Parenting for Dummies, Scaredy Pants and People Who Make Mistakes
The thing that is so scary about being a parent is that you are supposed to know what you are doing. You are responsible for actual real-life human beings, for ensuring that they somehow survive from conception to adulthood whilst they are in your care. One of my friends said he felt the hospital should have given him some sort of a license allowing him to take his baby home. Would you not need to prove your competency somehow? You have to study for years in order to be qualified as a computer programmer. But when computers break you just switch them off and on again – and ‘voila!’ all’s fixed. That doesn’t work for humans and I’m not going to test that theory, so how is it ok for just anybody to have a baby without being carefully vetted, educated and tested first?! Frankly I’m quite surprised that the human race has made it this far. If you look about (not too far now) there are some astonishingly crazy people out there, how on earth did we not all die out from SMD (Stupid Mistake Disease)?
I absolutely and definitely knew all the answers to parenting before I had children. Now, 16 years and four on-going experiments later, I’m sorry to tell you kids, but I have made a few (million) mistakes along the way. I hope you can forgive me? One day? I also hope my mistakes won’t ensure your future visit to the psychotherapist. Although I could put money on it that if that does happen, I – the Mother – would be right up there at the top of the list of people to blame for your problems in life. Mine is the hand that rocked the cradle after all.
Yesterday I met a woman at a barbeque who has a teenager with about 17% vision in one eye and total blindness in the other. Her daughter was born with one eye severely vision-impaired as it is smaller than the other but at the age of ten she developed Macular Degeneration in the other eye. This is unbelievable because the two conditions are not linked and as a result the odds of having both are extremely remote. What a terrible blow to receive as a young child! So I asked the woman how her daughter was affected by the news when she was ten, knowing that she was about to lose her vision and she still had the rest of her life ahead of her? Her reply was obviously that she was totally devastated, to the point that she felt she did not want to continue to live. She slit her wrists – at TEN YEARS OLD!!!! Oh what an awfully desperate situation.
In our conversation we’d reached a sudden moment of vulnerability where she had given me permission to see her weakest parenting moment. It allowed her to speak quite freely about that time and all the associated difficulties with frankness. Quite honestly she had no idea what to do. How would one? If my little girl wanted to die, how would I save her? I know with all my might I would want to but how am I equipped? How can we know how to do this job, not even our to the best of our abilities but at the most basic level? She did the wisest thing then and sought professional help, which was hard to find at the time so she had to fight for it.
It’s possible to become consumed by fear isn’t it? There is no way one can prevent one’s children from becoming injured or emotionally scarred. The dangers in my little world here in Ireland include the rugby field (I hate you rugby), bouncy castles (neck injury yesterday), non birthday party invitations (daugher in tears) and other heart wrenching issues. In Johannesburg we had a few extra that included hijacking and armed robbery – Africa is not for sissies.
The first time I wrestled with parenting-fear and overcame it was when I brought my newborn home and lay awake listening to her breathe and make all those other strange baby noises ALL NIGHT loooooong. I’d heard about how to do your best to prevent cot death and I was following all the rules but I had to hear her breathe to know she was ok. After a few nights I realised I would actually need to sleep again in order to live. If I wanted to keep my baby alive, at the very least I’d have to be alive too. I decided then I’d need to let go of my fear over what I could not control and learn to trust something else instead because I wouldn’t be able to do this job, there is no way I could figure it all out and get it all right. I prayed then and asked God who I know is all wise and perfectly good and always in control to please help me. And even if things went wrong, I would need to be able to rest knowing that He never makes mistakes and even if the worst happened, He’d somehow help me through as He has greater plans than what I could know.
I have read Dr James Dobson’s books on Bringing up Boys followed by Bringing up Girls which have helped mould my thinking and armed me with vital information. But the irony is after all the homework I’ve done, it has struck me that actually parenting is not rocket science! The other day I came across this little post:
The common denominator in these 10 Things is that anybody can do them if they choose to. It is not an issue of ability but rather of inclination. Recently my startling revelation is that similarly, the fundamental principles for being a good and even (dare I be bold enough to say it) an excellent parent also require zero% talent and 100% choice. Simply it all boils down to wanting to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’, of consciously making that choice minute by minute and in each situation to be kind, to put the other first.
This ties in with something Dr Dobson wrote about, and that is we can teach our kids the most important social skills required to be successful at any level of life, just through learning basic manners. It is important for me that my kids have good manners because, not only will they be better liked by their peers but these are the basic building blocks of morals. They are directly connected as they have at their root the acknowledgment that we should not put ourselves first but seek the interest of others before our own.
This is also what lies at the heart of the Christian message, that we are fundamentally selfish and have turned to our own ways and away from God. So learning manners enables children to take the first steps in a huge confusing world, knowing that abiding by some basic societal rules can be helpful and empowering. But it is a choice that is ours to make.
That doesn’t mean that I’ve permanently conquered fear, definitely not! I wrestle with it constantly and keep on having to remind myself that I am not the one in control here. I have to replace that fear of the unknown with the fear of the All Knowing. I also value my relationships with my friends and strangers who I am meeting at barbeques as we share our stories of inadequacy and so support and encourage one another as well as pass on nuggets of wisdom. Thankfully, this is a job that’s not mine to do alone.
And it’s ok for me to be a dummy, I have lots of opportunities to learn along the way, to know that He forgives me for the mistakes I have made, to forgive myself which is sometimes quite hard to do and therefore by example to teach my kids to forgive so that hopefully one day, when they are parents and realise all that I have done wrong, they will in turn forgive me.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4
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