I think I was a good parent. I’m still a parent, of course, but when your youngest is turning twenty, the role changes somewhat. That’s how it goes with parenting. As soon as you figure out your kid and your job, everything changes. You have to figure things out again. But I think I was a good parent.
It was on purpose. I read every book I could get my hands on, and got subscriptions to the relevant magazines. I wanted to be a good parent very much. I love my parents and we have a lovely, dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship but I wanted to do things differently with my children. My parents are good people and well-intentioned, it’s just that some of the parenting choices they made didn’t serve me well.
Rationed approval, for instance. The insistence on treating myself and my siblings equally at all times so that nothing was ever special or particularly well done. I found this exceptionally difficult; I did very well in school yet got the same level of approval as my brothers who brought home only average marks.
And yes, apparently there’s a smidge of bitter still there. It’s not the marks, it was feeling that nothing I did would ever be good enough for unconditional approval and acceptance; that even if I was perfect, it was nothing special. Try harder. Do better.
Problematic also was the overall lack of communication. My family is not overt in affection or approval and for people who like to read, we are shockingly bad at communicating the important stuff. For some personality types this would have been fine; unfortunately, it did not serve my anxious, self-critical, desperate-for-approval nature well at all. Had we been good communicators, I might have shared things that proved to be so difficult to overcome later in life.
So, there were things I wanted to do differently, outcomes I wanted to ensure. Confidence, a sense of satisfaction in accomplishments, an understanding of ethics, a sense of caring, the ability to speak your mind, and having good boundaries. I desperately wanted to ensure that the things I found problematic did not hinder my kids. I desperately wanted to raise them well. For the most part, I think I succeeded.
I mucked up some, of course. Parents do, it’s just a thing, and with my mental health problems it was inevitable to a degree. The worst part of parenting in their younger years, however, was the fear that I was doing it all wrong. I felt on edge a lot of the time and as a consequence, although I believe I was a good parent, I was also not as “in the moment” as I wish I had been. Too in my head, too filled with worry and judgement.
My daughter is staying with me for a while with her son, my grandson. They moved in a little over a year ago, when he was four-months-old, he’s now nearly two. It’s been interesting. I’m the expert in the house now. I’m the go-to for advice. But I’ve noticed a thing that my daughter does, something I did, something I wish I’d done differently.
What I wish I had known and understood is this: most of what we think is important doesn’t matter. Much of what we worry about is irrelevant. We sweat the small stuff to such an enormous degree. We worry about minutiae when we should be focusing on the big picture. Because if we focused on the big picture, we’d be ever so much more relaxed.
If I’d been looking at the big picture, I’d have realized that wanting to eat the same thing for dinner every day for two months wouldn’t matter. Their nutritional development would be fine. I’d have realized it’s okay to say “no” to your kids without excessive rationalizations and apologies, that if you mean it, they accept and move on. As it turns out, refusals don’t scar the psyche. I’d have realized the pointlessness in trying to push their development in any way. I’d have ignored milestone lists. Things progress as they will and it’s mostly out of your control.
I’d have realized it’s better to spend time reading stories than cleaning bathrooms, better to play than make Pinterest-worthy dinners, and that germs aren’t nearly the problem the purveyors of antibacterial everything would like you to believe; obsessive cleaning is quite unnecessary. I’d have realized that babies bounce and are resilient, that cuddles fix almost everything, and what they really want is not the new bicycle you bought with overtime hours but your attention.
I’d have realized that the last time of the things you never want to end comes sooner than you think. Baby kisses, cuddles, free hugs, hand-holding, and wanting your presence disappear far too quickly. They stop running to leap into your arms when they see you well before you’re ready for it to be over.
I wish I’d paid more attention to the big picture. I’d have been more relaxed. I’d have enjoyed parenting more. It’s not the one thing you do that matters, it’s the everything. Not every parenting moment has to be perfect, which takes off the pressure; if most of the moments are pretty good, things are going to turn out fine.
I see this now with my grandson. I’m chill. I’m relaxed. Que sera sera.
It occurred to me that what is true for parenting, it’s also true for life.
It is not how successful this day or that day was, how good a friend I was on Tuesday, how good a mother I was last week, or the kind of daughter I was this morning. It’s not how good my recovery is going today, or if my depression has been hard for these past few months, or if my anxiety yesterday made me want to cut. It’s the overall picture. How my life looks when I gaze at it in its totality, when I include all the moments. I forget to do that. It gets easy to focus on the wrongs and the failures and the slights and the perceived shortcomings. The moments where I didn’t do the right thing. The hardships and failures.
But, when I step back and look at the whole of my life, it turns out that I did a lot of things right. I did a lot of things well. I had a great many good moments. These are important things to remember, especially when the moments we are currently inhabiting are darker and harder ones. It’s the big picture that matters most, which means you can let go of a lot of the angst that comes with temporary hard times. And they are temporary, even if they feel like forever in the moments.
How often do you really look at the big picture?