You Can’t Know How You’re Doing as a Parent
Parenting can feel like a thankless job. With toddlers, there are the unpredictable tantrums erupting from the strangest of grievances (“No wanna climb stairs!”), the endless trips to the potty (and countless loads of laundry for the inevitable misses), and the CIA-level deciphering of a nonstop stream of gibberish (“Eee meow wit Dada!” translates to “I want to eat a banana with Dad!”). I do enjoy a spontaneous hug or sloppy kiss from my two-year-old now and then, but parents seem on par with teachers, social workers, and garbage collectors in the realm of underappreciated occupations.
Unfortunately (or maybe, fortunately), you don’t receive regular performance evaluations as a parent. Improved collection of feces and urine in lavatory in Q1, but you fell below performance goals in Q2. You have no idea if you’re raising an empathetic, responsible member of society until your child is about 38 years old and most of their/her/his personality kinks have been ironed out. Until then, we’re left guessing as to how our parenting is impacting our little humans.
In the absence of any assuredness that my parenting efforts are benefiting my child, I’m motivated by love, hope, and a healthy dose of worry (“I’ve got to do better than my parents did so you don’t end up like me — an emotionally incontinent, middle-aged writer.”).
I’m walking blind toward an unknowable future and hoping all this mindfulness stuff I’m using is actually working. I do my best to remain calm and positive with my daughter, even when her shrieks are piercing my skull. I take a deep breath and center myself. If I’m still feeling overwhelmed, I walk away and look out the window for a moment. If I’m completely overwhelmed, I’ll hand her to my husband, tell him I need a moment, take a walk around the block. 90% of the time, I’m playful and patient with her, and I haven’t raised my voice at her yet.
Occasionally, the exhaustion of maintaining my composure in front of my daughter overtakes me and I find myself expelling my frustration at other targets. I become irritated at my husband for the most inane reasons (“You didn’t close the lid on the Tupperware all the way!”) or annoyed with general life stuff (“Why am I getting heartburn all the time? Uggggg!”).
Pre-child and post-child, one of my biggest stress triggers is malfunctioning technology. Even if it’s something as insignificant as a minimally-used app that keeps shutting down, I feel impotent, incompetent, and, although I know shouldn’t, I take it personally. (“Why won’t this stupid thing work? I know it hates me.”)
Last week, my laptop died. It was eight years old, had a full life, and one day it was all over. I sat down to try and revive it, restarting it over and over again in hopes of seeing my home screen rather than the black screen of death. “It’s not working, it’s not working,” I mumbled under my breath, my irritation mounting. My daughter was playing with her trains on the floor next to me, but I lost track of what she was doing as I became consumed with “fixing” my computer. “Come on! Come on! Just work already!” I wasn’t afraid of losing anything important (I store all my files on a cloud); I just couldn’t believe a perfectly functional device wound up and quit on me.
I felt myself tipping over the edge into irrational anger. “You stupid thing!” I yelled and sighed loudly. Suddenly, I felt my daughter’s small, warm hand on my forearm. Her touch was so gentle, it startled me. She walked around to face me, kissed me on the mouth, and caressed my cheek. “It’s ok, Mommy,” she said.
My heart melted. “Thank you, baby!” I wrapped her up in a big hug. “It is ok. Thank you for reminding me.”
I thought about all the times I comforted my daughter — no matter whether she was crying about falling on cement and scraping her knee or sobbing because a bird she was watching flew away. I thought about all the times I was in-my-bones tired and could have taken my feelings of inadequacy and helplessness out on her — and didn’t. I thought about all the people in my life who’ve criticized me and my husband for being too gentle with her, for not teaching her that life is hard and that she needs to suck it up.
Then, I thought, maybe my husband and I are doing something right? Maybe the empathy and patience we’ve been trying to model are taking hold? I celebrated the idea, luxuriating in the momentary reverie of a job well done — until my daughter hit me over the head with her stuffed llama to knock me out of it.
I know parenting is a long road. I won’t get any progress reports along the way. What I can do is appreciate the moments where I see glimpses of my daughter’s humanity and believe that maybe, just maybe, my husband and I had a little something to do with it.