Posted on | May 8, 2014 | No Comments
One of the hardest things about being a parent is learning how and when to let go of the quest for a perfect child.
I thought, when J was a baby, that dropping him off at daycare was the worst thing I’d ever go through. I remember the first day like it was yesterday… placing him gently in the arms of his daycare teacher and slinking back to my car to sob for a good twenty minutes about leaving him. It felt like the hardest thing I’d ever do… entrusting him to someone else to protect and love and nurture. Who could possibly love him as well as I can? Who could possibly take such good care of him as his own mother? How would they keep him happy and clean and, well… perfect?
As the years have flown by, there have been a lot of those moments. There have been a lot of times when I’ve felt like my world is too wrapped up in my son, too invested in trying to give him everything in the world to make him, yes, perfect. There have been many moments when I’ve wondered to myself how anyone could possibly screw up parenting and just as many (okay maybe more) when I’ve wondered how anyone gets any of it right. And as I’ve watched him grow from a baby to a toddler to the crazy pre-schooler that he is now, I’ve watched myself grow right along side him.
When he was small, I thought that everything was important… how he dressed, how often and how well I bathed him, how much he ate, how little he cried. And yes, those things are important, but that’s not what it’s really all about, is it? At least that’s not everything. Being the cleanest doesn’t make you the best, I suppose, though it certainly seemed to be the most important thing in the world to me when I had a newborn. I distinctly remember the moment when I dropped a pacifier on the floor of a restaurant and sent my ex-husband to wash it off in hot water in the sink. An older couple at the next table laughed and said “First child?” with a knowing smile. I was shocked.
I couldn’t fathom I’d ever not want to wash a dirty pacifier off in the sink… what kind of parent does that?! Isn’t dirt a sign of bad parenting or something? Who could possibly just clean off a pacifier in their own mouth and give it back to their child? (Me, that’s who, several weeks later and for the rest of his babyhood.)
Because dirt don’t hurt, am I right? And there’s just no trophy presented to the parent with the cleanest and best-dressed child. Nor, thank God, are there demerits for having a dirty one. How my child dresses himself is no reflection on my parenting skills though for a while, I really thought it was. I used to argue with him over mis-matched clothes, shoes on the wrong feet, two different socks. I have had to learn to let go of the need to tell him what to wear, when to wear it, and how to put it on. And it’s been a struggle for me not to think that his appearance, what he is happy in, is some sort of telltale sign that I’m raising him wrong.
This was never more clear to me than when, last week, my son came home from school, covered in dirt with, of course, holes in the knees of his pants and sixteen pounds of sand weighing down his shoes. I ran the bath water and hovered as he undressed to climb into the bath. When he pulled off his pants, I stopped and looked at him for a moment.
“Did you have an accident at school?” I asked, not recognizing the underwear but fairly certain the pants were right. He looked at me sheepishly for a moment and shrugged.
“No. I just forgot to put on underwear this morning,” he nonchalantly climbed into the bathtub and I could do nothing but laugh.
Because these are the moments that remind me what parenting is all about… it’s not about being the best or having the most perfect child. It’s about letting them make their own decisions, remember their own damn underwear, and realizing that when they forget it? It’s not a reflection of how well you’re parenting.
It’s just a reflection of how good they are at being four. And, you know, driving you crazy.