Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Actual vs imagined parenting

As a child, I had a very clear view of the perfect mother.  She was my castle-on-a-cloud daydream for myself, and I hoped to become her someday for the benefit of my own children.  But I have had to accept that I am not that person.  One of the many lessons I've had to learn as a parent is that my personality didn't magically disappear at the moment of birth, to be replaced by a new creature designed for raising children.  Indeed one of the most surprising things about becoming a parent has been how very much I am still the person I was before.  With all the flaws and foibles that entails.

The perfect mother I imagined was a calm, nurturing earth-goddess.  She didn't just hold some of the leftie ideals that I hold politically, she carried them out in every-day life with a glorious hippy-aura of universal love, supreme forgiveness and infinite patience.  (Feel free to picture her in a flowing white gown through a soft-focus lens.)

Well I am not, and never have been, particularly calm.  Acquaintances have mistaken me for such, but that's my polite, still-scared-of-strangers front.  My nearest and dearest bear the full brunt of the subsequent frustration that regularly boils over into ranty, tantrum-y yelling matches... often with inanimate objects.  I am moody, easily irritated, and frankly often plain difficult to live with.  Not serene.

I don't think anyone could describe me as an earth-goddess, calm or otherwise, either.  As I have written, my attempts to grow a few veggies didn't go so well, and that lack can pretty much be extended to my life and personality beyond the garden.  If I were a deity, I'd be more akin to Thor - throwing hammers about when the mood takes me; or perhaps Dionysus - getting pissed as if that were my royal right - than any of the life-giving feminine types I used to worship.

And forget hippy.  The dresses didn't suit me as a teenager and do even less for my figure now; in any case I lean ever further towards cynicism than love of my fellow man.  'Universal love'?  More like 'universal contempt'.

I never actually thought much about the word 'patience' before parenthood.  I didn't need to until mine was actually tested - and I have been found severely lacking.

I am quite forgiving I think, but then I have to be or I'd be guilty of hypocrisy on top of all my other parenting crimes.  And when it comes to my children (unlike my veggies), I would give myself some credit for being 'nurturing'.

So that's two out of... six?... perfect-mother characteristics?  Surely a fail in anyone's book.

But there is some good news.  Firstly, my innocent child isn't judging what sort of a mother I am - he just knows that I'm the mummy, and that's good enough for him.  I am aware that even if I were officially abusive he'd have this attitude, so I find his love humbling rather than validating; a challenge to match his trust in me as much as I humanly can.

Secondly, countering my efforts, there is the realisation of how little effect I actually have on him anyway.  While a parent certainly can do plenty of damage to their child, most of us don't.  When worrying about my skills just pre-parenthood, a gorgeous friend suggested that it's pretty simple - they just need love.  Oh, and boundaries.  Love and boundaries she said were the basic rules of good-enough parenting.  And it seems to be true.  His personality is his own, and as long as I meet his primary physical and emotional needs the rest is largely beyond my control.

And finally, I realise that my actual personality, rather than the perfect one I imagined, has some benefits of its own.  That earth-mother might never have yelled, but would she ever have laughed hysterically at her child's jokes either?  Could I picture her wrestling a one-year-old in mutual shrieks of joy on the lounge-room floor, or agreeing that dribbly-farty-face-noises are the height of comedy?  My occasional (okay, regular) lack of organisation and inability to stick to schedules, with subsequent making-it-up-as-I-go-along-ness might even teach my children something about adaptability.  And my overall flawed and subsequently self-forgiving nature might just teach them to forgive themselves their own perceived flaws, and give them the opportunity to revel in their glorious, messy, unique humanity.

I am no perfect mother.  But perhaps this knock-around gal is a fairly decent, and pretty darn fun mum instead.