Thursday, January 6, 2011

Why I am not as fabulous a parent as my blog suggests (and why that's OK)

I wrote this post draft, in its entirety, in July. I then started thinking about it even more and wasn't sure it was truthful enough. I wanted to add further ways I screw up, so I put off posting it. Also, it's hard. It's hard to tear down the veneer that writing from behind a computer gives — and yet, it's such a necessary process. Necessary for the readers, and necessary for the author. I try to be honest as I write, but sometimes I think it gets glossed over. I mentioned my recent breakdown over nighttime sleep related to our changes in nursing, but I'm not sure if people really experience it the way it happened — the fear and the yelling and the meanness and the overreacting. Here is a post to say it again: I am not a perfect parent. And also: Oh, well.

We went to an outdoor concert (ZooTunes at the Woodland Park Zoo, to see Great Big Sea, an awesome Celtic band from Newfoundland, if you're interested in the deets) with Mikko this past week, and it was much more successful than our latest indoor movie attempt.

With the exception of the first ten minutes, wherein Mikko screamed non-stop for some odd reason.

No, I know the reason; I just can hardly take it in.

Sam had packed us a lovely picnic, using our new Easy Lunch Box that I won, which has (BPA-free) plastic containers with three compartments and a lid. To save on space, Sam combined some like items in some of the compartments.

What a terrible idea, thought the three-year-old, who promptly began screaming — screaming — that the bunnies and the chips were touching.

We had come late anyway, and kind of shoehorned our way in between several other families on blankets, so we were feeling a little … obvious.

And a woman nearby caught my eye as I was trying so very hard not to do any such thing, and she smiled, cuddling her own daughter on her lap. And I felt better. Because: We've all been there. Sometimes your child starts off a concert by hollering at the top of his lungs, and it is what it is.

She kept looking at me, through sidelong glances, and I kept looking at her, equally covertly. I noticed she had an ERGO and her hair was a stylish but easy-going short crop. She looked like my kind of people.

I started having these flashes of (egotistical?) panic that perhaps she had seen Mikko's pictures on my blog and was trying to place us. Perhaps she was wondering how a parenting blogger could have a child who screamed so very much.

Despite the fact that I knew it was a bajillion-to-one chance she'd ever stumbled across my blog, it started me thinking about how glad I am not to be attending BlogHer yet and bringing my real self into contact with my virtual friends. Particularly if they see me parenting at the same time. Because maybe it would blow my cover.

Sam always seems particularly unimpressed by my parenting. He likes to make fun of me for losing my temper so easily, and he's been known to warn Mikko, half- (and only half-) jokingly that I can't be trusted alone with him right now.

I guess when people know you in real life, behind the mask and seeing all the warts and wrinkles and internal yuckiness, that they don't so much buy into the blogger mystique that writers somewhat inescapably build along with their words. In some ways, you think more highly of your partner than anyone else does — but in others, you see most clearly, and therefore approach with the least degree of worship. There are no secrets, and the failures leave a lasting memory.

I've been thinking about this a lot recently, so wouldn't you know, other bloggers have, too?

Witness Arwyn at Raising My Boychick:

Yes, our parenting choices matter. No, not "anything goes." Yes, kids deserve so much, and no, a lot of kids aren't getting what they need. But who can possibly sustain a Very Best Effort at every moment for at least 18 years? I'd say no one can. I surely can't.

Witness Kelly Hogaboom:

I write because I'm sorting through this stuff – me. It's my journey. I am not putting down parents. I am a parent! I am doing this work! I am failing, daily, in eschewing limited and harmful practices! …

But I am in the position to improve and to do better; to resist the passed-down traditional tropes most people I know adhere to. … Mistakes don’t concern me; we all make them. It's the traditional parenting schemas that I question and analyze … .

I recommend reading both those pieces in their entirety, but for now, that second part of the Kelly Hogaboom quote — that is what my blogging is. I'm questioning the established culture's ways of parenting and looking at children. I'm questioning my own ingrained hard-heartedness and immaturity. I'm questioning my own current screw-ups, of smaller or greater proportions.

