Friday, October 06, 2006

Parenting as a competitive sport

When our kids are “good”, do we get the credit? When our kids are “bad” do we take the blame? I think the answer is yes, but i don’t think that’s the right answer.

I started thinking about this after reading a post over at Mrs. Cleaver's about her daughter.

I used to hate it when my mom said (use kind of a high pitched voice here) “If i’m so awful how come you all turned out so well?” A therapist i used to see gave me this answer, “It’s a testament to the strength and resiliency of your children.” After i used that line on my mom a few times, she doesn’t say that anymore.

But if we all turned out so well (and really, my sibs and i are pretty ok) and she doesn’t get the credit, i can’t really take the credit for Em either. And actually i have always been uncomfortable when someone says, “It’s because you are such a great mother”. I mean, maybe i AM, but she’s a great kid, and so it’s been easy. (NOTE: I didn’t say perfect, i said easy.)

I don't deny that there are things that parents can do that are blatantly, utterly, horrifyingly, criminally wrong. I am not talking about that sort of unforgivable behavior, i am talking about being a loving, accepting parent who tries to teach the kids we have in our care what they need to know to become good people. We love them and do our best. And then we let them go.

As far back as Em’s birth, the sport was on:
“What was her APGAR score? Oh, only 7, Christopher’s was 9.” (yes, someone said this to me)
“Kristin was potty trained at 18 months.”
“Hanna’s first word was antidisestablishmentarianism.” (ok, kidding, i never heard that but you get my drift.)
“Toby got admitted to every pre-school we applied to. How will we ever decide?”

There is a difference between talking things over with other parents, which can be extremely helpful, and bragging. It’s subtle, but i know it when i hear it.

The latest thing, now that Em is in High School, is SAT scores. When parents ask me what Em got, i lie and say i don’t know, because 1.) it’s HER news to share, and 2.) they will either be smug or unhappy, and 3.) it’s none of their damn business.

I don't want Em to live as a testament to my awesomeness. Because she gets the credit if she is a great person, as she would get the blame for being as ass.


Dick said...

After raising my own two with Annie and observing the children of our friends grow up, I think that from probably about the time they enter the 8th grade it is almost more important who they associate with than what the parents do at that point. The parents have taken their best shot by then. Ours happily turned out fine but a few of the children of parents who I would say were good parents didn't do so well.

Anonymous said...

It's all true.

Today at playgroup it was, "how many teeth does baby have?" I think I was pretty non-competitive,.

Your writing is so insightful. I wonder, do you find that you think well on your feet in tough situations, or does this come from your nights of insomnia, or somewhere else?

Ashley Lasbury said...

You are an awesome woman. Note that I did not say "mother". I believe that our children choose us. And help us grow as much as we guide them. And when people say what great kids I have because they are polite or helpful I respond by saying that I am polite and helpful to them. They are "raising" me as much as, or more then, I am raising them. Lovely post.

Mother of Invention said...

I agree. It is ultimately up to the child as to how he/she chooses to behave. Parents can be guide-by-the-side, expose them to good opportunities and experiences, as well as model morality same as teachers, but you can't really force them to be a certain way. I always felt that about my class at school. I don't have kids.

Anonymous said...

All true Meno. Having children should never be an excuse to give oneself ( vicariously ) the kind of parenting one feels she missed out on. Difficult at times to separate the two and be a mother to the human beings I gave birth to-not to the needy little girl that still inhabits my soul. I thank you for sharing.

urban-urchin said...

Wow- Caro- that is pretty profound.

Meno-by the mere fact that you won't take credit for your kids successes; to allow her to be her own person- whether she's an easy kid or not- is proof positive you're a good mother.

Oh, and when quoted your mother I literally got chills and my teeth were set on edge. That sounds exactly like my mother in law with whom we have only recently reestablished very limited contact. It was hard for my husband as you might imagine to finally figure out that his mother doesn't love him- in fact she has transferred all of her hatred for his father, her ex-husband,onto him- he looks and apparently acts (according to his cousin) just like his dad who died when my husband was younger. In one of her crazy rants against him years ago she let she kept saying he was his dad and it was a lightbulb moment. too sad.

It sounds like your mother is/was a piece of work. What kind of relationship does Em have with her?

Mignon said...

I get a lot of those loaded, competitive questions from my in-laws, and then find them either telling their nanny to step up the reading practice (the nanny usually tells me this - she and I think it's funny) or they condescendingly tell me Madeleine will "catch up" in due time.

I think my mom is/was great (again, not perfect, as you said), because I'm happy. I'm a happy adult, and isn't that all you really want for your kids? Isn't that all you should want for your kids?

meno said...

dick, yes, that is exactly what i mean. And as parents of older kids, we need to pay attention to whom they are associating with. Yes.

de, as if how many teeth they have has anything to do with their worth. Keep ignoring the competition. I think during the day, while i am going through my life, at night, i worry. And i wish i were better at thinking on my feet. Sometimes it's two weeks later when i think of what i SHOULD have said,

OTM, thank you. coming from you that is a great compliment. Kids learn what they see. How much more obvious could it be?

caro, you are welcome. That was lovely. It's all about the love. And respect about that your kids are NOT you.

u-u, my MIL has done the same thing with the Mister. He LOOKS like his dad, but there the resemblance ends. It's really sad for him. Em has a protected relationship with my mom (i protect her). Although my mother is a better grandmother than mother.

mignon, You are 100% correct. That is all i want for Em. And that is all any parent should need. Nice.

