Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Robert Burns Has It Right

It's so easy to be the perfect parent before you are one. C'mon, admit it. You know you had those thoughts. I sure did. The "my child will NEVER act like that in public!" scorn shot through exchanged glances across the supermarket aisles. The proud declarations to your friends as you gathered around small tables at Starbucks at 7pm, sipping your lattes, patting each other on the back for how well behaved your children will be someday, and how NOT like that little rugrat running around Starbucks they'll be. Or even the thoughts that were kept to yourself, or perhaps only shared with your spouse or significant other. The ones about how you'll birth with no drugs, nurse until your child is 12 months exactly, give them only organic baby food hand processed by you, train them to sleep through the night at 6 weeks old, never let them cry it out, never ever spank, speak only calmly to them, diffuse temper tantrums with redirection... I could go on and on. And that's only covering the first year of parenthood.

And it really never ends does it? The perfect parent can continue on their parade right through their child's infancy and early childhood. I will freely admit there were plenty of times I strolled through the mall with my complacent, quiet, dozing baby in a stroller, pausing to casually check out things in Gymboree, while inwardly rolling my eyes and cursing the moms who let their toddlers run amuck in and out of the rounders. Or as I hovered in the kiddie play area, protecting my precious toddler from the kids that are clearly too big to be allowed to play and really too old to care.

I'm not sure when exactly it happened, but at some point I slowly started to peel away at the layers of my "perfect parenting". Maybe it was when Princess #2 was born and she cried and cried for no reason whatsoever. Maybe it was when Princess #1 became a young child and started questioning everything - not out of defiance, but because she was trying to figure out her world. Maybe it was when I found myself the mother of 4 children and it became physically impossible to keep all 4 children in check at all times.

Maybe it was when I realized that my children are not little robots to be programmed, but actual humans with needs, desires, feelings. Often selfish in nature, yes. But honest and innocent nonetheless.

You know that poem by Robert Burns? The one that goes "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." Yeah, that. Life happens. To all who have yet to embark on the journey of parenthood, or who have only just begun, do yourself and favor and start cutting yourself slack now. You are NOT the perfect parent. Your kids are going to screw up. They are going to embarrass you. There are going to be moments where you wish you could dig a hole right there in the middle of Target and hide in it.

I say, embrace that. I think there may be no greater gift than to teach your children that you are fallible and they are too. Yes, we set boundaries, we have rules, we teach patience and tolerance. But we also know that humans make mistakes. And the important thing is that we learn and grow from them. Projecting yourself as the perfect parent is setting yourself up for parental failure and setting your child up for the belief that they can never measure up.

I know we all have ideals. Ideals are what we have until reality bears down upon us. And they occur in every area of life, not just in parenting. But I think parenting is where we are the hardest on each other. Mamas, in particular, can be just so downright judgmental. And it needs to stop. Truly. We can just as easily dole out the grace as we can the judgment. We have no idea what is going on inside a family when we see a public temper tantrum. Maybe the child is physically and emotionally incapable of acting any other way. Maybe the mama had no choice but to run to the grocery store during nap time that day, dragging her tired children with her because the fridge is empty and bellies are hungry. Maybe, just maybe some inexplicable and unforeseen thing set their child off and they are as clueless as you are as to why. Instead of thinking in your head how YOU would NEVER allow YOUR child to act that way (which, by the way, shows on your face whether you want it to or not), maybe just offer a small reassuring smile across the aisle and mentally note that if you haven't been there yet, someday you will. I speak this to myself, because I know that my default response is to be smug.

We mamas are all on the same journey. Most of us want our children to grow into kind, gracious and contributing members of society. We may make different choices in our journey to get them there, but the goal is the same. It's time to put the perfect parent to rest and embrace Robert Burns' wisdom. It's not the plan that's important, but what you do with it when it inevitably fails.


  1. Girl, I think that post came out PERFECTLY. ;)

  2. {Nodding head} Yup... think we have been there.

  3. Amen and Amen! Preach it sister!!

  4. This is a WONDERFUL post! Keep it forever, you will need to refer to it in 10-12 years.
    I really needed it today. Thanks.

  5. Ahh, this is great and funny how similar our thoughts are on perfect parenting. The whole line about how people have that, "I'd never let my child act like that", look is excellent because it's true. I'm guilty of doing it and people giving it to me. Thanks for your comment - great minds think alike.

  6. I'm so glad you posted this link. We are so quick to judge other mommas, and even quick to make assumptions about our own children's behavior, without really taking the time to figure out what the issue is.

    I've taken some food for thought with me from the blogging world today!


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