Perfect Parenting

No one prepared me for children.  I did think that after a full 10 years of infertility, praying and essentially begging God for them, that I was ready.  I read every manual, handbook, and website I came across that concerned child rearing.  I spoke with other mothers as if I had real knowledge about all things childhood.  I pitied them in both their successful and futile efforts of parenting their kids.  Pitied their success because surely, it was dumb luck that got the results, as they did not do what I would have done according to the all knowing book writers.  Pitied their failures because their first mistake was to *not* ask me for advice.  They just did not know the expert that I was, and could not be, because of our misfortune to be unable to reproduce our own offspring.

Then I picked up my first baby.  A 10 month old bouncing baby boy, whose birthmother, in a moment of wisdom mingled with desperation, grief, and despair, placed him for adoption.  As I took this child in my arms I imagined I could feel her loss and felt so sorry that I was gaining from her pain.  But, this was the baby I dreamed of and I was going to do this parenting thing perfectly.
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We took our baby home, put together his “Nursery in a Box”, while he watched on from a high chair, and began our foray into the world of parenting.  At this point in time, my only “real life” experience with parenting consisted of the afore mentioned books, and my year and a half of being a foster parent.  The foster parenting experience did lend itself to increasing my knowledge of parenting, but I was parenting the way that the State of Tennessee told me to.  There is a remarkable difference.  I did not feel the weight of responsibility, the burden that knowing that, yes you can screw you child up for the rest of their life, and that only after years of therapy and multiple Oprah appearances can they ever be “normal” or “happy.”  I just did what I felt was right in my heart. For me this consisted of me constantly carrying the 1 year old girl, that I currently had courtesy of the state, around on my hip.  I did not worry that I was going to spoil her, did not worry that she was going to expect to be treated like a princess at 12, and did not worry about anything I had read in a book.  I just did what felt “natural”, within the boundaries the state of Tennessee set for me as her foster mother.  (I probably would have even tried to lactate and feed her breastmilk, but the state would have certainly frowned on that.)
My son did not receive that luxury.  He was loved and deeply cherished. But I felt the responsibility for him to “turn out right” to not “spoil” him and to “do it right.”  I did not do what came naturally for me, which looks more like attachment parenting.  I let him “cry it out”, put him to sleep and fed him at the appointed times.  I did not hold him all the time, even though I was desperate to do so.  I refused to let whine or fuss about things.  I confess, I was hard on him.

Then, I got pregnant.  This is where some may think, “That always happens when someone adopts.”  Let me assure you, it doesn’t always happen, and as a matter of fact, rarely happens.  When you say this, it also cheapens adoption, it insinuates that adoption was a means to an end, suggests that we only adopted to achieve pregnancy.  That is certainly not the case.  Anyway, I was fully aware during my pregnancy, that this was probably the only time that I would ever be pregnant, the only other baby I would ever have, and I threw the idea of perfection out the window.  I was going to enjoy it, darn it.  I chose to live every moment of my pregnancy (save the 40th week) in joy and satisfaction.  I knew that there were no guarantees that I would actually bring a baby home (my sister says I was jaded). So, I had pregnancy pictures taken, I took pictures of my pregnant self every week, talked about being pregnant to the point, I may have run off a few friends, and just generally lived in a constant state of gratitude.

I delighted in every ultrasound, cried every time we got to hear the heartbeat, and reveled in the attention and glory that pregnancy bestows on otherwise boring and plain women.  I bought an entire wardrobe of maternity clothes, started wearing them almost immediately and perfected the pregnancy waddle very early on.  Even though pregnancy was extraodinarily hard on my 30+ year old body, I relished the experience. 
Then, I brought home the baby.
I knew from seeing the differences in the my son and my foster daughter, in terms of confidence, security, our bond, and general disposition, that I had indeed failed my son miserably.  I had already been moving to rectify the errors my perfectionist ways had caused, and was working on bonding more with my son.  I know enough to continue repeating bad ideas, and knew that the way I parented my daughter was a far better “fit” for me.  Besides, I could not have put this new baby down, even if I wanted to, which I didn’t.  I did not worry about spoiling her, I was just so GRATEFUL that she was here, that I determined to live every day in the gratefulness that I had.  I put aside the desire to do everything “right” and decided to do what I felt my God & my heart told me to do.

Kids have this habit about them.  They all grow and change, and you as a parent have to grow and change.  That first little girl I mentioned, has an older sister.  She is now 11.  She is one of the girliest girls you will ever meet. 
The other day I walked by the bathroom and smelled singed hair and sweat, I glanced in and my beautiful preteen was trying to flat iron her very kinky curly hair into straightened submission.  I tried to give her instruction on the “proper way” but she is determined that her way is best.  She popped out of the bathroom for a quick break from torturing fixing her hair, and asked, “Hey Mom? Can I get my eyebrows waxed?” I think her eyebrows are beautiful.  My first response was to laugh hysterically and say no, I can’t even get my OWN brows waxed, but I did not.  I took a deep breath, reminded myself that she was getting bigger and told her that I would pluck them for her.  After answering her questions about the procedure and assuring her that ripping your eyebrow hairs out by their roots did, in fact, hurt like.. Well, that, she declined.  She then asked about having a new face.  She is obviously beautiful, so why in the world does she want a new face?  She said that she wanted to look like the model on the front of the make up book.  The model has the perfect, botoxed to frozeness, look of serene happiness on her face.  So, I see in my daughter the desire to be what she considers perfect, and I want to hold on to her as tightly as I can and keep her from a quest that will be never ending.  I want her to know that she is perfect the way she is, and when she accepts that, she will find a level of peace that not many others can say they have.
I ended up adopting the little baby girl and her older sister.  Now I am the proud parent of 4 of the most beautiful children you have ever laid eyes on.   I want to live in peace about the way I parent. I don’t want to feel resentful of my kids or their demands on me because I am their mother and I am defined by that and that is okay.  I will never achieve an award from Parents magazine for being the perfect parent, for coming up with the newest discipline technique that “really works”, or have kids that always behave and make the right choices. Above all, I have to do what I feel is best for my children and live in peace with that.
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Kimmer said...

A great post. Love the reflection and as always your honesty in how you present your life :)

Anna said...

I LOVE your pictures! I tried the CIO stuff too. I only lasted three weeks before I found myself as a co-sleeping, baby wearing mama.

I also monitor very carefully what my girls see. Brianna has started becoming very vain about her appearance and it really gets to me that at 7 she is already worried about reaching the world's idea of perfection.

Your children are beautiful and are oh, so lucky to have such a mommy as you.

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