Last week was not my best parenting week. I regretted an ultimatum I made, lost my temper, and seriously wondered if I was raising a sociopath. I looked helplessly at my tantruming child, snapped at rude behavior, and questioned my parenting. I could blame it on a number of reasons – my daughter’s transition to preschool, not enough sleep, the perhaps not-so-brilliant idea to have ice cream and wine for dinner (although more research is needed on that one before making any big decisions). Whatever the reasons, my reserve was low, my patience was thin, and I was struck again by the knowledge that I have no idea what I am doing.
I think we all have at least one friend who we look to and think “Man, she really has this parenting thing down.” Maybe she shows up to playdates wearing makeup and clothes that don’t have food smeared on them. Maybe her children don’t leave the house wearing their pajamas and crocs in the dead of winter. Maybe her child started walking at 9 months and doing algebra the week after. Maybe she just seems to have all the answers. Here’s a secret: She doesn’t. None of us do.
We mothers put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Parenting is an important job, and one that we want to do well. But we have been given so many ways to feel inadequate about the job we are doing. There are thousands of parenting books, all of which conflict with each other, and all of which are laden with scientifically-backed proof that our children will become alcoholic insomniacs if we fail to heed their advice. There are other parents who off-handedly mention the things their children are doing that our children aren’t doing yet. There’s the internal guilt about checking our phones too often, or not keeping the house clean, or making quesadillas for dinner for three nights running. I often hear from my friends: “I feel like I’m only just getting comfortable with this mothering thing” or “Are my children really badly behaved?” or “I feel like I’m in so over my head.” I have had every one of those doubts as well.
I’ve now had three children and I feel like there are some things I have down. I can change a diaper in under thirty seconds; I can get a nutritious meal on the table without too much work and an un-nutritious meal with even less; I generally know when to call the doctor and when to let things slide; I’ve learned to capitalize on my children not being able to tell time yet. But there are way more things that I have no clue about. How will I explain where babies come from when my children inevitably think to ask about it? What will be our policy on internet use? How will we explain death and loss?
Here’s what I realized though, which I have found to be so freeing: Nobody knows what they’re doing! Not a one of us! Even our parents, as shocking as this may be to realize, had no idea what they were doing! (Sorry, Dad, I mean this with all respect.) No matter how much babysitting experience you had as a kid, no matter how many parenting books you’ve read or even written, no matter how many children you have, it doesn’t matter. These kids will find new ways to challenge you, surprise you, and subject you to all kinds of fresh torture.
But here’s the thing – while we may not know what we’re doing, who is in a better position than us to figure it out? We’ve known these children since they were just kicking around in our bellies. We’ve fed them. We’ve changed them. We’ve learned what they like and what they don’t (at least for today); what makes them giggle and what makes them mad. We know where they are most ticklish. We know when to give them a hug and when to give them space. We know how to listen to them, even when they’re not talking. We know that they will forgive us when we totally mess up.
So despite being in completely over my head, I am confident. I am confident that I will make some good calls and some amazingly bad ones. I am confident that I will have some good parenting days and some bad ones. I am confident that I will need help and ask for it. I am also confident that I will have my fair share of doubt and insecurity. But above all, I am confident that I will do my best to raise my crazy kids. I know that we all will. We are capable and well-intentioned and we love our kids with all our hearts. Clueless as we may be, we’ve totally got this parenting thing.