What have I learned in six years of fatherhood? That a good portion of parenting appears to consist of screwing up, doing your best to make sure your kids don’t see you screwing up, and praying that you do better the next time you think you’re about to screw up.
I still find it mystifying that video games come with instruction guides but children don’t. Parenthood really takes the whole “learn on the job” schtick to a new and ridiculous level. Oh, and forget any thoughts you may have about a second child being easier than a first child just because you finally have some experience under your belt. That new child is going to be completely different in attitude, needs, quirks, and disposition from the first one. You might be able to apply some of the basics, like “keep it fed” or “don’t let it parachute off the roof with a towel”, but otherwise you’re starting from scratch.
I think that’s where most of the stress in parenting comes from. Let’s face it, we’re really just winging it as we go, and that leads to the eventual screw-up. Which leads to doubt. Which leads to anger. Which leads to suffering. Thank you very much, Master Yoda.
We tend to focus on the happy stories when we post on-line, the ones highlighting our kids’ accomplishments and pictures of smiling faces. Mostly that’s because we don’t want people to think that we suck at parenting. I don’t think there’s anything a father (or mother, for that matter) is more terrified of than being labeled as “a bad parent”. Outside of a child getting hurt, which is the ultimate expression of that nightmare. We’re so hard on ourselves that someone calling us out for the kids wearing dirty shirts, showing up late to practice, or having a tantrum in a crowd full of “parent judges” (shaking their heads as they reach for their phones to record our inadequacies) is all the confirmation that we need that we suck and are completely undeserving of the honor and joy of raising children.
I’ve reached that point more than a few times. When I can’t stop them from running around the house like crazy people, when they refuse to listen, or when I finally reach the point where I scream my head off at them and reduce them to tears.
Yeah. I pretty much suck at parenting from time to time. Fortunately though, there’s something else that I’m actually really good at which I’ve determined will help me with that. Something that apparently I passed on to the children, resulting in a few of these blow-outs. Sheer stubbornness.
I refuse to quit. I refuse to give up, on them or myself. I refuse to let myself get so bogged up in what I’m doing wrong or the resulting self-pity that I forget what’s important; dusting myself off and trying again. Because that’s the most important thing that I can ever teach or do for my boys.
If there is a secret to parenting, and I’m not 100% convinced that there is, it’s that. Don’t give up. Not on yourself, and not on them. Feel like you screwed up today? You probably did. Think you handled a situation wrong and wasted a good teaching moment with your little one? Most likely. Guess what, though – that’s no different from anyone else, no matter what they would have you believe. Just take a step back, admit you screwed up, and make the promise to do better next time.
Like the old saying goes, “if you’re never screwing up, then you’re never trying.”
When you do that, give yourself permission to screw up, a lot of the stress tends to go away. This ironically also tends to lead to less screwing up. I’m not telling you that it’s okay to willfully ignore your kid or to go out of your way to drop the ball with every intention of dropping the ball just because you’ve reached the point of “I don’t give a damn”. I’m just saying that once you accept the fact that you’re unintentionally going to louse things up every now and then, it makes it a lot easier to handle things when you do.
This, by the way, is also one of , if not THE, most important things we can actually pass on to the kids. It’s okay to screw up. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Take it, learn from it, and do better next time. There’s a world of difference between lack of knowledge and willful ignorance. Screwing up is okay, as long as you intend to learn and build from it.
The bad parent isn’t the one that drops the ball once in a while. The bad parent is the one who refuses to pick it back up and learn from it.
The hardest thing to me about being a dad is that I have to be an example. No one waved a magic wand when the kids showed up that suddenly turned me into this self-assured adult with an encyclopedic knowledge of child rearing. The fact that I laughed at myself and thought “it’s wrong to rear a child” when I typed that sentence is sufficient proof that I am seriously lacking in the maturity department. That’s not to mention neurotic, prone to exaggeration, and more than a little lazy.
Nevertheless, here I am. Whether or not I’m ready, deserving, or remotely qualified, I’ve got the job. I have to do my best with it. I’m not where I need to be. Only thing I can do is admit that and keep trying to get there. That’s just life in general, parenting or no. It’s a series of screw-ups and second attempts until you get it right. I like to think accepting that is the hardest part.
I’d also really appreciate it if you could confirm that, so that I can reassure myself that this isn’t just me trying to feel better about myself. That would be much appreciated.
So let the trial and error continue. God willing, in the end, I’ll have learned and wised up enough that my boys turn out okay once all is said and done, and are able to go on and do the same.
“In the end”. Heh-heh.