It’s been a rough little stretch for me these last few weeks as a parent–probably a bit harder for me than my hubby given my issues (and I really am not getting into those here so you’re just gonna have to make up stuff about what they are). And this rough patch has me thinking about what it costs to be a good parent.
Now some of you may think I’m getting a bit big for my britches, saying I’m a good parent. But seriously, I mean, when your 14-year-old says to you during a tough conversation (ahem, last night even), “Dang, you guys are good parents! I mean, really…” you roll with it (like heck you do!). I guess those of you that know my kids can judge for yourselves whether the hubs and I have done a good job. Notice, I am not saying “perfect” parents–as we all know there are none of those–nada–just give it up if you are trying for that shiny little star. And I’m not saying “good enough” parents, although that might be more accurate. I’m going with “good” this time around–as in my kids will only need two years of therapy as opposed to ten…
Anyway, here’s what I’ve come up on the costs side of things this week as I’ve contemplated how dang hard this all is:
You won’t always look good.
This is a hard one for me. Might indicate one of my issues. Nonetheless, this is a real cost that some aren’t willing to pay. I’m virtually certain I don’t look good this week to one person in authority over one of my children. The hubs and I are letting this child, actually supporting this child, in making a very hard decision. But I know this kid. And I am pleased as punch (where the heck did that phrase come by and what does it even mean??? I should Google it) that my kid knows what they want and need, is willing to take a stand for that along with the consequences, and recognizes situations that are not the healthiest for them. So, while I may not look good for not making my child do something, I am not in this parenting gig to look good (or I shouldn’t be). I am here to help develop a healthy, whole person who can stand up under pressure and make choices that are in their own best interest.
Your kid won’t always look good.
This is a hard one for me as well. Might also point to an issue. Let’s face it. If our kids are able to be esteem themselves from within, be intimate with others with appropriate vulnerability, be comfortable with themselves and responsible for their own impact on others, be responsible for their own self-care (at appropriate age levels), be willing to be interdependent, and able to be self-controlled and yet spontaneous (thanks, Pia Mellody), then they will have to learn these things in ways where they won’t always look good to others. I remember back to when my daughter was in high school. Off the top of my head, I can think of several instances where, when she stood on her own two feet, stood with her convictions, it actually did not look how you would expect it to look. In fact, it could easily be wrongly interpreted. I remember thinking, “Darn, I wish everyone knew the whole story here.” But guess what? They didn’t and often they don’t. It’s okay. Breathe, momma. Breathe, dad. Been here with each of my boys as well. There will also be times when our kids make mistakes and do things wrong and need to accept the consequences and need to look bad. This is part of parenting. Breathe, momma. Breathe, dad. I could regale you with great stories on this one. There was the time one of my kids got in trouble for cheating...on a Bible test. And me, a pastor….Managed to combine both #1 and #2 on this one.
Your kid won’t always like you.
Frankly, this one isn’t so hard for me. I decided a long time ago I was going to be parent over friend. It’s cool when you get to be both, but it doesn’t work that way all the time. It shouldn’t. If you aren’t willing to risk your kid not liking you, you have issues. Seriously. Get into counseling. It’s not that bad (yeah, right).
Other people may not like you.
You got it, a hard one for me. This sort of goes with number 1, but it’s a notch up on the scale. I’ve learned that unhealthy folks really don’t like healthy folks. Unboundaried people don’t like people with boundaries. If you are going against the status quo, if you are not playing the game of bigger and better and supporting everyone else over your child, then, well, hey, you might catch some flak. There are so many people running around trying to get everyone else to meet their needs that this leaks over into almost every relationship (now, get that most of this is unconscious on their part). I’m not talking here about legit annoying parents, helicopter ones or other ones who are out-of-control, the kind whose kids won’t make the team or for whom the teacher breathes a sigh of relief when they no longer have to interact with them. I am talking here about the parents who are not going to play games or enable their kids to play games or force them to do things for how they look.
You’re not going to get your dreams or unmet needs met through your kids.
