Sometimes my day is made by receiving an email thanking me for putting into words what the reader has felt, but has not been able to express. These emails/comments make my writing worth it to me—to know that I’ve made a connection across the distance and touched someone else’s life. Likewise, sometimes I can best express what I’ve felt or thought by using the words of another’s writing, that’s why I’m a quotaholic. After a long conversation with good friends on a local homeschool list about peaceful parenting, which sort of evolved into a general discussion of parenting and parenting books and whether there is a right way and whether we really have that much influence over how our kids eventually turn out, I feel drawn to share some quotes from the book Inconsolable by Marrit Ingman. I previously wrote a short post about this book and made a (funny) quiz to go with it: What Kind of Mother Are You Quiz
Inconsolable is a memoir of postpartum depression consisting mostly of semi-humorous vignettes excerpted from the author’s life with her young son (a colicky baby who has severe eczema and food allergies), mixed in with own wry observations about life. In the context of the conversation referenced above, I feel like sharing some quotes from her about parenthood/parenting styles in general and her comments about judging other people for making different parenting choices. As I’ve noted several times before, I struggle with an ongoing sense that I can somehow figure this out once and for all and be PERFECT at last. While I’m improving (! 😉 ), I think my parenting still tends to operate from the assumption that it is possible to be perfect and do everything right.
Here’s a quote I really identified with (minus the Guinness):
There’s a certain type of parent I see often–sometimes see it in myself–who is a success-oriented person from a middle-class background, well-taught (traditionally or through self-education) and accustomed to high praise. We’re used to getting a report card or a performance review every six weeks, we’re current with Big Ideas and prone to Big Discussions over pints of Guinness, and we throw ourselves into parenting with the same right-minded stamina with which we might compare graduate programs and scholarships. We educate ourselves about various theoretical orientations on the topic, read the works of champion scholars…memorize acronyms and slogans, and align ourselves with a ‘good match.’ We study rigorously, and our parenting is like a practicum. We analyze situations and apply theories; we fasten Snappis and gently redirect toddlers with great self-satisfaction, as if we are strutting for a review committee. We meet over coffee with study groups.
This is not necessarily lamentable. It’s good to be well read, to be prepared, to invest oneself in the new role of parent. It’s just not really about the kids is it? It’s about more than just wanting to be good at what you do; it’s about wanting to be the best. We’re parenting careerists. We want to be superstars. We want other people to praise us. We want props for holding off on the antibiotics for that ear infection, delaying solids just a little longer, for buying the organic crib sheets and the shampoo that’s made with kukui nuts harvested by the indigenous people of Brazil and imported by a woman-owned business. We go that one extra mile. We exceed expectations…Is this wrong? Again, not necessarily. It’s not wrong to have ambitions, to dream of home-sewn Halloween costumes (or ones we just “whipped up” because we’re so crafty) and slow food and perfect portraits and cooperative preschool.
But we have to remember that our standards of success, of happiness, of demonstrating our love for our children are inflated. We’ll never meet them. Our reach will always exceed our grasp.
An essay I wrote pondering some similar topics was published in the summer issue of Natural Life magazine. I’ve had a lot of articles published in a lot of different places and this is only the second time that I’ve received several emails from strangers thanking me for the article. I’ve received five emails like this during September, which has really touched my heart! I look forward to taking a look at the issue myself.
Back to Inconsolable regarding her unexpected cesarean:
So that was it. I’d failed. Well, close the book on this one. Nurse Rachet was probably stuffing a Nuk into the kid’s mouth or giving him a Happy Meal. Hooking him up to an IV of Kool-Aid. He’d have to grow up in an iron lung. Maybe the other kids would use him as third base. He’d call me ‘Mother,’ and I’d sign his college tuition checks while he snuggled with a rhesus monkey made of sheepskin.
I literally laughed out loud while reading that one 🙂
And then, finally:
Mothers of the world, we’ve got to have each other’s backs. Without working together, we literally cannot survive. Because we are divided—into ‘working’ and ‘stay-at-home’ parents, into ‘natural’ or ‘attachment parents’ and ‘mainstream’ parents–we remain marginalized as a group. We just haven’t noticed, because we’re too busy shooting each other down, trying to glean little nuggets of self-satisfaction from an enterprise that is still considered less significant than paid work…
Much as I strive to be accepting of everyone and to honor the dignity and worth of each human being (like a good human services pro!) I do see this tendency toward division sometimes sneaking out in myself—either in thought, or conversation, even though my heart truly lies in helping other women. In helping other mothers. This can’t be done through judgement or secret convictions of superiority!
At the end of my own Mindful Mama essay in Natural Life, I write:
Perhaps parenting authentically, from the heart, can’t be learned in a book or through application of a theory, but only
through being there and being aware – of both the beauty and the messiness. Perhaps it means a loosening of attachment to attachment parenting as a prescribed set of practices and beliefs. Perhaps it means being a more loving friend to my own imperfect self.
Sometimes I have more “figured out” than I give myself credit for…