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On Parenting And Style

IMG_8167My baseline experience of being a parent is just flat out not knowing how to be a parent and constantly returning, over and over, to the idea of being an Ignorant Parent, a New Parent, and/or a Beginning Parent. I can’t imagine applying qualitative adjectives to my parenting role like “Good” or “Bad” because all the manifestations of parenthood blur together into a big goopy collage of ups and downs that eludes a static label (parenting experts and my kids may have more definitive ideas about my parenting skills). I’ve done some things well and I’ve done some things poorly, but no matter what, I always end up starting over and beginning again.

I know there’s all kinds of parenting STYLES like authoritarian, permissive, jellyfish, car crash, whatever, but I can’t commit to any one approach any more than I can be the same anything. In my experience, style is an extension of content, and if the content of family life is anything, it’s varied, always unique, and the demand for a specific style at any given moment is purely contextual — based in and arising from the particularities of a given situation.

The only people for whom this is bad news are the experts who write how-to parenting books that strive to keep all the events of our lives confined inside tidy little boxes, each with its own hard and fast title in bold print. For the rest of us, the beauty of a radical relativity is that it frees us from the prison of having one specific STYLE and permits us to be the parents who did something that one time when that one thing happened. The only thing we do all the time is what the time requires, which is always and ever unique. How-to manuals are for building bookcases from IKEA. Parenting defies the laws of how-to as it refines the art of being on your toes.

There will come a day when the floor is covered with broken glass because your daughter smashed a coffee pot with a pencil in her ass, and you will not be governed by a particular parenting style. You’ll be a student of the moment, and your teacher won’t be able to tell you why she has a pencil in her ass. You might laugh, in awe of the absurdity that grounds (or fails to ground) the day to day events of these zany lives. Or you might get angry. You will probably get angry. But a lot of your situational style will depend on how you’re feeling, your blood sugar, the weather, atmospheric pressure, the economy, random powers of causation that evade understanding, and the influence of ancestral ghosts on your blessed or cursed house.

Being a Beginning Parent, being a student of the moment, means that your how-to will always and only be found in-the-world. You already know how-to. When kids are hungry, feed them. When they’re tired, put them to bed. And, as you already knew, sweep up the glass and pull the pencil from her ass (gently). There’s no home in defining yourselves by the research of experts and the standards of others. Research and standards are precisely the obstacles that stand in the way of you and an actual experience of parenthood. Forget it all and keep beginning. The very best instructors of Parenting 101 are sons and daughters.

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Read more from me at Black Hockey Jesus.

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