And if you want to read about a screw-up in detail, click on over and read my comment on Kelly's post, and weep for me. I will repost it here so you don't miss the horror:

I appreciate, also, your clarification in the comments that sometimes what you say isn’t the point; it’s how monstrous you are. I had an incident the other day that still makes me ashamed of myself. There was a supermarket meltdown, and I won’t even try to figure out who or what was at fault there, if there is a scapegoat in all of it. The result was a kiddo screaming at the top of his lungs, me rushing through the shopping with gritted teeth, refusing to make eye contact with the other shoppers, and then we had a car ride home wherein my child screeched at me to listen to him and I just as obstinately refused to answer (because I’m soooo mature sometimes).

Ok, that part’s bad enough, but when we got home, he asked where his ballet shoes were. We had bought new ballet shoes that day in anticipation of starting dance classes, and he was so proud and happy with them that he’d carried them into the store. I said, quite factually and so meanly, “You left them in the cart.” Because it was true. He had, and I had had to remember them there and pick them up and put them in the car to take home, all of which I had done. But I wanted him to feel bad, and the result was all my monster self could have hoped: instant, sorrowful wailing. Because, clearly, I was saying that to imply his shoes were lost forever because he was bad. I had to rush to make it up to him and produce the shoes ("no, no, don’t worry, they’re here"), but wow — what a jerk I was. I can’t see his adorable little black slippers now without feeling a twinge of guilt.

Sorry to use you as therapy. Apparently I had to get that off my chest.

I just think you’ve really hit the nail on the head when you say you write (as one of the reasons) to resist the traditional schemas and suggest new ones. That’s what I try to do, in myself, each day, and my writing is an offshoot of that. I fail (boy howdy, do I fail), but the putting forward of better ideas — within my own family, within myself, and then out to others — seems like good work. And as you say, I like the results so far. I like who my child is; I like who I am (and who I’m becoming). One reason I so enjoy reading your posts is because of the way you challenge the accepted ways of looking at children and parenting. Changing how we parent ideally starts with changing how we think about parenting and about children and about what is necessary and right. Or at least, so it seems to me as I try to navigate it all.

When I say, don't berate your children into performing some script of manners, I'm reminding myself what it means to be respectful toward my child. When I enthuse about finding the right attitude toward night waking, it's true in the moment and yet also a reminder for me the next time I heave a big sigh on hearing my child awake when I'm trying to relax. When I speak about gentle and child-honoring ways to discipline, I am trying to heal from my own experiences of discipline as a child and not revisit my deep-seated — and, yes, theological — misapprehension of sin and punishment on my own child.

When I write, I feel like I write maybe too prescriptively, and as if I have this all figured out — and, more, as if I actually fulfill all of this all the time. And I don't! I don't. I'm trying, and I keep trying harder, but I'm not there yet.

It's how I can co-host a carnival on healthful food choices and then run two cooking posts about Muddy Buddies and french fries. Because: We're still in process. I'm still in process, and I'm going to guess you are, too.

And I wish I were better than I am, but I'm not, not yet. Maybe not ever. The wishing is part of the growth, but even if it's all there ever is, that's OK, too. We're trying.

Not our very hardest all the time (heaven knows), but we're trying.

I'm trying.

So if you were sitting next to me at ZooTunes, snuggling your little girl, and you wondered about the kid with the curly hair who was screaming something about bunnies and you thought to yourself, "What kind of parent is that?"

Well, now you know. An imperfect parent, with an imperfect child, but we're both pretty good, too.

I'm not alone in this, am I? How do you hide your parenting imperfections or feel you should?

With props to Futurama for the title.


Unknown said...

An amazing post! Thank you for sharing. You've enriched my life and given me a moment to really think about being a parent.

I may link back to this post in one of my own later this month. I'll send you the link if I do. :)

Marita said...

A brilliant and so truthful post. Thank you Lauren.

I'm currently being a not very good parent, ignoring both my children while they spend the entire day watching TV and I comment on blogs. Its just that they haven't been well and when the TV is on they don't fight with each other and I'm so very over the bickering. They were starting to argue so much I found myself yelling at them before I'd even had a chance to assess the situation.

So today I made the decision to just let it all go, to let myself escape into the internet and them into the TV. Tomorrow will be another day.

