Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Pretty Good Parenting

When you hear someone use the term "adulting," it's usually used as the punchline to a sarcastic joke about having tackled a responsibility that is associated with being a grown-up, like changing a tire, folding laundry, or paying the monthly bills. It's sometimes used to refer to the day-to-day grind, such as having conscientiously undertaken irritating, but necessary tasks, but just as often, it's a kind of self-effacing boast about having accomplished some relatively petty thing that we perceive of as uniquely adult. We didn't use the term back then, but "adulting" is how I felt the first time I belly crawled through the dust under our first house to change the furnace filter. It's how I felt when I grew my first edible tomato. And it's how I felt almost every day as a new parent.

How much better "adulting" is than "parenting." Both refer to the assumption of responsibilities, but the first, at least the way it is most commonly used, has a sort of light-heartedness to it, a wink that says that you can feel proud of having at least done your best even if it falls short of perfection. Whereas the second word, parenting, refers to a weighty business. There are so many tragic ways one can fail, and those failures will "shape" your child, "damage" them, causing them to grow into adults who are incapable of adulting. Adulting might still be stressful and challenging, but it's nothing compared to dead seriousness of parenting, which carries with it the connotation that you are responsible for manufacturing a whole human being and falling short is not an option. 

I've often noted here on these pages that we have seen a disturbing and steady rise in the incidence of childhood mental disorders over the past 50 to 70 years, a timeframe during which "parenting" has grown into multi-billion dollar business. In the US alone, we purchase something like 675 million parenting books each year. That's around nine parenting books for every child. Every year. And this doesn't include all those podcasts, blogs, websites, e-courses, and other types of parent education out there. It's all well-intended, but come on! This isn't, of course, the only reason for it, but with being the target of all that "parenting," no wonder children are depressed and anxious.

As an educator in a cooperative school for the better part of the past two decades, I've had a front row seat to a lot of parenting. I've seen good parents make every "mistake" possible, from coddling to commanding. I've witnessed parents shaming their children, bribing them with food, and expecting both too much of them as well as not enough. And just as often, I've seen examples of mastery, parents treating their children with respect, while providing appropriate guide rails. But most days, most of the time, I have borne witness to pretty good parenting, mothers and fathers who love their children enough to treat perfect parenting as the trap that it is, and take pride in simply getting it right a lot of the time.

The joke of "adulting" is one about acknowledging that mistakes will be made and good enough is good enough. It's time we started telling that joke about parenting as well. And then maybe we can feel better about just letting our children play, which is, after all, what a pretty good parent does.


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