Friday, April 4, 2008

Being a Perfect Parent.. NOT!

So... originally my intention was to find enough time to come on here once a week to write, but like all good relationships, when they start, you just want to spend all your time together.  Now that the spigot has been opened, I'm sleeping even less because all those ideas I've been harboring in my mind are all trying to step up to the plate to be the next entry.  Sheesh!  I really need some sleep!

I once saw Rabbi Harold Kushner, a writer, speak at a college I was attending.  He was discussing the topic of forgiveness, but in the context of this topic, someone brought up parenting and Rabbi Kushner had a response that has stuck with me to this day.  Now... if you think I have the memory to quote it verbatim, then you don't know me very well (and since this is a blog, actually, most of you don't, LOL).  He said that it is important to show your children forgiveness but also yourself forgiveness when being a parent.  That if we never show our children that we accept ourselves as people who make mistakes and who then need to apologize for those mistakes, then we are teaching our children that to be loved you can't be wrong.  What an important message we send with a simple "I'm sorry" to our children when we are wrong so that they know we love them whether they make mistakes or not. 

I now keep that message tucked away in my heart and will do my utmost best to take responsibility for my mistakes and blunders, in front of Ari, as often as possible.  I have apologized for yelling too loud when I got mad, for accidentally whacking her against something when I am carrying her, for bumping into each other, for spilling food, and for taking apart the legos creation she has made without asking permission first.  It is easy for me to find places in my life to show off my mistakes and blunders because I am often a walking accident.  I apologize when I can't keep a promise to her or if something is taking longer than it should.  I make sure she knows that I am about as faulty as they come but that I hope she loves me anyway.  I also always make sure to reiterate to her how much I love her when I make her apologize for hitting, or throwing "the hard stuff", or yelling when I ask her to be quieter.  

The message of not being perfect has sunk in with me so much that when my husband and I were dating, at one point while driving along, I told him that I wanted him to tell me 2 things he didn't like about me.  He looked at me like I was crazy and said "I know this is some kind of test."  I said, I'm a big girl and that I truly wanted him to be honest.  

You see...  I had been in a relationship once where the person put me on a pedestal and I had hated it there.  The person refused to see ME, all of me, and whenever I would do something that didn't suit the perfect picture he had created in his head, there would be an intense argument.  Even when I finally left, this person refused to understand why it wasn't working, why it would never work, or to see me as anyone other than the picture they had in their head.  

Fast forward and we are back in the car with my then boyfriend/now husband and he's trying to come up with 2 acceptable things to say that he doesn't like about me.  He actually did really well.  He didn't like 2 things about me that I didn't know were there.  Which ended up being kind of a funny twist to it.  And here I thought I knew my flaws and, whammo, I've got some new ones.  In the end, I thanked him for being honest and said... I just wanted to make sure you saw me for who I AM and loved me anyway.

So besides apologies and imperfections in what we DO, sometimes it is hard to see our children as people who aren't going to be perfect in who they ARE.  I have never met any perfect person adult or child and I don't plan to.  Ari is a darling who likes to play, to learn, and to laugh (though this one is still new to us, she has always been very serious).  Ari is also extremely headstrong and commanding.  She tells us whose turn it is to sing a song.  If I start singing and she doesn't want it, she will outright say, "NO, It's Daddy's turn!".  She tells us precisely which CD she wants to listen to in the car and on that CD which song.  Sometimes, her commands can be complied with and it's no big deal, but sometimes of course, the parents will be the ones making the decisions and life as we know it must come to an end.  It can get aggravating and even angering.  That's okay, though.  My parents find me aggravating and angering sometimes too.  So does my husband, my friends, and I'm sure if you asked her, Ari would probably say the same thing.  We all have parts of our personalities that make us difficult in one way or another for others to get along with.  It's just another facet of who we are and we take the good perfect pieces of those we love as well as the bad messed up ones.  :)

Unfortunately, we often try to achieve being the perfect parent raising the perfect child fall far short.  I can't have a child who is cuddly but want her to also be independent, or active and happy but want her to be a good sleeper, or cautious and safe but be adventurous and aim big.  So, in some respects, this harkens back to my first post about boxes.  How can you classify any child into only all the boxes that you think are positive.  That isn't going to be fair to them and it surely isn't going to be good for your relationship.  

Guess we're left with loving them for all the wonderfully good and horribly bad things that they are.  A whole person.  Just as we hope they love us too.

To conclude this one I'm going to quote (and by quote, once again I mean paraphrase) one of my favorite teachers growing up, Mr. Hansel.  He had a twenty something daughter at the time if I remember correctly and he said, "I love her dearly, she's my daughter, I just don't like her right now!"  And that's okay!

Little one rushing in!  Gotta go!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Why fit into a box?

