as a mom with eleven years of experience, than I did as a girl with only a day or two. Even when I fail my kids, which I’ve done in the past, and I’m sure I will in the future, I still love them with all that I am. And if my kids remember that — if they learn that even when I was failing, I was still loving them and trying so hard to give them the best start, then maybe the failures won’t matter as much.