I had always envisioned myself as a certain kind of parent. At five I imagined coming home from work with a basket overflowing with lollipops. At ten I dreamed of weaving stories for my captive audience of little ones as they grew drowsy tucked into bed. And then, in adulthood, when I encountered painful obstacles on the journey to parenthood I redoubled these beliefs. I would treasure my children. I would never for a minute forget that they were manna from heaven gracing my life.
Did I envision conflicts? Issues? Why ofcourse. I wasn’t naive. I had it all figured out. How I’d calmly kneel down to their level and explain things. I would mirror their emotions. I would take in dirty footsteps on the hardwoods and paint smears on the walls and hug them after they tearfully apologized with Full House music swelling to crescendo in the background.
I would never resort to yelling.
I would never threaten.
I would never bribe.
Nearly three years ago, when I held my newborn, curled in my arms, I looked at this creature and the dreams that had come true. I imagined the love that would grow between us. I imagined the baking and measuring. The counting of fall leaves. And curling up on the couch with a pile of books. It would be beautiful.
And as beautiful as parenting is, its also side-swiped me with how challenging it can be. And today, as my mind swirled from the exhaustion of two hour sleep cycles, and my baby wailed in my arms, and my eldest soothed him by pinching his toes while doing the bathroom dance and refusing to actually go to the bathroom and I surveyed my home, the sink filled with dishes, the sticky residue next to the fridge, and another high-pitched plea for yet another episode of the Bernstein Bears, I felt something in me coming undone.
And so I yelled. Get on the toilet now.
And I threatened. I’m calling your father.
And I bribed. Bernstein bears? Sure. Just do pee pee and its on.
Parenthood has humbled me. It has brought me to my knees. Because as beautiful as the moments of baking, bathtimes, reading, and conversations has been, there are the other moments that I never saw coming. The moments where I am so tired. Painfully tired. The moments where I don’t have the energy for the smile and patience in the face of a screaming toddler. And the moments I react in ways I am not proud of.
I can tell you my reasons. Paint my excuses. But in that moment I saw myself as though observing from afar, and I felt an overwhelming sense of loss— because this isn’t the parent I thought would be.
I read this piece a few weeks ago, and I’m trying to absorb the words. Trying to let them be a balm to the blistering disappointment I feel in the moments I can’t live up to the ideal I set myself to:
You are not a terrible parent if you yell at your kids sometimes. You have little dictators living in your house. If someone else talked to you like that, they’d be put in prison.
You are not a terrible parent if you’d rather be at work.
You are not a terrible parent if you just can’t wait for them to go to bed.
You’re an actual parent with limits. You cannot do it all. We all need to admit that one of the casualties specific to our information saturated culture is that we have sky-scraper standards for parenting, where we feel like we’re failing horribly if we feed our children chicken nuggets and we let them watch TV in the morning.
And yet, there is a distinction I feel between comforting myself, telling myself I’m doing the best I can, and letting that simply be enough. It’s okay to acknowledge that I truly am doing the best I possibly can. But it’s not enough. I must also must strive to improve. To try to reach the ideals I created. It’s the basic set up of being human, to try to reach one’s potential. So while I can understand those moments when I don’t live up to what I imagined, I also can’t stop trying to be a better person and by consequence, a better parent. To try to increase my patience and the elasticity with which my rope can stretch. That is one of the things I believe my children are here to teach me. One of the things I’m desperately trying to learn.
But in the meantime, as I try to improve, I will also try to be gentle with the mother of my children. She’s not perfect by a long shot, but she’s doing her best every step of the way.