I’ve been trying for a while now to figure out how to say what’s in my head—to explain what feels like is burning a hole in my conscience but somehow eludes me when my fingers hit the keyboard. I want to talk about parenting, to talk about how we do the best we can with our kids. I want to help parents succeed at parenting, find joy in their relationships with their kids, and yet I grapple internally with words and phrases like “succeed,” “the best,” or “how to be the parent you want to be.” They all fall short. Far short, in fact. Because being “the best” parent isn’t even a thing. It’s not tangible, measurable, or even theoretically helpful. And what does “success” look like in parenting? Is it happy kids? Kids with good grades? Kids who move out at eighteen? Kids who survive childhood and still come back to visit at Christmas?
We are so used to using words associated with competition and corporate culture to describe distinctly human, non-competitive circumstance that I admit I have a hard time myself putting into words what it is I want to help parents do. It doesn’t come down to a soundbite—Follow my advice and transform your family today! I do want to help parents be the kind of parents they long to be, but not in a “Be all you can be” kind of way that suggests that they started out from some kind of lack. We are all works in progress. Can we acknowledge that where we are now is not where we want to end up, while simultaneously recognizing that where we are now may be the perfect place for the moment? I believe self-improvement is a noble endeavor, and yet I cringe at the thought that we assume that means somehow we look back and see our former selves as the unimproved model. Any parent who examines themselves and sees room for growth is a parent already beautiful because it takes humility, self-awareness, insight and indeed humor to note our need for change in the first place. We cannot make something brilliant out of something that does not contain a brilliant seed already, however dim it may first appear.
I believe that parenting is perhaps the most difficult, most breathtaking, most humbling and most sharpening experience many of us will have the privilege to undertake. Parenting is astonishing in the way it makes us relate to one another and yet hands us each a unique path to walk. I can laugh and commiserate and lament and share encouragement with my friends as we swap stories of our kids, and yet go home and realize as I watch my son, my daughters asleep under the covers that nobody has kids quite like mine; nobody has kids quite like yours. Parenting makes us universally connected and universally unique; together but separate, alike and yet each parent, each child, each family uniquely crystalized in formation that will never match any other.
It takes my breath away.
As a parent, you matter. You matter. How you raise your kids matters and how you speak to your kids matters and how you hug them and how you kiss them and how you adjust their coat sleeves and how you tuck them in at night matters. It matters how you ask them questions and how you apologize and how you raise your eyebrows and if you believe them when they tell you something questionable. Your influence in your child’s life is paramount, as is theirs in yours. What a beautiful thing that is! One of the most astonishing and lovely revelations I had as a new mom was the sheer depth of my attachment to these little people who had nothing to give me but a chance to love and love and love and love. Why do we love our kids? Is it because they bring us joy? Is it because they make us smile, because they make us proud or are beautiful to behold? Or is is simply because they are ours? They are ours, and that is all it takes.
That is what unites us as parents. The fact that I can tell my kids without a shadow of misrepresentation that they are the absolute best kids in the whole wide world—what a wonder that they all ended up in the same family! And yet the mom and dad next door can say the exact same to their own kids, and they too, are telling the truth. How extraordinary and wonderful is that?!
I guess what I’m saying is I long to get away from the platitudes, the rah rah yay us! attitude and get down to the meat on the bones of this thing. Parenting is profound, and I believe it is a disservice to every one of us to try to reduce the challenges we face to a “follow these steps for a quick fix” formula. I may not always have the words to make it sound right, to make it sound pretty and poignant and deep, but I know that parenting takes place in the pauses between far more often than in the climactic moments. Climactic moments, most often, are what we recognize when we look back and realize Wow, in that quiet space I got one tiny thing right, and for a second the world spun a little bit smoother.
To all the parents out there, I salute you. Your efforts, your heart, your intentions, your energy, your getting up day after day after day in the middle of questions forming quicksand under your feet. I am in such awe of you, daring to ask yourself how to wake up tomorrow and keep giving of all that’s in you. Keep seeking the giving, and I think you will see that “the best” shows up in all the un-shiny ways we least expect. Day after day, in the trenches, pulling this yolk together.