The End of Perfect Parentinghelaineo
In the four months I’ve been privileged to write for Babble, I’ve read reports from “the experts” about everything from how mood during pregnancy can negatively impact future children to how having the wrong family psychological profile can harm school performance. I’ve listened in as our readers argued furiously with one another, demonizing those who would (choose your particular bugaboo here) feed an infant formula or use daycare.
Over time I’ve realized that underneath all the certitude, judgment and rage is a search for perfection, a feeling if we can just get it right, our children will be safe from life’s vicissitudes. Perhaps this is inevitable after all, the United States was settled, after all, by people seeking “a city upon a hill” and the pursuit of perfection, it seems, is in our collective national DNA.
But parenting is, in many ways, the opposite of the city upon a hill. It is messy, and there are few right answers, only ever-shifting judgment calls based on changing information. (Drinking while pregnant anyone?)
Moreover, we ourselves are imperfect. Even the best of us will, at least occasionally, yell at our children when we should offer them sympathy, forget to feed them lunch because we are too busy chatting with a friend on the phone or otherwise screw up. Our sons and daughters are also less than pristine. Even as we find a happiness we never imagined could exist in a sideways smile or a childhood mispronunciation, our children will inevitably reveal themselves to be individuals, and thus, also in need of improvement. They will not learn to walk or read on schedule, or they will turn into the class biter or otherwise fail to demonstrate a talent we desire they have, be it academic or athletic. And we will get scared.
This collective panic seems, in my almost eleven years as a parent, to have gotten worse with time. I blame the ever-rising income inequality of the aughts, which divided us into a nation of fewer and fewer winners and more and more losers, as well as our never-ending wars, which causes us to hear almost every day about the death of some other mother’s son or daughter in places far, far away from here. The combination seems to have left us with a gnawing sense of apprehension, a pervasive belief that anything from a forgotten bicycle helmet to attendance at the wrong Mommy & Me class can lead to absolute catastrophe. Not surprisingly, entire industries have arisen to feed our anxieties even as they claim to be offering us support. (Is childhood depression a valid diagnosis? Probably, but if you think many of those pushing the concept aren’t seeking to sell therapeutic services and drugs, I’ve got the proverbial bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.)
This is, as you might have guessed by now, my farewell post for Babble’s Strollerderby. I’ve recently set up a book project on the culture of personal finance and it is not possible to commit to daily blogging while completing a manuscript by next summer. I will miss you all terribly my editors, fellow bloggers and, most of all, my frequent commenters. Please visit my website, where I do maintain an occasional blog, and stay in touch.
So my final words: we will not raise perfect children who live perfect lives, since we ourselves are imperfect creatures living in a far from faultless world with no ability to predict the future. In that imperfection and lack of knowledge there is fear and fury, but there is also beauty, creativity, and moments of absolute bliss. Let go of the judgment and fear, and embrace the chaos of it all. It’s where the life in creating a life comes from. Or, as Leonard Cohen sings much more eloquently than I can write, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Photo: Helaine Olen