Nadia said...

I have to admit that I was one of those sillies that read other peoples posts and felt completely overwhelmed because I wasn't living up to being " that kind of mom" . You know, that wonderful AP mom that never yells, and always has fun arts and crafts for her kids to do, and never puts the TV on and... You know, the perfect mom, the one that doesn't exist! .

Then I realized that I was making things worse. The more I felt I needed to be perfect, the worse I got. Posts like this one are not only therapeutic to read, they are NEEDED to keep us sane! It is crucial that moms share all of their experiences - both good and bad. How else can we help each other grow? I can't live up to an unrealistic ideal of the perfect mom. I do the best I can and when I don't I apologize and know that tomorrow is a new day. I will try to do better.

Thanks for this, I needed to read this tonight ;)

Momma Jorje said...

It must be something in the season because I was coming home to write a very similar post of my own this evening. I haven't quite tackled it yet.

When I first started reading your blog, I remember thinking you were sooo perfect. You've mentioned your own imperfections from time to time and I do so appreciate them.

Thank you for being brave and baring your ugly parent side for all of us to read with the rest of the content. I'm glad you can (mostly) forgive yourself. We can only do the best we can do.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday. Target. Arora was lying on the floor blocking a whole isle. She had been pretending to be a snake and had mostly been following close enough to me that I didn't really care. Then another mom wanted to get down the isle she was blocking. I beckoned to Arora to move. She didn't. Then the other mom gave me the eye. The "I don't approve of your parenting skills and your kids are going to end up in jail" look.
I was immediately embarrassed and defensive. I shouted, loudly for Arora to get up and move right now. She looked at me and started saying "I am bad" over and over. Ouch. That hurt me way worse then the lady who I will never see again. Arora decided from my shouting, the of voice and I'm sure look on my face that she was bad. I intimidatingly got down on the floor with her and told her she was not bad, she was good. I told her I was sorry, I was wrong to shout at her and that she was not bad.
I told her I was upset because she was blocking peoples way and that she needed to listen to me when I asked her to move.
I told her that I would try and not shout at her, that I loved her and she was good. All the while on the floor blocking the whole isle way.
It is refreshing that we can do better, we can learn and we can apologize.

Anonymous said...

Things were especially bad for me when I was pregnant with my second child. I think there were two reasons for that. The first is that I was hormonal, and not able to be as calm and rational as I normally am. The second is that every time my kid did something I had this script running through my head that went, "Oh, no, if it's like this now, how am I going to handle TWO KIDS?!?!?"

Luckily, the pregnancy hormones passed. Yes, I still have terrible moments. I realize they're normal, and try not to beat myself up. That's the best I can do, really.

m. bloom said...

Hi Lauren -- Thank you for the very honest post. Please count me in for the "I'm not perfect" mama club. Letting my son watch a "little" too much t.v. sometimes? check. Giving in and, on some days, letting him eat nothing but chicken nuggets and chocolate milk? check. Getting frustrated with him when he's acting out because he's really just hungry or tired? check. Scolding because I misunderstood the situation? check. Raising my voice just because I'm fed up and tired of patiently redirecting difficult behavior? check. Ignoring my precious older son because I'm busy dealing with the new-ish baby in our house? check. I want to cry when I read over the little list I just typed out... But I also know that (most of the time) I really am doing the best I can. There's also the thought that, if we were perfect, patient and understanding all the time, our children would miss out on a learning opportunity. As crazy and as harsh as it sounds, if our children never experience anger & conflict, they will never learn to understand that, even when there are volcanic emotional eruptions, understanding and resolution can follow. At some point, our children will leave our sheltering arms. Out in the wide world they will experience conflict, anger & misunderstanding. It's not so bad for them to learn that they will not perish just because there is conflict in a relationship or some one raises their voice in frustration or anger. When they witness us, as parents, humbly apologizing, they, too, can learn that sometimes one needs to step back, cool off and humbly ask forgiveness.

Anyhow, sorry for the long, rambling comment... but thanks for the opportunity to mull these things over...

best wishes to you!

Unknown said...

