In an email conversation with a friend recently, I shared with her that I felt like I was finally getting this whole parenting thing figured out. She didn't ask me to elaborate, probably because that was a pretty bold statement that touches on all of our parenting insecurities. If she had asked me for more details, this is what I would have said.
I haven't found any magic tricks that suddenly make parenting easy. I haven't found the secret to getting my kids to behave. I'm not a better or smarter parent than anyone else out there. I muddle through my days just like everyone else. But what I realized this past year is that muddling, rather than succeeding flawlessly and effortlessly, is not only okay, it's absolutely fantastic.
We are trained to think that the key to anything is to act like it's easy. Don't let them see you sweat. This is supposed to let everyone know that you have it all covered. You can handle your business with ease and style, thank you very much. The trouble with this approach is that it's not very relatable. It leaves everyone else feeling inadequate. Raising the bar is only comfortable for the one doing it, and even then it's not very comfortable. As an over-achiever myself, I can tell you a ton of anxiety comes from trying to keep up that level of performance. And it's lonely. As I wrote about in this post, people don't offer you help and support when you act like you don't need it. This has taken me years to figure out. I'm still figuring it out, actually. But the biggest wake-up call yet was seeing how my "got-it-all-together" act was affecting my daughter. The girl who looks to me as a guide for how to navigate life as a woman.
By trying to always appear strong, competent, and poised, I accidentally taught her that this is the only way to be. That she is also supposed to always be strong, competent, and poised. My daughter is a lot like me, she is both strong and sensitive. She listens to her intuition and cares deeply about doing what's right for her, and at the same time wants to do the right thing in the eyes of those she loves. We can both be very serious, and then suddenly be very goofy. It's a really tough balance sometimes. She needs someone to show her how to let all sides of her personalty breathe. By only showing her a limited side of myself, the "Good Mommy" side, I wasn't showing her how to let all sides of herself out. I wasn't showing her how to be sad, sensitive, or vulnerable. So I came up with a new version of "Good Mommy", and it looks something like this:
When I am having a bad day, I now tell my kids that I'm having a bad day. I tell them that I had a frustrating day at work because things didn't go the way I had hoped they would, and I got my finger caught in the desk drawer, and I was really tired because I didn't sleep well the night before. What often happens is that they tell me they are sorry I had a bad day, they give me a hug, and they tell me about frustrating things that happened to them recently. My son might tell me about a boo-boo he got at school. My daughter might tell me about an annoying experience she had with a friend. And then we talk about how to make ourselves feel better at the end of a bad day.
If I am sad about something, instead of crying in the bathroom and then coming out acting like Mary Poppins, I let them see me cry. I tell them the general version of why I am sad. If I'm cranky and getting snappy, I apologize. I reassure them that they didn't do anything wrong, I just need some quiet time to myself, and then I go take a walk or lock myself in the bedroom with a book and chocolate. I let them see me taking care of myself.
What I've noticed is that I feel much less pressure to keep up a certain appearance. I enjoy being around my kids more because I am more relaxed and less guarded. I am calmer when maintaining rules and boundaries even when they fight back, because we are all more comfortable with negative emotions. And my daughter is showing her bad moods and hurt feelings more, because now she knows it's okay. With this comes more information about fights with friends, missing her boyfriend, and bad test scores. She is showing up more with us, because I am showing up more with us. By giving myself some breathing room, I am offering the same to her.
So yes, I think I am finally figuring out this parenting thing. I am figuring out that all I have to be is me. Nothing more, nothing less. I am exactly the parent my kids need. I don't need to be a mommy model. Being a mommy model is doing my kids a disservice. It just teaches them to bury their own unique selves and try to fit into a mold. Instead, it's my job to be the emotional, passionate, goofy, moody, and introverted person that I am. And to my dear friend, I hope you already know this.
I am so glad you are here! Welcome to my blog. Look around and make yourself comfortable, because this is your space, too. My name is Amy, and I am no stranger to the ups and downs of life. Join me as we search for beauty and authenticity, tell our truth, and hold space for each other in the messiness of life.