Monday, January 4, 2010

Honey, I've Ruined the Kids

Several years ago, I co-edited a book called Three Ring Circus: How Real Couples Balance Marriage, Work and Family (Seal Press, 2004) which was a compilation of essays by working couples from all walks of life describing how they handled the career, parenting, home life juggle. It was both inspiring and overwhelming to read the often humorous, sometimes sad and always ingenious ways which parents found to meet the competing demands of the kiddies, the boss and their ever significant, if frequently overlooked other. Mothers and fathers who contributed to the book and those who read it - my father, my mother-in- law, my next door neighbor...I could name the others, there's room enough here - echoed the stories in the book, sharing with us their own feelings about taking the parenting journey. Most of the time we feel like we're doing a really crappy job at raising our kids and holding everything else together. And it might be true. Most of the time it's not, but we can't shake that feeling that somewhere, somehow there is another parent who has figured it out and is doing it right. We feel like if we had more - fill in the blank - time, money, intelligence, creativity - we'd be able to pull it off and win the parenting gold medal instead of feeling horrible because your kids think it's weird to eat off of real plates instead of paper ones and when you and your husband actually have a free, childless moment, you're both more tempted to sleep rather than indulge in any type of passion.

Yesterday I went outside to take down the Christmas lights from the front yard and my children seized upon the opportunity to ride their new scooters up and down the block while I worked. Unlike when I was a kid and we'd run out of the house in the morning and be gone all day without our parents knowing where we were, we (along with all the other parents on the block) are cautious about having our kids play in the front yard unattended - but more on that hover parent vs. slow parent issue in a blog yet to come. As my kids played, I was horrified to overhear their game - it was called "Let's Run Errands." The game involved going to the bank, taking their son to karate class, dropping the dog off at the vet and picking up clothes at the dry cleaners. Despite the fact that I don't have a son, a dog and I've given up wrinkle free clothing and other small luxuries in lieu of covering our mortgage payment every month, hearing them reenact this "adult" life which was totally centered around doing little errands mortified me. If they wanted to imitate adults, why weren't they pretending to be doctors and saving villagers in remote Amazon villages? Why weren't they play acting at being attorneys using their legal acumen to fight societal injustice? My husband is a deep space navigator for JPL/NASA and I write/edit non-fiction books and write for t.v. and film. But they don't even imitate that. No, they were pretending to run errands. That is what they see of our busy, over scheduled challenging, frustrating, wonderful lives. That is what they've gleaned and absorbed as their own experience, as their future. On the very day that I decide to blog about the challenges of the parent balancing act, they provide me a perfect example of what I've done wrong.

My father is a kiddie shrink with pretty darn good credentials if you don't hold how my brother and I turned out against him. I'm joking, only partially, my brother is fine. But you know what they say, "Dentist's kids have bad teeth, minister's kids are promiscuous, and shrink's kids are crazy." Many jokes are based in some level of fact. If there is a bit of crazy in my corner, it is in the belief that I can "have it all" all at the same time. My children running around playing errand girls is a perfect example of that. In my effort to do everything for everyone and complete everything, they see the busy-ness, not the content, the reasons and passion motivating the actions. Their game was amusing for them. For me it was a striking lesson in the need to step back, think about what we teach our kids through what we do as well as what we say. As a parent who strives to say the right things to my kids, I realize my actions, are as they say, much stronger than my words.

So that's what this blog is about - parenting, working, being married - trying to do your best and knowing that despite it all, our mistakes, flaws, screw ups, our kids will be okay. Maybe a little warped with your own personal family dysfunction, but hey, after all, who wants perfect kids anyway?

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