February 25, 2013

The Perfect Parent

The other day, as my daughter and I arrived at the dance studio for her weekly class, one of the other moms was sitting on a bench with her young child. The girl had her mother’s smart phone and was playing a memory game.

The woman looked at me sheepishly and said, “I swore my child would never play games on my phone.”

“I swore all kinds of things before I became a mom,” I said.

She chuckled and nodded her head.

“I was never going to give my child a cookie in the grocery store,” I offered as an example.

All the women in the room laughed heartily then. One said, “I don’t do that one, but I’ve broken just about all the other rules I set before my daughter was born.”

“We are each the perfect parent until we actually become one,” I replied. A statement that clearly resonated with everyone in the room.

The same week I had an email exchange with a friend of mine who has not yet had children but hopes to. The topic was screen time. I shared our philosophy and approach to the issue.

My friend made a number of “never” statements, and was quite judgmental of the parenting decisions a sibling had made.

“It can be very helpful to have an idea of how you want to parent,” I wrote. “But there are many situations where I have parented differently than I thought I would. Before you have a child, it is impossible to know with certainty what you will feel or do. ”

That is one very important lesson I have learned.

When I had a miscarriage (before my daughter was born), I felt the need to write to a good friend and apologize for something I had said many years earlier following hers. I had made a statement commonly used but never helpful or supportive – “At least you have another child.”

Only after my own pregnancy loss could I truly grasp what she had gone through and understand how my words must have hurt. I felt horrible. She was grateful for my note, but didn’t feel an apology was necessary. “You didn’t know,” she said.

Is inexperience a good enough excuse? I wonder how many apologies I owe to people for my raging case of perfect parent syndrome in my child free days. I judged - friends and strangers - from mere snapshots I witnessed. And really, even though I am a parent now, it doesn't mean I know everything about another person's situation. I still only witness snapshots.

Common experiences can connect. It's easy, for me at least, to feel a bond with other parents simply from the fact we are sharing a common life experience. I often share in the joys and sorrows of complete strangers. Because whether or not I have had the same experiences, I understand the emotions involved.

What I know now above all is there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We do the best we can.  We fail sometimes. We succeed more than we give ourselves credit for.  We struggle daily. We overcome daily, too. And triumph. We regret actions, words. We resolve to do better. We laugh. We cry. We love.

If we look at others with open eyes and open hearts, we can see our commonalities are greater than our differences. And I believe that understanding should motivate us to approach our interactions from a place of respect.

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