Seriously? You mean my hockey player isn’t going to go to the NHL and tell stories about how great his parent’s were on live TV after a great defensive game? My kids aren’t here to show the world how great I am? I really don’t have to say much about this one, but it is surprising how many people are trying to get their needs met this way. And this can be subtle, too. I’ve been taken aback this week as I’ve experienced extreme internal resistance to something one of my kids is planning on doing. It will impact our family in a tremendous way, yes, but I’ve been forced to ask myself, “What is it I was needing here or hoping for here that was mine–not his?” It’s okay to grieve, parents, and understand how something hits you and what you were getting from something your child was doing. But be in reality about it, okay? Let your kids explore and experiment and find out what their dreams are. Let them figure out what they need to do, not what you need them to.
You’re going to be misunderstood.
Yes, this sucks. People will not understand if you are being a good parent because you will be bucking the norm. You will not be encouraging your kids to stay in places and programs they shouldn’t for various reasons. You will make decisions based on context and your kid, not on hard and fast rules. I’m going to confess something here. We’ve never had one set curfew for our kids. The cool thing is that most parents do (wink, wink). So when everyone else has to be home at 11:00 pm, guess who else is home at 11 pm? No, seriously, we do a lot of work with context and each kid and what they’ve shown us they can handle or be responsible for. So the rules vary. They depend on lots of things. It doesn’t fly in my house: “But you let Kelsey….” Maybe we did. If this is being lobbied, it’s not about Kelsey anymore. It’s about another kid. It’s more work this way, in my opinion, but it’s shown my kids we are paying attention to them. The point of all of this, however, is that I have consciously made choices at times that I know are going to be misunderstood by others looking on. I have allowed my kids to do things at times that others would perhaps never allow and might make me look to an outside observer like I am a “bad parent.” Or I’ve not allowed them to do things that might make me look like a “bad parent.” Yeah, whatever. Not my stuff. You can think what you want. I don’t have to carry that. Which leads to…
You’re going have to work on your stuff.
Your crap, truth be told. You cannot be a good parent without working on your own stuff. PERIOD. Now as my hubs would say, “Kim, this is apparent.” Well, then. Good for you. But I didn’t really know this getting into this parenting gig. Anyway, I’ve found this out the hard way: working on your own stuff is very costly, both in terms of therapy and in terms of emotional engagement. You have to be connected to your own story and your own reality. You know how hard this is? It is super duper hard, actually. It can be like pulling a favorite blanket away from a two-year-old. Not pretty. Our children, our spouses, our own extended family members are going to be great gifts to us at triggering and pointing to our stuff that we need to get a handle on and understand. We need to see how our stuff is preventing us and others from being healthy and whole. We have an epidemic of unhealthy people in our society. It should come as no surprise that unhealthy parents–parents who are ignorant of or ignoring their own deep work–are not going to help their kids grown into healthy, functional people. But we’re all so great at pretending and off-putting responsibility onto something or someone else that we convince ourselves it’s not like it really is or it’s not that big of a deal. Besides, it’s so much easier in the short term not to do our own work. We’re too dang tired and stressed out. Or, “I’m just fine” we think as we have another glass of wine or click on another link. WE ALL HAVE WORK and the consequences of not doing our own work show up in our kids. Breathe, momma. Breathe, dad. Do your darn work. If we were all working on our stuff, things would look different. Let me give you a clue how: people that are doing their own work are much more compassionate, kind folk. They offer grace to you. They offer grace to themselves. They offer grace to their kids. They are not all wrapped up in your stuff. They can let their kids make mistakes. They can let their kids look bad. They can let themselves be misunderstood, look bad or not be liked by every single person in the world.
These are just some thoughts at the costs of being a good parent. If this sounds a bit preachy to you, remember, I am a preacher(!) but I wrote this for myself. I’ve been a mess this last week internally. I wrote this to remind myself of what I know and sometimes vaguely remember. I wrote this to help myself plant my own feet more firmly again. To help myself breathe as my kids do things I was unable to do at their age. To help myself chill out.
It’s all going to be okay, Kim. You are raising adults here. You are trying to help them esteem themselves from within, be intimate with others with appropriate vulnerability, be comfortable with themselves and responsible for their own impact on others, be responsible for their own self-care (at appropriate age levels), be willing to be interdependent, and able to be self-controlled and also spontaneous when called for. All this does not happen easily. Breathe, momma. Just breathe. And then let it be and allow the hard stuff to happen.
You’ve got this. If you don’t, it’s actually ok. Ask for some help. There are helpers out there. I’ve needed them. I still do.