I met a friend for coffee the other night, our first face-to-face get together outside of a group setting and the first social event I’d arranged for myself since moving to Pittsburgh. We sat with our decaffeinated beverages in a Starbucks near my house and chatted about marriage and mothers and, eventually, parenthood.
“I feel like I’m getting it wrong,” she confessed. “I worry that I’m messing them up.”
I remembered when Devin was two and I’d called my mom crying, certain that his daycare biting incidents were early signs of homicidal tendencies. “He’s only two and I’ve already ruined him!”
I looked across the shaky wooden table at my friend and recalled clearly the fear and the guilt that comes from getting parenting wrong. And then I realized the strangest thing: those were feelings from my parenting past.
“It doesn’t really matter what you do,” I told her. “Good parents raise kids who do bad things and bad parents raise kids who do good things. We really don’t have much control over how our kids ‘turn out.’”
The fear on her face gave way to a mixture of panic and disbelief. I understood that, too. It’s terrifying, at first, to think that you can’t keep your kids on a predetermined path, to realize that they will wander under their own power long before they even move out of your house.
I wasn’t making my friend feel any better, in other words.
“I’m obviously not an expert,” I said. “I’ve just been doing this long enough to be tired.”
It was half true. I’m by no means a parenting expert – and I’m suspicious of anyone who claims to be – even though I have been doing this for a little bit longer than she has. But I’m not at all tired of parenting. Sure, I get tired of hearing the bickering between siblings and of issuing the exact same reminders to brush your teeth, comb your hair, clear your plate. But I actually love this stage of parenthood.
I’m not afraid of parenthood anymore.
I’m not constantly seeking affirmation in the media or from my friends about my parenting style. I’m not spending my waking-but-supposed-to-be-sleeping hours trying to figure out how to get my kids to do or not do something (except brush their teeth without being reminded.) I’m still apprehensive about the teenage years, which seem to be barreling towards my household much faster than I’d prefer, but I’m not concerned about doing it right or wrong.
I hardly ever think about what someone else thinks about my parenting.
I don’t agonize over which values I’ll instill in my children and which ones I’ll leave them to figure out on their own.
I’m not usually afraid that I’m leaving permanent scars on them with every interaction (although I can vividly recall the last time I said something incredibly stupid and thoughtless to one of my kids, and the memory twists my heart.)
I love the crap out of my kids, and I know that they know that.
I could tell you, if you were curious enough to ask, what values I’m working on sharing with them.
I know that I’m doing my best.
I’m hopeful that will be good enough.
I’m grateful to have Jared to share the blame with if it’s not.
It was the strangest thing to realize in that coffeehouse that I’ve finally come into my own as a mother. It’s like waking up one day and realizing that you’ve stopped accidentally writing your maiden name on your checks.
I’ve spent so much time and so many words on my parenting fears. I’ve bonded with other women over the shared certainty that we weren’t living up to our own standards. I’ve laughed and cried and recounted at length the trials and outright failures of my motherhood.
But not that night. And not today.
I know that nothing lasts forever and there’s no such thing as “smooth sailing from here on out.” But still, it’s a pretty cool thing to stop and take note when an awkward, anxiety-riddled stage has finally passed. It’s nice to take a mental picture of myself in this confident phase; I’ll tuck it away for the first time I find out one of my kids had sex or cheated on a test.
Today, I am a good mother, and I know it.
That, as much as the days when I think I’m getting it wrong, is worth remembering.