So, , I made a mistake. In the midst of my ranting (and I do stand by my annoyance at kid quizzing and strangers who comment on things they don’t understand), I badmouthed getting advice from other parents. My completely unintended implication seems to have been that you can’t learn anything from other people’s experience because each child is an individual.
Well, I certainly didn’t mean that!
While every child is an individual, I have learned almost everything I know about parenting from other parents. These are other parents who have written a book, fictional parents from the media, my own parents, my friends’ parents, and my friends who are parents. Whether from direct advice, observation of their successes (or failures), or war stories shared over a cocktail, I have learned what kind of parent I want to be from others. Every time I parent, I am taking a piggy-back ride on the shoulders of giants.
Here are some of my favorite lessons:
From TV, I learned that parents are fallible. While this is a lesson that some parents don’t appreciate, I revel in it. I learned that it was okay for me to make mistakes, and that no matter how big the mistake, a half an hour later, everything can be back the way it was before. This was a huge weight off of my perfectionist shoulders.
From books, I learned a lot of the facts of parenting that I didn’t know because I’d never spent any time around kids. I learned what normal was, and why I didn’t mind varying from it. I learned the concept of the “Good Enough” parent, which was game changing for me. And I learned the limitations of books, which was also game changing for this bookworm.
From my mom friends, I learned that there is a community out there of those of us who are all together in doing this monstrous task of raising the next generation. I learned what parenting perfection really looks like—loving your kid with your whole heart, trying your best, and getting back up when you fail.
From my best friend Tasha’s mother, Doris, I learned that you are allowed to mother anyone who needs it, even if they’re not your kid. I also learned from her that marriage doesn’t always have to end, but it can instead be a strong foundation to support you. Also, to always be ready for unexpected overnight guests.
From my grandmother, I learned that your kids aren't always a reflection of your parenting. I learned that cooking is an art. I learned that humor can make anything better.
From my stepparents, I learned that family is a choice, not a predestination. I learned that you can choose who to let into your heart, and that this choice can be forever, and much stronger than legal status. Also, that extended family is a wonderful thing.
From my birth father, I learned some very hard lessons. That sometimes your parenting best isn’t good enough. That harsh words can hurt more than the back of a hand. To watch what you say when you’re angry, because some things can’t be taken back. That sometimes love isn’t all you need.
And also, that with time comes understanding and forgiveness. That people can change. That pain can be forgotten. That trying your best is always admirable, no matter the results. That mutual love of a small child can clean a lot of slates. And that sometimes love is all you need.
From my own mom I learned a million things. That an understanding hug is worth infinite I-told-you-so's. That pursuing your own dreams is more important to your kid’s development than giving them everything they want. That not everyone you know is a good influence on your kid, and it is okay to put up boundaries to protect them from those other people, even if they are in your own family.
I learned how to give a gift—by knowing the other person, and giving them what they want, and not what you want. I learned that love is the most powerful thing in the world. And I learned what a hero truly is.
I have learned who I am and who I want to be as a mom by stitching together lessons from every parent I have ever seen or known. My daughter is covered with a quilt of community, where all the pieces are soft from the touch of a thousand hands, and all the flaws in the sewing are my own. And my parenting quilt will someday be a part of hers, and scraps from it may live on forever.
Stitch a piece of this into your own quilt, wherever it fits.