Doubt

I have several blog/Facebook/Twitter/real-life friends who are each having a rough patch in his/her job as a parent.  When speaking to many of them, I realized that they might see me as one who maybe cannot empathise, because I seem like I have it together, and my kids are doing so well in school and in life.

Let’s just say I put up  a pretty good front.  And I think I do my fellow parents a disservice in the process. 

I can tell you this: from the moment a couple find out a baby is on the way, life is one long exercise in self-doubt.  It NEVER GOES away.  And the world is filled with people who are more than willing to feed and reinforce that doubt.

  • If circumstances keep us from breastfeeding, will the baby be malnourished or underdeveloped? Soy or Similac?
  • Do I circumcise my boy, and scar him emotionally for life? Or leave him uncircumcised, and make him more susceptible to infections?
  • If we do not co-sleep, will the baby have bonding issues and turn into a serial killer? If we do, will she be clingy and never become independent?
  • Do we “Ferberize”? Oh, God, he’s SCREAMING in there! Are you sure we’re doing the right thing?
  • If I put her in daycare, will I be letting strangers raise her? If I don’t, how the heck can I afford all these diapers and all this formula? If we keep her home, will she be developmentally behind those who go to preschool?
  • Do I give him gun toys when he begs? Will he grow up and go an a shooting spree? Or, if I raise him androgynously, am I just setting him up to get the crap beat out of him later?
  • Do I reinforce social stereotypes and give her a doll when she begs? If I don’t, am I killing her maternal instinct (which she’ll most likely need later)?
  • Do we enroll him in public school, meaning he’s very likely going to need some remedial education when he gets to college (as I did), or impoverish ourselves and enroll him in private school, meaning he’ll always be a step below his classmates on the economic scale (which becomes VERY important in the middle school ages)?
  • Do we dive headlong into our internationally adopted children’s “home” culture, and if we do, what do we do when they reject that culture and just want to go get a hamburger?
  • Do we intervene in every conflict she has, to protect her, or do we let it play out to teach her independence and conflict resolution?  Where is that line?
  • Do I buy those $100 shoes, or attempt to teach him the value of being yourself over trying to fit in?  In middle school isn’t that like trying to grasp the wind?  Will he get put in the lower tiers of the school social hierarchy over it?  Am I really prepared to let him become an outcast over this?  Is it worth it?
  • How do we handle the kids’ appetites?  Indulge them too much, you’ve hamstrung them (both socially and health-wise) by letting them get overweight (fair or not, that’s the way it is).  Obsess over it, and one day, they check your daughter into rehab because she has anorexia.
  • Do I let him go to the sleepover, knowing a kid with really bad behaviors will be there?  Or do I trust that he’ll follow my teaching about what’s right and wrong?  When is the right age to do this?
  • Do I hold fast to my rule about piercings and makeup, when the fact that all of her friends are doing them makes my policy so arbitrary? 
  • Do we let them see that really “important” movie which teaches a valuable social or political lesson, even if it means exposing them to R-rated language, sex and violence?
  • DO we make a big deal over his race, or downplay it as much as possible?  If we downplay it, are we setting up identity issues later?
  • What if he’s a little overweight, but refuses to participate in any sport or physical activity?  Do you force it on him for his own good?
  • Do we join the herd and get them cell phones (which really come in handy when everybody is traveling around willy nilly with activities), or teach the kids an important lesson about frugality?
  • How do we handle church when they start to hate it?  Force them to go and participate, and you end up with classic, predictable PK behaviors.  Let them drop out, and you lose a valuable moral support system at the age the kids most desperately need it.
  • How much of our politics do we pass down to them, while still letting them find their own voice?  What if mom and dad disagree about an issue?  How do you present it to the children objectively?
  • Do you let them work part time, to learn the value of labor and money, or do you stress that academic study is their job, and provide everything for them?
  • How much “sex talk” is enough?  If you’ve covered most of it (but not all), and the kid rolls his eyes and says he already knows the rest and insists you respect his privacy and quit talking about it, do you press on anyway?  Do you give him a test and let him CLEP his way out of it?

…this only scratches the surface, and I’ve just gotten to puberty.  I’m sure Susie and Busy Mom could add a LOT more.

The doubt will drive you insane if you let it.  The only way to stay sane is to pick a path and hope you’ve chosen wisely.  If you haven’t, backtrack if you can, and try not to sweat it if you can’t.

I recently was racked with doubt when I did a study of our finances, since money has been running short lately.  It was quite a shock to see it there in paper: I spend around 40% of my take home pay to send my kids to private school.  And most high schools are around double what we’re paying now.  That’s just not sustainable.  I am scrambling to find savings elsewhere in the budget, and maybe find one more source of income.

Add to that the fact that some of my friends (like Susie) have kids graduating from public school, and they are such intelligent, well behaved, fine young men and women.  (Having great, dedicated parents is probably the biggest factor).

So I am really, really doubting the path we’ve chosen. 

Yet, it has always been very, very important to us to surround our kids with a world that has college and high achievement as an expectation.  It was not (an expectation) for me when I was growing up, so as soon as things got difficult, I bolted.  Whn I had kids of my own, I swore my they would not have college held as just another thing you might do when you turn 18.

Also, for Lintilla, putting our kids in that world of high-acheivement expectation is non-negotiable, so I’m going to have to make it work somehow.

