Those are three types of parenting I just read about. Just seeing the letters that spell them out sends chills up my spine. The names alone are enough to scare me. I don’t want to delve further into descriptors because I know I’ll identify with 8 out of the 10 characteristics posted.
Have you bought your children what they’ve asked for?
Do the Dr. Dre monster headphones they wanted for no reason count? BINGO! Put your red marker on the Indulgent square.
How about that time you didn’t make dinner for four five days straight?
BINGO again! You get to fill up the Neglectful row.
And then when you didn’t budge about getting them a smartphone even though every kid in his class had one? (That one time? Who are you kidding it’s still that one time)
Winner! Pile all your red chips in the center for Authoritarian.
Parenting is the most important thing in my life. It’s what I think about when I wake up and right before I pass out at night. Parenting absorbs me and replenishes me. I love being the mother of my children. It’s been my life for 20 years.
And I still don’t know what I’m doing. I’m as terrified at times as I am at ease at others. Even that time when a high school boyfriend convinced me that I could do a Civil War reenactment weekend doesn’t compare to how at a loss I am for what I’m doing as a parent.
I whisper to myself at night: Forgive yourself as you forgive them.
I’ve written on a note I keep in my purse: Mistakes are part of learning.
Taped to the mirror above my dresser is a yellow Post-It: You don’t just move on, you learn.
All these words I keep close to my side, to keep me going until the point I feel like I’m not groping in the dark anymore, hands stretched out searching. It seems every time I feel the terrain is familiar enough for me to step out without fear of tripping over something unseen, someone rearranges the furniture.
It’s like the secretive way that I was as a child, never feeling that I would be understood or accepted. That memory of feeling so lonely in a houseful of people keeps me second-guessing whether I’m giving my children what they need. There is a balance to them feeling in control, intact, independent, and me guiding, encouraging, instilling. I never felt I was able to have a say as a kid, and that made me give up. Coming out of that, it took me decades to find my own voice.
Now my three children turn to me, in their joy and in their anger and to question the 100% say I have in their lives. I’m at the receiving end of gratitude as well as the backlash that comes with looming so large in someone’s life. But they have always felt safest with me. When I would shower and they were infants, my husband would have to hold them up and to the side so they could peek in past the curtains to keep me in their sight. It was the only way to keep them from screaming their heads off. The force of their need for me, for mama, had me standing under the showerhead, water rushing over me, singing-weeping as much to them as to myself.
I now shower without Peeping Toms. I don’t even have to announce I’m going upstairs to do it. I used to wonder if those eternal days would ever end, when I wouldn’t have to stand in the center of a room and megaphone my hands over my mouth:
“Mommy’s going to go to the bathroom now. I’ll be right back.”
“Mommy’s going to go downstairs and get the laundry. I’ll be right back.”
“Mommy’s going to make a phone call. I’ll be right back.”
The land has leveled, and I’ve got my own oxygen now. But it’s only been a few minutes of free-breathing and the air has thinned again. My youngest is 13 now, and he has started conversations that sound less like an offer of ringside seats to a fight and more like being in the ring.
As he tries to find himself, I see how he’s the one groping in the dark now. Is he a boy? Is he a young man? He has to answer that, and I have to remember not to interfere with the process of him discovering who he is—and the power there is in that. He is my child who is becoming a teen, and he’s caught between longing the for the days of yesterday and wanting to keep up with his peers. And while it would be easy to blame me for his lingering need to still be with his mom, it’s him who makes this choice—contrary to what the world expects of him. But this is a difficult place for him to be, wavering between childhood and the journey toward independence. After all, our world doesn’t reward adolescents for liking their parents (“You still like your mom? So cool! Extra points for that!”).
So when he does hand me an invitation to a fight, it doesn’t mean I have to show up jabbing. I can refuse the boxing gloves and stand holding my two arms open instead. Whether he falls into them or not, it’s his decision. But I never want to miss the chance of being the one he feels safest with.
This article was originally published on