A funny thing happened to me when I turned 25. I think I noticed it when I first started freelancing and excitedly told my father he could read my work at http://www.insertblogname.com. Instead of getting the congratulations I had hoped for, he went into a lecture about his life’s accomplishments with a slight hint of rivalry in his rant. I walked away from his room baffled before I realized it: parents have flaws.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from teaching parenting classes for the past few years is that no amount of curriculum or life experience will make you the perfect parent, because there is no such thing. Even if you give your kids a childhood that could give the Huxtable kids a run for their money, at some point you realize that at their worst parents can be vengeful, manipulative and just plain wrong. Becoming a parent doesn’t transform you overnight into someone completely selfless and incapable of any negative feelings towards anyone who meets the age requirement for a Happy Meal. But hey, perfect parents are overrated and the honest truth is that some of children’s most colorful memories are made when their parents aren’t exactly making an effort to be role models and were just being, well, real.
1. You have vices.
I love my parents, I honestly do, and I’d like to think my childhood was pretty normal and to thank for my lack of personal issues today, but that’s not to say their vices haven’t affected me. Two hospital visits and a prescription for Albuterol have been enough to convince me that I have asthma and my parents’ smoking my whole life is probably to blame. But then again, the 60’s and 70’s weren’t exactly brimming with information about the dangers of smoking. Whether it’s a daily pack of Newports or an addiction to the Home Shopping Network, try not to judge or even expect an apology. Parenting is no easy task and it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. You’ll make mistakes and only realize them through hindsight, but if you’re child makes it to adulthood in fairly good health and with no criminal record, pat yourself on the back. You can only do the best you can with what you have and for most kids, that’s enough.
2. Your parents raised you the best way they knew how, but it doesn’t mean it was the best way.
Your daddy’s idea of discipline may have included colorful expletives, some hurt feelings and bruised backsides, but that doesn’t mean it worked or that it was right. Parents tend to parent the way they were parented and cycles aren’t broken until someone decides that a certain way of parenting may have not worked for them or will not work for their child. This doesn’t mean your parents have bought you a non-refundable one-way ticket to a lifetime of therapy and self-help mantras, but it’s healthy to question if the parenting you received was effective. Understand that although your parents may not given you a childhood straight from the storyboards of Seventh Heaven, that doesn’t mean you can’t use your childhood as a point of reference for your own parenting style by recognizing what things were effective and what things you’d like to change for your own children.
3. You’ll still make sucky relationship choices.
Parents are people too, and people naturally crave affection. The whole idea of parents being sexual creatures will get any child’s stomach bile churning, but it’s a reality. It’s one thing to mistakenly catch dad giving mom’s behind a high five but it can be hard to see a parent abandon rational judgment in order to pursue that affection. Your son will naturally want better for you than some guy named Randy posted on your couch in the middle of the day entertaining a fencing session between a toothpick and his teeth and listening to Journey. But in your eyes he may be the next best thing to Pierce Brosnan. Marriage or bringing children into the world together doesn’t mean your relationship problems become non-existent (in fact it might even introduce some new ones). Even if you’re a parent who’s still stumbling through the dating game, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be a good parent or use your missteps to school your own kids about life and love.
4. You may feel jealous or want to live vicariously through your children.
In most healthy parent-child relationships parents want to see their children do better than they did and work hard to make sure that happens. But sometimes it can be very sobering for parents to see their children achieve success at levels they could never dream of. Just because you contributed chromosomes doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of harboring resentment or jealousy. In my experience, I’ve noticed that parents who weren’t particularly involved in their children’s lives are most at risk for jealousy since it’s easier to view that child as competition. Your children shouldn’t take your moments of insecurity personally; on some level you really support their success although initially you may feel like your DNA deserves some credit. Your children’s successes are not at attempt to throw shade on things you didn’t get to achieve; don’t let jealousy taint what should be proud moments for you as a parent.