Then, last week I’m persuing a blog I really love to read (always with a grain of salt), and in the comments of a particular rambling post, the conversation amongst the participating academics (most of them childless), turned to how their worst, I think the word was “uninteresting”, students were those who were raised with an expectation, as opposed to a hope, of college.

The timing of my reading that comment was quite poor.  I may have done damage to a nearby wall – it’s all a bur.

It took me over a week to come to the realization that this is cheap pontification – it costs the participants nothing.

Oh, those wacky parents, always permanently messing up their kids and sending them off to us to teach, tee, hee.

I can tell you, those of us who stand before you covered in the spittle and pee and feces, with baby food in our hair, and uneraseable  crayon art on our walls, who bear the scars of every tear and “I hate you!”, who have endured the stares from all the people who were sure we were parenting wrong, who really would like to recover from a sleepless night of worry, but we can’t because we have to help with algebra which is due tomorrow although we only just found out about today, who aren’t sure from one moment to the next if they are supposed to be chauffer of referee, who have anxiously rushed a kid to the hospital one day, sick with worry, only to be called “the worst parent ever” the next, who work two or three jobs just to give their kids every chance to be able to make it in the world…

We are not amused.

Don’t get me wrong – parenthood is as rewarding as it is hard – even moreso. 

But, after reading those comments, it tore me up inside so much that I really didn’t sleep for a week.  My doubt, though, has settled into anger.

You can second guess the parents you see, you can even second guess your own parents and blame them for all of your shortcomings.  Just know that whatever they did wrong in your eyes – it was not flippant.  I can guarantee you they worried and prayed and lost sleep, and did what they thought was right, all the while doubting themselves.

All a parent can really do is what Rhett Butler did in Gone With The Wind: bow low to our accusers, apologize for our shortcomings, and walk away.  They really won’t understand until they’re in our shoes.

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6 Responses to “Doubt”

  1. dolphin Says:

    I’m learning more and more to never say things like “They really won’t understand until they’re in our shoes.”

    It’s a true enough statement, but I’ve learned that every single person who won’t understand until they’re in my shoes is a person who I won’t understand until I’m in their shoes. it therefore becomes impossible for me to condemn them for their lack of understanding without simultaneously committing the same crime myself.

  2. Slartibartfast Says:

    dolphin – that’s an enigma wrapped inside a conundrum. Is that Buddhist philosophy? It may take me weeks to untangle 🙂

    I will say this: a lot of people who criticise parents will one day indeed become parents themselves. Many won’t, and for them, your statement is true.

    But, it is part of the continuum of life: our when we are in our teens and early 20’s, we are filled with angst at all the things we perceive our parents did wrongly. For those who have children, a moment of clarity eventually comes. To those who don’t, I’m afraid they might intellectually come to learn that their parents were only human and did the best they could, but they won’t emotionally ever reach that moment of clarity. Part of them, emotionally, is forever stuck in adolescence. I swear, I don’t say this to make anyone mad, it’s just the way it is.

    It’s just very frustrating, when the stakes are so high, to be second guessed, especially when I do that job so well myself.

  3. Slartibartfast Says:

    But I feel better now.

  4. Slartibartfast Says:

    That wasn’t quite right either, darn it. I should add that there are many who never enter the adolescent angst phase in the first place (I know Lintilla was this way, and I suspect that Warrior and Kat were as well). People like this were always emotionally “grown up”, even in childhood, so it’s silly to say they are stuck in adolescence.

    It’s very hard to target a rant when you’ve been chastised for calling out people specifically before, so you speak in generalities 🙂

  5. bridgett Says:

    Ok, professor and parent reporting in. My worst students have been spoiled by their parents. They’ve been told that they can do no wrong and given the moon; they’ve not had to work for anything that they possess. No one has ever told them no. They’ve been passed along in their school without having to write much, without being asked to explain what they think or why they think it. They don’t know themselves very well (having never had the leisure to develop any self-awareness) and they don’t have any real goals of their own; they’ve just been told that they need to go to college and so they off they go, no burning passion to know anything and so just sort of lost and immature. And they get there and they aren’t particularly academically special, they don’t know how to work, and it comes as a shock that they might be expected to, and they utterly lack curiousity or drive.

    So is this a parenting problem? Partly. Show them they’re special, but challenge them. Let them fail once in a while and let them work hard to accomplish whatever they can — even if it’s just mediocre, let it be their own. Be interested, but let them own their own academic life and put them in places where they’re pushed (just short of in over their head) and where they have to think critically. Let them be bored so that they have to figure out how to work to develop their own interests and amuse themselves. Give them guidance, but let them figure themselves out so that the directions they choose are authentically their own. Don’t send them to college before they can tell you what they want out of it and how they’re going to go about getting it. A part-time job — and earning/waiting for some of what they want — is a valuable thing.

  6. Susie Says:

    If I might put my two cents in…

    I know that at least with our local High School there are opportunities for your super intelligent kids…there are the International Baccalaureate programs and also Career/Thematic Centers that they are putting alot of effort into.
    My personal opinion is that a teenager is going to be a teenager no matter what you do. You can expect no matter how much effort you put into them that the minute hormones kick in you just need to grab a coat tail and hang on, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride! If you are working all the time to send them to private school, and don’t have time to be there for them when they come home with a problem, and keep that relationship that is so incredibly important for now and the rest of their lives, have you really won anything?


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