SUEB0B said...

You are a cool mom.

Andrea Frazer said...

You bring up amazing points. But I still think that Em is a product of you, because while you are a product of your mom (who was negative) Em's sad experiences will be due to life (which you can't change) not you. Ultimately, the inner core will be strong, which you still suffer with (not that you're not confident, but you have to work to build your esteem, no? Since your mom wasn't exactly St. Teresa de la Love You's.) Bottom line: take some credit, will ya?

Anonymous said...

A largish person with beard or boobs who perpetually blames a parent for this or that will never be an adult. Adulthood is accepting that people do (and did) the best they can with what they've got. In ways, we are all relays for damage. We pass on the damage that was done to our parents and their parents, but not for the sake of malice. Never for the sake of malice. Inevitable ignorance perhaps.

thailandchani said...

I believe parents can do wonderful things for children. They can also be as toxic as a biohazard waste dump. The key, it would seem, is the parent's ability to step outside of themselves enough to realize that children are separate people. My mother was a toxic waste dump and it took a lot of time before I realized that I owned me, no matter how what she might have wanted. Taking ownership of one's own life, with both the good and the bad traits we carry, is the most liberating thing in the world.

I don't believe that raising good children is a cause for "taking credit". It is a parent's job to do that. No recognition necessary.


Thailand Gal

Anonymous said...

It's funny. My "good one"? It's all on her, and always has been. My "difficult one"? It's all on me, and always will be. Right or wrong, it's a self-perception thing with me.

Of course, I also tend to give my parents every credit for how I turned out. And feel INCREDIBLY blessed that I have nothing worth blaming them for.

Adults who blame their parents for their own failures are just sad, not grown up.

Anonymous said...

do you think you are a good mother (and it's obvious that you are), because you didn't have one? You know how we always want our kids to have better than we did...
My Jessica has never really been in any trouble, (hope I'm not jinxing us) her last spanking was in the 3rd grade, but my Kris has never been OUT of trouble, so what's up with that? Both fruit of my loins, so why such big differences?

amusing said...

The being grown up and taking ownership of your life? Yeah, see, the parenting falls into that. My sister and I learned to be victims by virtue of mom modeling and also the fact that we moved all the time and had no say. Take what you get, martyr syndrome, don't expect much, etc.

Neither of us realized we thought that way. Then I went through the "big boom" (divorce, depression, therapy) and when my therapist and a crotchety beau pointed my proud victimhood out to me, I took steps to own it and change it.

My sister still denies it, and has only gotten as far as blaming my mother for her current ills. Causing my mother to cry and feel guilty.

Unfair, since I know from experience that mothers are never quite sure if they are doing the right thing and we make mistakes and hope we get it right the next time.

Imez said...

I picture you slapping your hands together like a Vegas dealers and saying "I'm out," to the whole competitive parent game.

I'm going to learn by your example I think. I don't want to play either.

Girlplustwo said...

right on. it's true, and it's best not to even get in the game. we can do our job from the sidelines, and cheer them on, pick them up, but it's their game, and not one we can take credit for. or worse, use to somehow define our worth.

Lynnea said...

I never really understood the competitive game. Every child and person has their strengths and weaknesses. To be honest, for myself, I sometimes find it difficult not to at least want to give my children everything I didn't have. But I recognize that this idea of living your life through your kids can only in the end rob them of their own in a way. So I work to give them what is best and allow them to have their own experiences. In the end, I think you put it quite eloquently that children should receive their own credit because we are their guides, but as my mother-in-law says, "You're responsible for what you do and what you say." And that's the truth of it, they make the decision ultimately what they will do with our guidance. You are wise.

meno said...

suebob, aw thanks.

mamap, i will take credit some things, such as Em knowing that she is loved, but her basic selfness is hers.

holly, we certainly can pass on the damage, but hopefully to a lesser degree each generation. The ignorance i think comes from parents not thinking about how they are parenting, as if it doesn't matter.

thailand gal, good for you, but not easy, ay?

jennifer, there you go, that's what i mean. It's your self perception, and too often the perception of the world that it's the parent's fault. But did you really do a great job with one kid and a bad job with the other? I don't think so. There are many other factors at play here, including the basic nature of the child.

holly, I think i am specifically a good mother for Em because we are so alike, and i know how i would have like to have been treated. And i took the effort to think about it. Who knows how a different child would have responded? I'll never know. I don't know the answer to your question, other than basic personality differences w/ your kids. Does that make you half a bad mom and half a good one? I don't think so.

amusing, interesting, the difference between you and your sister. Very interesting. And good job, at least on that call, to the curmudgeon. But it's your decision to own it and work to change it. I think your sister blames your mom because it's easier than the route you have chosen, to fix it.

esereth, i try hard to be out, but, DAMN it's easy to get sucked in when all about you are discussing little bobby's first word, first tooth, first step, and on from there. Must..resist..

jen, that's it. Exactly.

maggie, but you still see the competition game played all around you, right? Sounds like you have figured out what is important.

sari said...

At Back to School night recently, parents were asking how to best prepare their children for the SAT's.

I burst out laughing in the middle of class, drawing many stares, but HELLO, our children, they're in third grade.

The world, she is silly.