5. You have childhood issues of your own.
Even though you may have the best of intentions, much of the advice you give to your children is somewhat biased by your own personal experiences. Ever find yourself freaking out because your child gets out of school at three and that interstate accident put you fifteen minutes behind? You can’t understand why you’re guilt tripping although to your child it’s not that big of a deal. Well maybe it’s because when you were a child, you were always “the last kid” as in “the last kid to get picked up from school” who watered the plants in paranoia while the teacher graded papers and the clock inched closer and closer to 4:00. Sometimes parents aren’t even aware they are taking their unresolved feelings out on their children. I never knew why my mom seemed to be so anti-sleepover and having lots of company when I was young, until she revealed to me that her childhood was filled with younger cousins who were always sleeping over crying and screaming through the night and she felt like she could never get any peace. Check yourself every once in a while if you’re giving your kids a hard time and make sure that your children are truly the culprits and not your own childhood issues.
6. You’ll make plays for power with both your teen and your toddler.
I am convinced my mother doesn’t want me to fully move out and the guilt it’s causing is unfortunately contributing to the stress I have of living at two different addresses, a daily routine of forgetting what house I left my laptop at and a budget that includes buying all of my toiletries in twos. Soon you’ll be walking in your parent’s penny loafers when your child starts to make strides towards independence. It’s hard to see something you created basically not need you anymore. The whole parent-child relationship by its very nature is co-dependent. In an effort to retain control, parents can be manipulative and plain mean (one of the reasons my mom probably insults all of my furniture choices and makes it seem like my services are no longer needed within my childhood home). No need to take it personally; you just have to cope with the fact that at some point you’ll no longer be the deal breaker in your child’s major decisions.
7. You love your children equally, but tell the truth: you have a favorite.
There’s an unwritten rule in the parenting handbook that forbids parents from being honest about their fondness for one child over the other, but don’t feel guilty if you have one child who is just a little easier to deal with than the other. It’s not to say that that parents love one child more than the other, but they definitely love each child differently and have a preference. Some children are just less difficult, and usually those are the children that aren’t flunking out of undergrad or getting arrested for underage drinking. Parents have personalities too and it’s natural for them to gel with one child more naturally than the others. Unfortunately there’s always one child who ends up feeling a little bah, bah black sheep. But children grow to accept their positions in the family and can grow to be the best black sheep they can be complete with their rebellious nature and unpopular opinions. And to keep it one hundred, the truth is they probably have a favorite parent, too.
8. You are really bad at algebra.
It’s a sobering day when you realize you can no longer help your child with homework and that moment only leads to a gradual transition to them helping you figuring out what a SIM card does and how to attach documents to e-mails. But the life experience you have to offer about learning to compromise in relationships and feed a family on $10 are worth more than whatever X equals any day.
9. You can get lazy with the discipline.
Something happens when children are several years apart in age where parents enforce the discipline less and less. It’s not that you don’t care about the younger children getting into trouble, it’s just that frankly you’re tired. After seven years of yelling at my sister over and over for the same misbehavior, when I came along my parents didn’t have the energy to chase me when I took off from the time out corner. Parents can make up for the lack of energy with lots of long talks and a little bit of “Jewish mother” style guilt.
10. You’ll grow more and more helpless.
One day you’ll go from the mom who knows a Big Sean song as soon as the beat drops to the lady who can’t figure out how to add songs to her iPod library. When your children become adults you may notice that a natural role-reversal happens where you’ll find they’re taking care of you. My parents aren’t exactly elderly or senile, but more and more I see they are less motivated to do things they are perfectly capable of like calling a website after locking themselves out of an account for entering the wrong password one too many times. Consider yourself blessed if you’ve managed to raise your child into an adult that is able to handle grown up situations.
What parenting imperfections have you witnessed?
Toya Sharee is a program associate for a Philadelphia non-profit that focuses on parenting education and building healthy relationships between parents, children and co-parents. She also has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog BulletsandBlessings.