Parenting 101


I’ve been asked before how I knew I was ready to be a mom. My answer then and now remains the same….you will never be ready. Sure, you might own a home and have your bills under control, and you might even believe you are “mature” enough to have a baby. That doesn’t mean you’re ready to face the daunting task of being wholly responsible for another person’s entire life, their personality, and the choices they end up making.

We brought our son home in the winter of 1992. He was (and still is) the perfect replica of his father right down to his fingers and toes. We put him in the bassinet we’d borrowed from a friend, then stood over him and looked at one another with wide, terrified eyes and asked, “Now what?”

Indeed.

Those two words, I would soon learn, encompassed an entire life change that I thought we had prepared for. I’d read all the books, talked to numerous friends, and drilled it into my head that I’d never sleep an entire night all the way through again. Suffice it to say, I had certain expectations about being a mother. I did not expect the overwhelming and almost disabling sense of inadequacy that I felt, nor did I expect the sudden bouts of sadness that I endured. I found out after the fact that my ‘baby blues’ were a normal part of those early first days with your infant, but until you experience the whole body sense of despair, you have no idea what real sadness feels like.

Yes, it passed, and rather quickly I’m happy to say. Once I walked out of the fog of despair, I was almost empowered. I’d done this. I’d brought this tiny person into the world. Of course my wonderful hubby had a big part in getting us there, but the delivery….that was me and me alone. I am woman, hear me roar.

Then reality sets in…poop ends up in the strangest places (not on your child, but on you). You’re unmoved by vomit in all its varied forms, and life starts to revolve around schedules and nap times and whether you got any sleep the night before. Sounds awful…right? It is…and yet it’s the best kind of awful in the world. I wouldn’t change one spit-up stain, or one poopy ‘explosion’ in public, for anything.

The good news is that it gets better with child number two. You know what to expect, when to panic (or not), and generally you are much gentler on yourself than when you were trying to be Supermom and thought you could do it all (see my two previous posts on the Supermom phenomenon I experienced). Here’s a bit of advice….you can’t, so get that crazy thought out of your head once and for all. Admitting you need help is NOT a weakness. It’s called being smart.

When our daughter was born in 1996, I asked for help. I didn’t wait for it to be offered….I damn near begged. And you know what? I was so much happier as I recovered and got to know my little girl. The baby blues lasted maybe a day or so. Seeing my son fall in love with his little sister, will always be a memory I cherish above all else.

My kids are “old” now….grown with lives of their own. The sweet baby boy I looked at as a starry-eyed, freaked out, twenty-something mom, is now married. The little girl who charmed us all with her arrival, is a vivacious twenty-one year old college student. Life changes and grows, and if nothing else ever happens to me, I will always be proud of the people my husband and I raised. The two smart, funny, generous, loving individuals are a testament to the time spent raising them. We weren’t the popular parents. We didn’t allow unending hours of television and video games were a taboo subject until the kids were much older. They didn’t get cell phones until junior high, couldn’t get a Facebook account until they turned seventeen, and we have always and will always talk realistically and frankly with them about all subjects.

Our son and his wife came for a visit recently and I was happily reminded that some of our more unpopular choices as parents weren’t so bad after all. We were discussing the lack of actual conversation within families nowadays, and how annoyed we all get to see very young children accessing phones and games and whatnot during the family meal out (yeah, we all know you’re just trying to shut your kid up, so at least admit it). Our son thanked me and his dad, for always, ALWAYS, insisting on our tight-knit family rules. Especially, he pointed out, Mom’s main rule of no cell phones at the dinner table. Yes folks, that one I still enforce (for adults and kids).

I am not a perfect parent and will never state otherwise. I’ve made a host of bad mistakes, learned from them all, but mostly any choices I made as a parent came from the gut. Parenting is equal parts hope, chance, fortitude and humor. You have to be able to laugh at yourself (and occasionally, at your kids as well) in order to survive.

We are very, very close with both of our kids. We know their friends well and as such those friends turn to us when their own parents either aren’t available or simply refuse to listen. I’m perfectly happy with a house full of twenty-somethings….at least I know they are all safe, no one is driving and texting, and we are all looking out for one another.

Parenthood isn’t for everyone, and I fully support those who make the unbearable decision NOT to have kids. It’s not a popular decision by a long shot, and it takes guts to admit that maybe…just maybe…you might not be cut out for parenting. Who knows, maybe your reasons are a bit more selfish (which is totally fine by me), and you simply want to live your life as uncomplicated as possible. I admire folks who can admit having kids is not their forte, and in the same breath I condemn those who feel obligated to have kids simply because that is what’s deemed acceptable. Parenting is work people….you can’t just shove them in front of a screen and expect them to turn out okay.

If I could go back and do it all over again, the only thing I might change….MIGHT change….is the decision to have more kids. Yet, that’s a fairly greedy summation to make, when I’ve been blessed with two healthy kids. But I do have days where I wonder what it would be like to have a brood – four, because both the hubby and I were weird about having kids in odd numbers.

I’m now past the age of having my own kids to looking forward to being a grandparent. I long for the days of spoiling those babies rotten…then sending them home with their parents. Be warned folks….my future grandchildren may be the only thing I’ll brag about more than my books. Hopefully you’ll all understand.

Jackie Kennedy once said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

Smart, smart lady.

-AJ

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