I have been thinking a lot about this topic and sometimes thats really bad for my sleep as the thoughts jumble through my head. I figured the only way to get a good nights rest in the future would be to get these thoughts out in writing and share them with those that might be interested in them. After all, what is a blog except a diary you want others to read. :)  

I have recently found that more and more things are coming into perspective for me when I see them through my mother's eyes of what I want for my daughter. What we all really would like for our children but how sometimes the way we have set up the world around us isn't really conducive to us as parents nor to our children as little beings trying to grow up. This is where the box fits in. Has anyone else seen Gattaca with Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawk? It is all about a society where you were either bread to be perfect and fit into this perfect world or you were not and therefore you were less than somehow.  

In our own lives, don't we constantly complain about having to fit a certain body shape, wear certain clothes, have a certain house, have a certain hairstyle, and behave in certain accepted ways? Now... some of these things may be small and good for the benefit of having a cohesive society... for instance it is okay for us all to have to fit into the box of "not murderers" or "doesn't impose rude behavior in the middle of a wedding" or "Isn't walking around fondling themselves". There are lots of these boxes all around us to make us work together and not be in constant opposition so that we can move forward as a society. Where is the line then? There has to be a line. If there isn't, then we truly are not far from the Gattaca scenario of being made into "perfect" beings that all fit one stereotype.  I don't think anyone wants that. So... that elusive line...  

Now that I see the boxes, I can't ignore them. I have to actively decide which ones I am willing to fit into and which ones are imposing instead of helping our society work together. One such box for me as a stay at home mom, which is hard to break free from, is finding value in myself by the "job", as in income-making-work, that I do. I was raised during the time when little girls were taught and cheered on to earn-earn-earn and be the equals of men through their contributions in the work force. I refuse to allow this to define me now and yet there are still days when I look at another blue's clue's, sing another twinkle, twinkle, and basically feel my mind ooze out of my head when I wonder about my value. I couldn't possibly be doing a more important job than raising a child to be an active, contributing member to our society. That is a contribution beyond measure that we do every day. Yet... there is that ingrained in me question of value if there is no income to show for it. Stupid box that it is, it is a hard one to slough off.  

My own personal boxes are really not why this has been going through my head so much. It is our children... my child... that is making me think so much on this issue. Raising our children without a real village around us has made it so most of us don't really know anything about child rearing. When it comes time for us to take the plunge and become parents ourselves the shock of it sends so many of us already dealing with hormone changes into depressions or at the very least baby blues. When we are grasping for some road map on how to proceed we turn to who we feel is qualified to help us... our pediatrician. This is not to knock at pediatricians and actually I quite love Ari's pediatrician, but who are they that they know how to teach us to parent? Yes, many of them, though not all, have been parents. Great, I guess I can just walk up to any stranger with kids hanging on them and start asking my questions. Okay, maybe not. They have medical degrees. Well, now I know who to ask about illness and growth charts and the like, but what does a medical degree have to do with nurturing and loving your particular child. If they told me they had a degree in "Ariel" then I would be happy to have them answer all my questions, but I don't think they offer that at the local college. In the end, they are truly unhelpful, though we do listen to them, in teaching us how to parent.  

What they help us see is flaws mostly, which is really sad. You give birth to this perfect being who is unique and special and has an abundance of personality and gifts and all you hear from the doctor is whether they fit within ALL of the boundaries of an "average" child. One child isn't walking soon enough, another isn't talking soon enough, another isn't eating what they should be by now, another isn't sleeping long enough hours, and while one is overweight, another is underweight (even if both are eating a healthy diet). It's tiring just thinking of trying to fit one poor baby into such a confined stereotype of what a baby should and shouldn't be/be doing. Ari is a bright girl, generally fearless, very funny, and full of life. She is now 27 months old and knows her numbers to 40, counts backwards from 10 to 0, knows all her alphabet in english and hebrew, spells quite a few words with very little help, speaks in long sentences regularly, and climbs things she shouldn't be able to on the playground. She doesn't throw a ball well, catch a ball well, open doors well, eat well, or tell a story (though we are just now improving on this one). She also doesn't really relate all that well with other people. It isn't a socialization thing because she behaves beautifully (if a little authoritative) at the playground with other children, she just doesn't care to talk about or mention other children. I know many children her age who will talk about a friend they saw yesterday or they will ask about a friend of mommies that they see a lot. Ari has no interest in people. She likes them when they're there, but isn't thinking too much about them when they're not. She isn't even scared of people at all. The doorbell rings and she's the first one at the door. She just doesn't give them the time of day once they are gone. I could focus on all her negatives, or I could enjoy all her positives and celebrate the individual that she is and the individual she will grow up to be given the chance.  

We have decided that Ari is so into letters and numbers that we want to probably homeschool her with CAVA (California Virtual Academy). This will give her the opportunity to advance her learning at her rate instead of following a preordained schedule. If the next child we have could care less about numbers and letters but instead is always running around bopping and wiggling her bottom, perhaps her education will be more geared towards a dance magnet school or something.  

Who knows what kind of interesting individual we'll get next time, but I do know I will celebrate the achievements and not let my doctor, government, school system, or anything else tell me that unique being has anything wrong with them for not fitting in. They may be meant to be a rebel who will start an important movement in the future. Who knows? That's the beauty of parenting. It's always a surprise and a revelation if you let it be.  
Well... my little being has woken up and this is already quite the novel.