Hilary Hodge: Mixed messages make a tough time to be a parent
I remember sitting with my friend Joann just a few hours after she had given birth to her second son. She was sitting up in her hospital bed while her husband sat across the room in a chair holding the newborn, staring at his boy and cooing.
“How do you feel?” I asked her.
“Terrified.” She said enthusiastically. I wasn’t sure if her honesty was a result of painkillers or if she was just overwhelmed by her new boy. She had had her first child 13 years earlier when she was quite young and in a different relationship.
I nodded to the newborn and said reassuringly, “It’s going to be fine.”
She grabbed my arm and pulled me closer. She looked me in the eye with intensity and not-so-quietly whispered, “Being a parent is the constant feeling of terrible worry and undeniable shame.” The nurse came in before the conversation went further.
Years later, at a party celebrating her eldest son’s acceptance into a prestigious university, I asked Joann if she had remembered that moment. She smiled and replied, “Yes. And I stand by what I said.”
I’m not a parent, so my thoughts on parenting come from an outsider’s perspective — mostly through the eyes of my friends who have kids and the stories they are willing to share with me.
There are only two common themes about parenting that remain universal throughout every parent and every situation among the parents I know. It doesn’t matter if the family has boys or girls, one kid or 10 kids. It doesn’t matter what the family’s ethnicity is or where and if they worship. If doesn’t matter if the household is made up of one parent, two parents, or stepparents.
The only two common themes I can see among all parents is that they love their children and that they are sure they are doing it wrong, that there are other people who are much better parents than they are.
I’m sure that, in the age of information, being a parent must be one of the hardest things in the world. It seems as though every book, blog, video, documentary, and advice column all contradict each other. Additionally, every friend, stranger and Twitter follower has a very strong, outspoken opinion on why you should or shouldn’t do something when it comes to parenting. Every decision comes with grave consequences and every inaction contributes to a child’s demise.
This constant barrage and declaration of ineptitude is no doubt exhausting and probably terrifying for most parents. And it isn’t fair.
Jean Piaget is credited with pioneering the scientific study of child development and his work is less than 100 years old. Prior to his studies most modern parenting consisted of feeding a child until it could be sent out to work on a farm or in a factory.
Obviously we’ve grown as a society since the last century, but it puts into perspective just how new the ideas are that children benefit from homework or shouldn’t watch TV or excel when enrolled in an afterschool program or sports team.
Every child and every situation is unique and every child and every situation deserves a unique analysis. One person’s experience does not and cannot justify an onslaught of advice from a small handful of parents, teachers, or doctors who claim to know best.
My friend Liz called me the other day to talk about her 7-year-old son Evan. She knows I’m not a parent so she never calls me for parenting advice. She only calls me when she knows that there are no fair solutions to her parenting problem, when what she really wants is someone to tell her she’s not crazy.
The principal had called her to tell her that her son had been acting up on the bus ride home. The principal listed off several infractions which included singing and trying to open a window. The reason why Liz was so upset about the call was that it happened on the same day that his teacher sent home a note about Evan and what a joy he was to have in class. The note said, “his enthusiastic spirit motivates the other children.” The principal, on the other hand, concluded the conversation by suggesting that Liz have her son tested for ADHD.
“I feel terrified and I feel ashamed,” she said.
I offered her the one thing I knew for sure: “You know what I was doing when I was seven? Eating glue and collecting grasshoppers.”
Hilary Hodge lives in Grass Valley. Her column is published by The Union on Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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