Oh, wow. You are SO not alone on this one! I am that mom with the screaming child in public A LOT, and then I go home and write about how wonderful being a mother is.

I sometimes wonder if I'm not representing enough of the truth in my writing. I think, for me, (like you touched on) it's about reminding myself of all the good times, about remembering what my goals are and what kind of parent I strive to be.

It's such a hard job, and I, too, have moments I wish I could take back. Thanks for reminding me that imperfect is a pretty awesome thing to be.

Sybil Runs Things said...

It's always a journey, huh?
We just had a shoe incident in our house. I seriously was so upset with Iris for losing a brand new shoe and I was taking it as a personal offense to ME. Good lord, what an awakening when I finally recognized how hurt and upset she was and stopped wallowing in my anger and selfishness.

These little ones can be so hard to parent when you're an imperfect human being.

Michelle @ The Parent Vortex said...

I agree with you that blogging about parenting can be a way of working through our shortcomings - I know I do this sometimes too. It's hard to have really high standards and human foibles, but we are all doing the best we can and we're not going to be perfect. I've been thinking/writing about this a lot on my blog too - my own breakdown (well, monster-like outbursts) over the holidays has inspired a playful self-discipline project. I want to improve my self-control and joy in life, and I think that's a desire that many people share.

Thanks for your honesty here. I'm pretty sure we all have our own monster moments despite valuing natural/attachment parenting principles and it's good to know I'm not alone in that.

MomAgain@40 said...

I have written a post about being just an "ordinary" mother, trying to aspire to some of the higher idealogies in parenting, but giving myself some slack...
The rest of the time I try to see the humour, or give myself some "tips" (tongue-in-cheek)on how to do it differently. Because I "fail" on a regular basis.
That's what I love about blogging. To see that we all struggle with the same things, and that The Tantrum gets to all of us! ;-) Good luck! :D

suzannah | the smitten word said...

i really appreciate your authenticity and vulnerability in writing this. we ALL make mistakes and are not the perfect parents we wish we were in every single moment and choice.

the illusions of perfection can be more damaging to community (and probably ourselves/families) than our actual flaws and foibles. real life is messy and we could all do without the pressure we put on ourselves and others.

grace, mama. we've all been there--yesterday, today, and tomorrow, too.

kelly @kellynaturally said...

I have used message boards, tweeting, and most recently, blogging, as an outlet. I know that if I write about what I know - what I KNOW is the RIGHT way I want to parent, that it helps ingrain that in my mind. It makes me believe it MORE. It reminds me of the ideal I want to reach. And, it puts out there in writing for me: hey lady, you said this, you should be living it.
I'm not comfortable putting out there the details of my "failures". They can be for me, and my husband to mull over and process - and from that, I think I can get to better parenting. And then write about it.

Lindsay said...

Thank you for this post. :) It's nice to remember sometimes that I'm not the only imperfect mother out here. I started blogging to write about our life and about things that interest me. I don't feel the need to look back and read about my bad moments, but I like the share the good ones. I am writing about real people (my family) and try to keep that in mind and respect that even though they may not care what I write about now, in ten years they may come back and read my blog.

Also, I decided a long time ago that being a perfect parent was not my goal anyway. That's an ideal I don't want my children to think they need to live up to. Seeing me make mistakes, watching how I handle mistakes, being apologized too, that's all real and I think a much better way for children to learn how to get about in the world themselves. Because they won't be perfect either, and of course that's okay.

Kristin @ Intrepid Murmurings said...

Ah, great post! And so much packed into it -i I read Kelly's post but definitely want to check out the other links as well.

I totally agree, and am actually very relieved to read this! I am very much "in process", and imagine I always will be. I know my blog shows a much more glowing picture of how things go around here (these days anyway!) The whole gentle discipline thing is still very UN-intuitive for me, and I often find myself doing or saying things that are clearly unhelpful but in the moment I don't realize it or just don't care.

I also talk a lot about balance and planning and there are times when I have it together with regards to that and many other times when I absolutely do not.

Thanks for your honesty, it's great to hear!

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing! Something between my son and I has been amiss lately, and by the end of the day we have worn each other's nerves raw. A couple weeks ago it was so bad that I had to call my husband home early from work, and yesterday I ended up locking myself in the bathroom while he sat on my bed crying.

