The Perfect Parent
An Excerpt from Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi
The twentieth-century philosopher Fred Rogers said, “My hunch is that if we allow ourselves to give who we really are to the children in our care, we will in some way inspire cartwheels in their hearts.” Then he put on his sweater and changed into sneakers.
Maybe I can come clean to Noah and the world that this parenting thing is pretty darn challenging. That I have no idea what to do quite a bit of the time.
Another modern philosopher, Louis Szekely, albeit from a different school of philosophy than Mr. Rogers, has his own take on this: “It’s hard having kids because it’s boring….They read Clifford the Big Red Dog to you at a rate of fifty minutes a page and you have to sit there and be horribly proud and bored at the same time.” Szekely, also known as Louis C.K., certainly speaks his mind.
We’re not superhuman or infallible. And our kids will wear us down and find this out. When we’ve got nothing left, they will ask for one more story. While we’re having sex for the first time in seven weeks, they will wake up and call for a glass of water. And they will call us on our hypocrisies.
So I’d like to stop trying to be perfect. Instead, I’d like to model being human. To learn from my mistakes. To apologize when I mess up. My plan: forgive myself and move on. Kids are so incredibly dy-namic. Today I can start being the parent I want to be. And if today does not go quite right, I can forgive myself again and start fresh
Last week, I was at an eye exam for Noah. The doctor was kind of a jerk. He wanted to put drops in Noah’s eyes, which I can accept. But apparently he had not read Dr. Spock or Dr. Sears. And he certainly was not versed in Larry Cohen’s very excellent Playful Parentingapproach. This doctor would have made a very fine navy admiral. But as a pediatric optometrist, I’d say he was ill suited.
He was frustrated that Noah, age two, did not want to sit still for the drops. Which is weird. Was Noah his first patient? Maybe pediatric medicine was a new career for him, perhaps after retiring from the NYPD vice squad.
So the doctor commanded me to hold Noah down while he put in the drops. Noah was crying wildly. I was caught off guard by the doc’s order, so I did it. I held Noah down against his will while the doctor put in the drops.
Afterward, Noah cried some more. But then he moved on pretty easily, thrilled to play with the toys in the waiting room while his eyes dilated.
I, on the other hand, felt terrible. I was sure I could have found a less violent way to get the drops in. I had overpowered Noah physically and felt I had betrayed him. I was beating myself up. But then a friend reminded me that my job as a parent is not to model being perfect but to model being human and compassionate and forgiving.
When we got home, I apologized to Noah and told him that I would never do that again. Which I think is valuable. I don’t need to model getting everything right. That would be too neurotic. It’s okay to mess up. I just need to model taking responsibility, apologizing for my mistakes, and forgiving myself.
After all, kids learn from what we tell them, sure. But even more, they learn from what we do. So if I can do this, if I can forgive myself, well, then, Noah will likely learn to forgive himself.
And that would truly be something worth passing along.
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Brian Leaf is the author of Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi and Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, as well as the owner and director of the holistic New Leaf Learning Center in western Massachusetts. He has studied, practiced, and taught yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda for twenty-three years. Visit him online at http://www.misadventures-of-a-yogi.com.
Excerpted from the new book Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi ©2014 by Brian Leaf. Published with permission of New World Library http://www.newworldlibrary.com
And make sure to check out Brian’s hilarious book trailer!
Today’s “good mother” has allowed us to cross-post this piece which originally went up at LeanIn.org.
I was 36 and had ended yet another failing relationship. My struggle to find a life partner stood in stark contrast to a long list of accolades at work. Of all the things I had achieved, motherhood remained out of my grasp. For as a long as I can remember, it is the thing I wanted most.
One by one, I had attended my friends’ weddings, baby showers, and hospital rooms. I thought about having a baby on my own, but I wondered if people would feel sorry for me. Being single had always made me feel vaguely pathetic, like something was wrong with me. Then, in February 2011, my grandmother died. For reasons I don’t quite understand, I suddenly knew that being single didn’t mean something was wrong with me at all – and that if I continued to think that way, I might end up alone forever.
By April, I had chosen an anonymous donor. By August, I was pregnant. In April 2012, I gave birth to a daughter. It has been an experience that is as joyful as it is exhausting. When I reach the top of the stairs with my daughter in my arms and realize that I have forgotten the milk, there is no one to yell down to and ask to bring it to me. When she cries in the night and I don’t know why, there is no one to ask what to do. And when she doesn’t start using words when she should, there is no one quite as worried as I am.
Yet my heart feels like it will burst out of my chest when I feel her tiny 18-month-old hands pat my back as she hugs me, when she puts two words together and says, “Mama…hi!” and when she learns to splash in the tub and laughs so hard that she hiccups.
Now, as a single mother by choice, leaning in means leaning on: friends, family and colleagues. Like many women, I struggle to ask for help. It can make me feel unbearably needy, selfish and demanding. I also hate to be late – to a meeting or with a project. I never want to put anyone out. But letting someone do my dishes or hang out with my daughter while I go for a run is what helps me be healthy and happy as a mom. Asking a colleague to Skype instead of meet in person, or telling a client I need a few more days to deliver a project, is what I need to be a good parent and move the ball forward in my career on my own terms.
I can’t do this alone. But I am determined to challenge my persistent need to “do it all myself.” Asking for help is a powerful act of self-respect. When we ask for what we need, we imply that we are worthy of it. And when we reject perfectionism in favor of an authentic, balanced self, we create a better world for the girls who are watching us. Like my daughter.
Rachel Simmons is the author of the New York Times bestseller Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls.
This post is part of a series of responses asking for thoughts on “good mothering.” Please email me at TheMamafesto (at) gmail (dot) com if you would like to participate!
A good mother is there with a hug, a kiss and a smile even if she’s just gotten on your case about something. A good mother learns even more from her children than she teaches them and she’s okay with that. She’s like a velvet covered brick – soft and comforting to the touch but strong and able to hold up her family like a good foundation should be.
Jamaine Cripe is the Religious Education Assistant at the Unitarian Church in Summit and mother to her eight year-old daughter, Alice. She resides in Maplewood, NJ.