Parenthood As Education

In my misguided notions of being a parent there was this underlying belief that I had submitted to my children. That my investment in myself had been reformed and translated to demonstrate the importance of parenting my children; not in being their authority, but their loving care provider and guide into autonomy. Each time I wanted to scream and took a deep breath I recalled that this was what it was all about. That I. Was. Doing. IT.

I was a parent, and a not so bad one at that. Every choice was being made based upon thoughts of how my child, now children, is and what the needs were. Then I had this horrifying moment not one day before my son was a little over four years old (did I mention he’s just a little over four now?) when I realized: I haven’t fully submitted. I categorized. I prioritized. I took who I am, shoved her in a little box and told her she could only come out to play on special occasions. My writing was solidly focused on NOT discussing my life as a parent and I felt this separation was a continuation of a necessary divide.

The Mom my kids see is not all that I am, I daresay they don’t even get a real hint of it, instead they get the often anal retentive (okay that part is completely, and somewhat apologetically, true), but still somewhat fun entirely too verbose me. And meanwhile the Writer Mom forgoes acknowledgment even in my own head. Boundaries are vital in any healthy relationship, and so certain bits of not G rated knowledge is reasonable to withhold, but I am feeling more and more like a counterfeit these days.

My oldest has no idea that I’m a passionate person unless by passionate you mean “the crazy lady who yells when I tackle the cats”. And he GETS passion – in his own way. He understands the love and dedication of wanting to do something like drawing, sculpting, or listening to stories. I still seem bent on denying him a more real version of me. There are justifications galore that I give voice to in my head, but even that gets repressed on such a level that I do not give it a chance to be heard. Not really. As wretched as it is, the reason I find myself so wantonly addicted to ye ole’ social network is because the outspoken and forthright adult can get her time out in public.

Let me be clear: I do not regret being a mother. I do not regret being a stay at home mom (except on some days). I do not regret being a homeschooling mother. I regret that I am not happy all the time in these choices. That I do not LOVE being all these things all the time. That I am not communicating how best to be happy to my children. How to be genuine NO MATTER WHAT.

And here comes that word again. That word many of us in the United States have learned to be abhorrent when it comes to parenting. Submission. I have not submitted. I surrendered. I gave up on myself in my attempt at being a “good enough” parent. In so doing I have been the kind of parent I never wanted to be. Permissive, not completely engaged, short tempered (not always, but even if I heard “I don’t wanna” for five hours straight before snapping “I don’t wanna hear ‘I don’t wanna’ anymore!!!” it feels like I lost a promise to myself, to my kids), and even sometimes a bit embittered. My personality is a fierce one and if you were to meet my son you’d say the same about him, but more often than not the gentility which IS part of my make-up (stop laughing) is lost on all but the wee one.

This all comes down to self-acceptance. To understanding and re-evaluating what I think is valuable. Sadly, this led me to the paralyzing realization that I’ve always suffered just here. Here at this intersection of almost acceptance and self derision was a missing arrow telling me where self-love was. How does one teach something to a child when they don’t know it for themselves? Some believe formal education can solve all the ills, that perhaps a psychology class or five would leave me capable of this (did I mention I have a BA in psychology and was invited to their honors reception? Twice?), but for me the answer is obvious: kids learn the most important lessons in life through action and experience. Many things can be taught, but love? It is felt. Self love? That comes from BEING loved regardless of what is happening in the entire insane universe. And it’s gift is a security one may take wherever they choose to wander. It can be the comfort one needs when those feeling out of place moments occur.

None of this can happen without submission. True submission. Not just to the kids, although that really helps, but submission to one’s self. Submitting to those moments of being raw. To the why’s and what for’s of shame, guilt, betrayal, and unbelievable hurt. Those are the places where one can feel the most alone, the most deserted and unloved. And it’s where every person needs it the most. For me, this is the space that becomes more occupied the more I deny it; my emotional street address. It’s the place I act from as a parent which, coincidentally enough, is the most on the spot, under the microscope occupation one can have. [Ever accidentally swear near a talking toddler? Then you totally know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t done that yet – give it a try. ]

And here is the light: My children are a gift to me. They are reminders of love, of gentleness, that kisses (even of them) can fix just about everything. They’re also sound reminders of what I should never tolerate being done to me if for no other reason than because I don’t want them to learn it’s healthy or acceptable for them to live with. Each set of blue eyes I look into every day is a call to be more courageous and to teach them the self-love it took me more than thirty years to understand I didn’t have. For them I can do that, for me – I didn’t even realize I had been missing something.

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3 responses to “Parenthood As Education

  • Martha Drummond

    This is a wonderful essay. You should submit it to a magazine. I think it would go far and so will you. With fond regards- Martha

  • John Blair

    Kim, I think you have figured out what is wrong with most parents ( if not all). We as parents and grandparents etc. try to figure out only how to please and teach our children, not how to really enjoy it, even though we think we do, we try to put on a persona for our children and as you have found out you are only happy part of the time. If everyone could learnwhat you have we would have better parents and our kids would be ready for the world. Thank You for this article.
    John Blair

  • Hart

    I wasn’t (am not) the primary parent–my husband was at home when they were little and he still is there a lot more than I am, but I can assure you you can TEACH self love without really knowing it. My mom has always been terribly insecure, but because she always put me emotionally first–even though she ALWAYS worked full time–she told me I could do anything, she complimented what I did well and told me she thought I was capable of more if I stumbled… I have confidence and self-love in spades.

    I don’t honestly think you need to give up so much of yourself to do this. I think you do better by allowing yourself out more. Yes, tempter the negative emotional responses, practice more patience than you feel, but show your children that fullfilled, rounded adults have more than one thing that means a lot to them. Yes, they come FIRST, but they aren’t and can’t be what your world revolves around.

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