I lose my temper so often, and it's a concerted, something strenuous effort to pull myself back and not lose my temper out the outside. Sometimes I fuck it up.

It's nice to know I'm not the only one still learning. <3

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Prescriptive writing is such a good term. My posts are a lot of "it's great to _____," or "the gentle parenting philosophy says _____." Sometimes people comment to the effect of "but how do you always manage to parent so calmly!"

I DON'T!! I huff and puff entirely too much. I demand too much. I expect Kieran to listen to me the first time. I fight every day not to turn into my own parents.

We're all works in progress.

Thank you for your honesty!

TheFeministBreeder said...

We're all "perfect parents" until our kids grow a personality. Then? All bets are off.

Honestly, I cannot EVER take "parenting" bloggers seriously when they have one child under the age of 18 months. I read how their perfect child is so perfectly rosey because of their perfect parenting, and well... you read my post from the other day. That all ends one day! Either it's when the child gets a little older, or when you add a new child (new personality, whole new set of challenges) to the mix. Either way, nobody's an expert, and anyone who acts like they've got all this figured it is trying to sell you something to convince themselves of it. I've eaten enough of my own Humble Pie to have first-hand experience with that!

Janine said...

Pfft, I have a child under 18 months - Under 6 months - and I'm not pretending to to be perfect. Yesterday I yelled back when he was screaming in my ear. Not in my loudest or meanest voice, more to drown out his crying with my own emotion. He didn't react, we were just upset together I think... but I still feel guilty.

I agree, it's about questioning the "normal" way of parenting. I have some friends who parent 'traditionally', and I would be embarrassed to be them when admitting their parenting fails... Although, the sad part is that most of our society still doesn't consider things like spanking, Cry It Out or forced niceties to be a fail at all.

Unknown said...

Ohhhhhhhhhh yesyesyes THANK YOU for saying this! My tuppence.... is that part of what attracts me to AP-type gentle discipline etcetcetc parenting is healing the traumas and mental scripts from my own background/childhood... the ones that feel, so often, hardwired. I would wager it is the same for others apart from me... My life is a constant battle with 2 young children and a husband(!) and, well, me, to not yell, blame etc. It is spiritual work, this accepting imperfection and overcoming anger business. The real me is UUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGLLLLLLLYYYYYYY (ugly) sometimes. Monster me.. a good way to describe it. But - the real ALL of us is ugly, in part, I think. Blogs... they are cheaper than therapy but not a replacement for "real" life and connection. Grace, go well..

kelly said...

Thanks for the shout-out. :-)

I'm not alone in this, am I? How do you hide your parenting imperfections or feel you should?

My answer is, I don't. Been writing for years pretty much detailing it all, in public. Lots of readers whether due to skill at writing, a glittering personality, maybe that "I'm not alone" feeling when they read me, maybe Schadenfreude, maybe some hater-readers. Being honest with myself, my kids, my readers, friends. The practice gives me strength, humor, and humility.

I have lots of thoughts on what you've written here and other comments but I'll say what is most pressing in my mind: that compassionate and friendly smile the mama threw your way? MORE GROWNUPS need to give that to mamas with a "misbehaving" child (or to mamas themselves who are misbehaving). The power and strength that gives us, I can't overstate. The glares and silent hating and vocal judging we get erodes us in every way.

Thanks for your post.

Stacy (Mama-Om) said...

Very early on, almost four years now, when I started blogging, I wrote a series called Mad Mama Moments. I was scared, but I also knew that I didn't want to "pretend" on my blog.

On the other hand, I don't want to use my blog as a place to vent, so even the most honest and raw moments are still somewhat processed, and written about after the fact (sometimes hours and sometimes days)... and I think that can contribute to the impression that somehow I have it all together. It always surprises me when people in comments or in real life tell me, "Oh, you're not perfect!"

And I'm like, "Do you read my blog? When I yelled? When my heart was closed? When I completely totally lost it?"

Also, I think about this quote a lot: "You teach what you most need to learn." You touched on it your post... I write about what I am in the process of learning, not that I've got all the answers.

