Tuesday, May 08, 2012

the myth of exceptional parenting

I was an exceptional parent.

More precisely, I was an exceptional parent before I had to actually parent children.

I knew that with the correct combination of breastmilk, cloth diapers, organic homemade baby food, no TV, reading and countless parenting courses that I would produce exceptional children. This is essentially how my children were raised, although the third had disposable diapers and jarred, but still organic,baby food. And yet....

And yet, last night I told my almost 17year old son that he could drop out of high school, that I honestly thought that would be his best option, that he should quit school and get a full time job and eventually work towards a GED. My almost 17year old recovering addict son, who smokes - just cigarettes now, who is in the process of failing his third year of high-school, who says he doesn't care or see the point of learning about Walt Whitman or mathematics, who has anger management problems, aggressive behaviour (towards me) tendencies, and impulse control issues.

This was once my beautiful baby boy. Once my beautiful kind, bright, and loving boy, the one who picked me dandelion bouquets, my ticklish boy who would burst into giggles at the mere threat of wiggling fingers near his belly, my trusting and loving boy who walked out into the world with his heart wide open, and made home made mother's day gifts out of coloured paper, glue and crayons. This was my boy. I still have his cards, his messy writing and beautiful pictures carefully tucked away, but the open hearted, trusting boy has gone away. I catch glimpses of him, occasionally, and also glimpses of the man he could still be, but they happen rarely now, and when they do appear I try not to cling because I know they do not last and soon enough I will have my angry, defiant, hurting boy, who does not see a place for himself in the world, who thinks he does not deserve happiness, or even peace. And I try to parent that boy the best that I can.

My best. My best does not always meet my former standards for being a good parent. My best doesn't even approach how I saw myself in the role of exceptional parent. Sometimes my best is after an angry exchange that makes me want to run away from my child and never speak to him again, is me walking away, remembering the loving boy that is still in there somewhere, and walking back, apologizing and starting over. Sometimes my best is letting my son see my tears, my hurt, my anger and, my love, through the ugly and hurtful moments in our struggles.

I've been told no one gets a free ride, that everyone struggles and I try to remember this when I see other people's children thriving and apparently happy. I try to remember that recovering from addiction can be a great gift, and that wonderful, compassionate people come out of these struggles. I try, but I don't always believe these things.

A few weeks ago my beloved greyhound Fezzik, who has the kindest heart and the most loving disposition was attacked by a friend's part Pit Bull dog. I immediately flung myself between them, only to be violently flung back on my ass. The fight  look terrifying and I was scared to death as I watched this dog lunge at Fezzik's throat. I jumped up again and flung myself towards them, this time with some help and an improved position we got the dogs apart. Fezzik was hurt, he required an expensive vet visit and couldn't walk for two days, or run - which he loves to do in our yard, for almost two weeks. He is fully recovered and his normal joyous self now, and I am very happy no permanent harm was done.

I don't think parenting is throwing your self in with all your heart only to get tossed out again.

I think parenting is when you get up and throw yourself back in, open hearted again, and again and again. Parenting, even after you've been flung on your ass over and over. Parenting is when you're too tired, when you feel so discouraged you want to run away, parenting is when it's ugly, dirty, and terrifying, parenting is when it's the very last thing you want to be doing. Parenting is the willingness to get up, again, and keep your heart open, again, and to fight for your child.

Excellent parents are mythological, right along with the happily ever after lives in faery tales. Real life is messy, mundane, heart and back breaking. It is also jammed full of miracles, wonder, laughter and love. Generally, you don't find these things where you expect, at least I don't.

I let go of my personal myth of being an exceptional parent, it was a tough battle, but getting knocked on my ass a few hundred times eventually wore me down. I work on being a good enough parent, and hope that will be enough.

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