I had a debate recently, in the comments of one of my favourite blogs, that forced me to reevaluate my parenting style. Again.
It doesn’t take much for me to sink into doubt that I’m doing the right thing when it comes to motherhood. Do I have in place sufficient boundaries? Do I give freedom to grow and chances for my children to make their own choices but still give them the security of knowing I’m ultimately in charge?
I’m a peacemaker. I learned to apologise for the world and my place in it so that people wouldn’t be mad at me. I’m not great at being in charge.
Interestingly I read a masterful post of what it feels like to have depression over on The Belle Jar this afternoon and I could relate to every word, even though I feel I have my depression under control. So maybe I don’t.
Another blog post that came my way is this one by Becoming Supermommy, about the impossibility of ever being the perfect parent, called Dear Less Than Perfect Mom. (Read it, it’s brilliant). I know I’m not a perfect mother, I know I never will be, but just when I think I’ve wrestled my demons into submission I read something, or am told something, or something happens, that causes me to believe I’m doing it all wrong. That my depression, my tears, my indecision, my laissez faire parenting, means I’m not a safe harbour for my kids. That maybe my daughter’s insecurities are caused by too many choices and too few boundaries.
It makes me want to go back to work full time and leave the child-raising to the professionals. After all, my kids don’t have tantrums or breakdowns at nursery. As the school era approaches, I review the last five years with fear, much as New Year’s Eve makes you relive the preceding twelve months and realise you wasted them. That those pristine resolutions from the January before lie dead in the dust at your feet.
I was going to be the strong parent, the one with boundaries; the rock. Calm, patient, kind. I almost managed it when I just had one child. The second blew it all out the water.
I look back now and see parenting failure left and right. But I look back through a mind reasonably clear, in a body that actually had six hours of uninterrupted sleep at least once this month. I critically review the actions of a person I no longer am. Sleep deprived, hormonal, depressed. I judge her and find her wanting.
Even now, I evaluate my day with the hindsight of two sleeping children and a glass of wine, and judge who I was this morning with 8 hours work to fit into 3 and two hyper children to entertain. As the pain of childbirth can never be understood after the event (or you’d never have more than one baby) the body lives in the now, when the mind does not.
So I need to stop evaluating and second guessing my parenting because it leaves me confused, like the centipede that’s been asked which order it places its feet and as a result forgets how to walk. Is my daughter’s insecurity caused by my depression and lack of authority? Possibly. Do I need to be firmer and offer my kids fewer choices? Probably. Do I think I can do that every day when it’s not in my nature? Doubtful. Does it matter? Only time will tell for sure.
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
Claire turned her face to the window and allowed the sea breeze to caress her skin. Around her, people filled the tiny ferry; everyone eager to visit the nineteenth century sea port on the other side of the bay. She recognised one or two faces from the bus and nodded in greeting before swivelling her eyes back to the water.
Outside, the same tree-covered hills she could see from the hostel crowded round protectively. In some ways it felt like Swanage bay, although those cliffs were of grass and rock, worn away by years of weather.
Unsure what to expect, Claire searched eagerly ahead for a glimpse of the town, reputed to be the first European settlement, and once known as ‘The Hell-hole of the Pacific’. She couldn’t imagine anywhere in New Zealand earning that epitaph.
The town nestled into the hillside, buildings dotted through the trees like a herd of deer trying to conceal themselves, with only their antlers visible through the green.
The ferry pulled up alongside the pier and Claire joined the queue of people waiting to disembark. To either side, a long beach stretched in a line of copper sand, while boats bobbed about on the water like excited children wanting to play.
Armed with a map and some instructions she’d picked up at the hostel, Claire opted to walk up to Flagstaff Hill and take in the views of the islands. It felt good to be walking away from the crowd.
Within twenty minutes, Claire was glad it was autumn in New Zealand. Even the cool sun drew sweat and cursing from her, as she toiled up the hill towards the flagstaff. Maybe I should have taken the bus. If I was here in my Skoda, I could just have driven up. Who knew what freedom a clapped out car could bring?
By the time she reached the top, her face and throat burned. Claire stared up at the tall white flagpole and wondered what was so special. She reached into her bag for her water bottle and turned to take in the view for the first time. The water bottle fell, forgotten, back into the depths of her handbag.
The view stretched all around: flat patches of sparkling aqua water surrounded by undulating hills, receding in shades of blue to the distant horizon. Beneath her, the pier bisected the bay she had walked along, prodding into the water; the only straight line in a scene of curves. Even the clouds served to enhance the vista, as their flat bottoms emphasised the horizon and marked the many miles visible from her standpoint.
Claire inhaled and spread her arms wide. She felt like she could swan-dive off the hill and swoop like a bird over the islands below.
Wandering away from the flagstaff, and the people snapping shots before getting back on their buses, Claire sought a peaceful spot to rest. As she settled on the grass, her phone trilled the arrival of a message.
Who can that be? It’s the middle of the night back home.
She only knew one person in the same time zone as her. Excitement fizzed along her veins. She quickly searched for her phone and opened the message. It was from an unknown number.
Hi, Claire. Hope you don’t mind me texting you. I checked it would be a good time. Your blog says you’re in NZ. I got your email, saying you were declining the job. I understand, but I hope you’ll reconsider. Have a great holiday and give me a call when you get back. Conor
Claire didn’t know whether to be irritated or flattered. She’d never been so actively and personally pursued for a position before. As the thudding in her chest subsided, a warm feeling spread through her. Annoying as he was, it was nice to know someone in the world cared if she ever went home again.
Related articles (hard reading for me, some of these….)
- Talking with Children About a Parent’s Depression (alaksblog.wordpress.com)
- Child Happiness (iamjadajackson.wordpress.com)
- Brittany’s 7 Tips for Coping with Parent’s Diagnosis (brittanymoso.wordpress.com)
- Strength, Respect and Parents. (writtenmad.com)
- My Testimony – LOVE (bowmanphoto.wordpress.com)