When it comes to parenting, I’ve been around the block a time or two. Heck, I’ve practically worn out the course.
My husband and I have even transitioned to the next generation of parenting, which is so great it can be described as “grand.” Our daughter and son-in-law are parents themselves and are embracing parenthood as only first-timers can. We’ve all been there. The dichotomy between parenting a first child and second-born is substantial. With children further down the line, the phenomenon is exponentiated.
We are currently finishing up with our fourth. To say he lives in a different world than his 10-year-older sister did is an understatement. With her, I used to try to be a super parent. It was tough going. There were so many details and important things to attend to. Like matching socks.
I remember when my daughter was 6 years old and had just started playing soccer. I was unfamiliar with the game and when helping her get dressed I put her shin guards on over her socks. It’s supposed to be the other way around. Imagine my horror — first when I discovered my error, and later when a photo of her wrong-way socks made the front page in the sports section of the local newspaper, clearly illustrating my parenting prowess in the soccer shin guard department. I was devastated.
An error in shin guards would no longer faze me. I’ve embarrassed myself in much bigger ways over the years. A gaffe in sporting equipment is the least of my worries — even if it does make the front page of the newspaper.
During my parenting tenure, I’ve learned a lot about a lot of things. I can outfit a 6-year-old in protective hockey gear, competently launder football pads and multi-task third grade reading practice and sixth grade math homework. Soccer pads? They’re a cinch.
But mostly I’ve learned how not to be a perfect parent.
I used to think I could do it all. I used to try to do it all. And then I grew up alongside my older kids, and I realized doing it all doesn’t make you the perfect parent. Sometimes relaxing does. Sometimes not sweating the small stuff (99 percent of it is small stuff) benefits everyone.
I’ve learned not to compare myself to all the other perfect parents. And there are so many out there, aren’t there? I’ve learned not to set myself up as a perfect parent. I’ve learned perfection is constricting. I’ve learned to be honest — mostly with myself, because that brings a peace that perfection and competition can’t touch.
Here’s one honesty:
Every Friday I get a notification from the school telling me I can take a peek at which assignments my kid is missing. I hardly ever click on the link. I’m seasoned and tired. I don’t want to spend the weekend harping on him to get things done. It’s his job, not mine. Making it mine is a disservice to both him and me.
If my kid falls behind or is struggling I contact the teacher — usually through email because I believe that is what is most convenient for already-too-busy teachers. But I no longer hover over his work thinking that hovering makes me a better parent, or makes me look better as a parent. Pretending is just too much work. It isn’t worth it.
I am a seasoned and imperfect parent. I’ve never been a perfect parent, although for years I tried to wear that mask. But masks can be exhausting and suffocating.
When kids are young, they need our help with things like shin guards, reading homework and the golden rule. They don’t ever stop needing our help or us, not really. But to set ourselves up for perfection — to attempt to be the ultimate public Facebook persona is just plain wrong — for them and for us. And that is my parenting truth for today.
Tomorrow may be different, because I’m still learning. Parenting is like that.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.