Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Good Enough Parent

I've been thinking a lot lately about good parenting. I spend lots of time every day observing the ways in which we treat our children and how we, as parents, move through the world. So much of my daily energy is spent reading, writing, and talking about kids and unschooling and parenting, it's easy for me to place myself upon a pedestal as unschooler/mom/teacher/parent- extraordinaire. But I'm not. Clearly. I have a lot to learn and screw up daily in various ways.

What's really got me thinking this week is how we each, in our own way, judge the parenting of others. Lately I have had several situations come up with other families where conflict needed to be resolved between our children. Naturally, as parents, we each advocated for our own kids and struggled to be respectful of the needs of the other. In both of these situations, my child was the aggressor, the bully, the one who did wrong. No one wants to be the parent of the bad kid, and no one wants their kid to live with the belief that they are bad.

Way back when, when I was still teaching, and before my own kids had come along, I believed strongly that difficult children came from difficult parents. If the kids screwed up at school, it certainly meant that Mom and Dad were not doing their job at home. I remember sitting in parent teacher conferences listening to parents, puzzled about their child's inability to sit still or follow directions, or stay on task, thinking, "If I were the parent, this child would be much different." Not many teachers admit to this kind of arrogance, but I think it's pretty common. Especially for those of us who hadn't yet experienced the shock and awe of watching your sweet, beautiful, perfect child do something completely unmentionable right before your very eyes.

I remember my best friend Jodi, also a teacher with no kids of her own, admitting this very belief to me shortly after Janey, my oldest went through her 18 months of terrorist behavior at the age of 2. Janey was beautiful and sweet and rosey cheeked and lovely. She had these amazing blonde curls and big, bright eyes. She was the picture of innocence. One day, while we were standing in line at the bank, she wandered up to another little girl, several years older than her, and with a big smile and a casual glance over her shoulder in my direction, she yanked on the little girl's pony tail so hard, she brought that sweet, innocent little girl to the ground in one swoop. It was horrifying in every way. And it forever changed my naive belief that good parenting makes for perfectly well behaved children.

I've learned a lot in the 9 years that have followed that fateful day at the bank. I'd like to think that I've moved past the need to prove to the world that I'm a good parent. But it's tough. Especially when your kid does some thing bad. The good news is that I'm learning. I'm learning that there are as many ways to parent a child as there are children in this world. And many of them are good enough. I really do believe that as parents we all do the best we can. And I also believe that in respecting another's way, I am honoring my way. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I do know what works for me. And that's good enough.

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