I definitely am dedicated to authenticity and honesty... and completely get where you're coming from.

Thanks, Lauren, for all you do!


Rachael @ The Variegated Life said...

Thank you thank you thank you Lauren. I've been thinking a lot about this post. Because yes, I've been Monster Mom. But no, I don't really want to talk about it with anybody but my husband. I'm afraid that if I talk much about it, then I'll BECOME that angry, angry hungry ghost, and nothing else.

One of my deepest hopes is that through attachment parenting, gentle discipline, and play, I will teach the Critter a better way to feel the full range of human emotion — without harm to himself or others. Even as I teach myself a better way, too....

Traveler of the World said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Traveler of the World said...

Honesty (to oneself) is the greatest way to development. Loved the unveiled post of your thoughts. It's these posts that should be in the 'how to become a perfect parent' books, serene and honest books on how lifealtering having a child REALLY is and not a rosy-red story, that causes frenzy or mere confusion on how your communication with your child is.
Having a toddler IS the sweetest time but also the toughest.
Perhaps perfection is not what we should strive for, but simply just living TOGETHER, to learn to live together and learn what this new and beautiful human being is also teaching us.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. I felt like crying reading your ballet shoe account because I have been JUST like that with my little girl and it hurts to know that. My baby girl. It makes me want to run upstairs and hug her and tell her I'm so very sorry that I am not the mom she deserves.

But this post does make me feel better, too. Because I read all these mom blogs of these perfect seeming mamas and think I'm a hopeless cause. I can never be like that. So this gives me hope which just means I'll keep trying, I won't give up.

Today I ran a million errands, baby girl had no nap and was cranky and I actually was patient with her. So maybe there's hope for me yet.

Anonymous said...

I am sooo glad I found this post. I needed it so bad!!! Feeling like a really crappy mommy for losing it with a 2 1/2yr old sometimes.

Susana la Banana said...

I LOVE this post. Love. Thank you for sharing.

LovingEarthMama said...

I loved reading this AND I loved people's reactions to it. Nadia's comment particularly struck me - about how hard it is to live up to the images of perfect motherhood some writers (inadvertently) portray.

I have been thinking about this a lot, too, recently (I know this is an old post, but just stumbled across it) - about what I consciously project, how people *perceive* me and the reality of my day-to-day parenting and the (HUGE?) gaps between the three. I try to rectify it with playful posts on facebook about my f*ck ups or little lines in my posts about how all is not roses... but, as you say, I am not sure people really hear that when the other 99% of the post focusses on the 'ideal' I want to achieve. Hmmm.... more processing need for me. Thanks for the cue-in.


Lauren Wayne said...

Well, apparently I never got around to responding to anyone till now (because I am also an imperfect blogger!), but I thank you all for your comments and so appreciated reading your thoughts.

@LovingEarthMama: Yes! Thank you for commenting, because you've prompted me to think about this again — that gap between how we project our ideals, how people see us, and how we are in the trenches. I just met up with some lovely parents who are fellow bloggers and had those moments of wondering, How much more real do I seem to them now that they can see me parenting imperfectly? How does that make me feel? How might they be feeling judged and inspected as parents in this gathering? But in the end, I feel really good about being honest with people and taking down those masks of perfection. And kids have a way of making you be real, despite any intentions to the contrary! ;)

Christy said...

thank you for this!! I think I do tend to build up bloggers I follow, especially those who practice gentle/crunchy parenting (and that's all I really follow anyways). Then in my weaker moments I compare myself to them and think "they have it all figured out and it works for them, why can't I do the same?" I often feel like a huge failure in this journey. I try so hard to be gentle. Yelling is my biggest weakness, it escapes before I even realize its happening! I feel so ashamed of myself afterwards. Somedays I yell so much I give myself a headache, other days I do not yell at all. Instead of celebrating the days I don't yell I dwell on and beat myself up over the days I do.
It's nice to be reminded all of the mamas behind these amazing blogs are human too and they screw up on occasion just like me.
I am guilty of often picturing other mama bloggers lives as all rainbows and sunshine with perfect kids who do all the right things and there is never any conflict.

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