Parents Are People, Too (aka A Good Ol’ Fashioned Guilt Trip)

Every so often I check my site stats to see which blogs are being read and shared and what search terms lead people to my blog. (I think a lot of lonely young men attempting to buy their own batsmoke leave my page disappointed.) I can see at a glance which blogs are the most popular and which blogs you are sharing with friends.

Most of my blogs are about parenting and all of the wonderful things that go along with that like cleaning the house, cooking dinner and trying to explain why I don’t have a penis. Those blogs are, by far, the most popular. I also write about movies I like or do not like and I suppose eventually I will write about books again and there will be a lot of blogs about The Bar and live music. Those blogs do not get read as often or shared as much but I will continue writing them. I write for me but I also write for you and I think you need the blogs about music and movies and drinking as much as I do.

Becoming a parent changes everything. It’s a cliche because it’s true. Humans, in general, are self centered. That’s not mean or a negative outlook on humanity, it’s just common sense. All of your most basic instincts are cleverly designed to protect you. Until you have a child. Between your biological urge to protect your child and society’s pressure to do so and do so better than anyone else, it is very easy to forget that you still have needs of your own. When taking a shower becomes a task you have to schedule, finding time to nurture your talents and explore hobbies can seem like a luxury.

Some time after Goldy and Beauty were born, but before my divorce, I discovered that I was boring. I didn’t do anything worth talking about and I didn’t have anyone to tell even if I did do something noteworthy. It would be easy to blame my ex-husband because he did instigate my isolation but it wasn’t intentional and I let it happen even though I know better. Lucky for me, he still had friends and one of his friends was still into girls (that is a whole different blog for another day) and he brought over my future best friend, H-Bomb.

It’s amazing what one person listening can do for your self esteem. My Ex had forgotten who I was before I became overwhelmed with parenting and house work. It wasn’t entirely his fault, though, I stopped reminding him. I suddenly understood all possible meanings of the phrase, “I need to find myself,” which I had always thought was complete hocum. How do you lose yourself? Now I know how very easy it is to lose track of yourself. Hint: You will not find yourself at the bottom of a pile of laundry.

No matter how deep the pile, you will not find yourself at the bottom.

Having someone to listen again made me want something to talk about. I didn’t want all of my fun stories to be about the past. I wanted to read books that weren’t by Mercer Mayer and go places that weren’t family friendly. I wanted to put on lipstick, not chapstick and paint my own nails, not my daughters’. I wanted my own life.

If any of this sounds familiar or you are nodding your head then you are the one I’m writing for. You need support. You need a friend to listen. And you need to know that it is okay to be a parent and your own person. It’s not only okay to have a life outside of your children, it is necessary to be a good a parent. You cannot be your best self if you are only focused on your children. You need a hobby. You need a night out. You need a shower. No really, you need a shower.

I often hear new moms say, “I don’t even have time for a shower!” I feel your pain, I do. Put the baby down and go take a quick shower. Yes, he might cry and you might feel guilty but when you are done you are going to feel so good.  Babies sense your stress and discomfort. They also sense your peace and happiness. Be at peace, be happy. It will be easier to get him to latch on or fall asleep if you are not a sweaty ball of nerves. This gets harder as the kids get older. Cages are frowned upon so you will need a good support system, but you not only deserve it, you need it.

These are not my kids. Do not call CPS.

We went out last weekend on Little S’ birthday. Without him. We spent all day with the kids and then took him to Grandma’s house after dinner. We have karaoke every Saturday at The Bar and our karaoke jockey was having a birthday party. We’ve only owned The New Bar for 6 months so it is important to be present, to meet people, to interact. We also had friends playing in bands on the other side of town. The Barkeep helped set up one of our friends, an old local music connection of mine,  on the bill at the last minute, so we wanted to see the show. I met a fellow at The Bar that night that asked about my kids. When I told him it was my youngest baby’s first birthday he told me I should be at home. Now, you might agree, but I want you to flip the phrase around in your head awhile and ask yourself why I needed to be home with a sleeping baby on a Saturday night when I had so many other options and a trusted babysitter. In case he wakes up and wonders why his Mommy went out on his birthday? This is your first baby, isn’t it?

People might make you feel guilty about pursuing your own interests. You might make yourself feel guilty. Consider this, it is our job to model the behavior we want to see in our children. We cannot raise well rounded people if we feel like half the person we used to be. We cannot encourage them to cultivate their talents and nurture their ideas if we are ignoring our own. We can’t teach them to explore hobbies if we don’t have any of our own. Humans have an actual need to share and enjoy themselves.Why do you think Sims have a social meter and an aspirations meter? They are based on us! (And now you know one of my hobbies…) Our children need us to remember that we are all people, too. Our children deserve to be raised by well rounded individuals.

If none of this convinces you then I have one last thought, a question actually. Think of your child’s favorite activity. Goldy likes writing. Beauty likes fashion. Sharkboy likes constructing. The jury is still out on Little S, he seems to enjoy dancing and eating. What does your child enjoy? Do you do your best to encourage that hobby, take her to lessons, buy the necessary tools and praise liberally? Do you want him to give it up for anyone, ever? Or do you want him to continue building on that interest and learning new ones as he grows?

At the core of everything we want for our children is the same basic premise. We want them to be happy. Se ta good example for your children and remember, your parents wanted you to be happy. Don’t let them down.

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My Mind May Wander But My Values Remain

I’m  in the middle of planning my Fourth And Final First Birthday Party for Little S on Sunday. Page Six predicts it to be a spectacular gathering of our city’s most beautiful and dazzling… no wait, that was Pamela Anderson’s party, her birthday is the same weekend. As far as I know our city has no equivalent to Page Six and if it does I prefer to remain unaware. Little S will celebrate his Seuss themed party at our bar, hopefully on the patio, but who knows in the ridiculous humidity.

In the midst of this I am also feeling some pressure about how I raise my teenage daughters. It may be unintentional, but it is still stressful. No matter how confident you feel as a parent any indication that you may be doing something wrong can make you question yourself. Being bluntly told that you are a bad parent feels like a punch in the stomach. I had never experienced it until a few years ago but I will never forget that feeling and now even less harsh criticisms sting like salt on a wound.

As I paint, cook and craft in preparation for the party I have too much time to think. I’m not used to this anymore and my mind wanders easily. I have never been a typical parent and that only becomes more obvious as my kids get older and more numerous. My goal has never been to raise the best behaved children, but rather, I choose to raise decent and loving people. Their good behavior seems to be a side effect of that goal. My kids are normal kids. They throw fits, roll their eyes and talk back. Sometimes they fall down begging for shoes that they never wear after the first day or haircuts that they hate within a week. I’ve walked out of stores in the middle of tantrums and thrown my hands up in exasperation. I’m not trying to claim a Mother of The Year Award of portray my children as angels, but honestly, they really are good kids. They do normal kid things, appropriate for their age, but they also do  exceptional and amazing things that make my heart swell and fill me with pride.

Every parent has different goals for their children. That is why we parent so differently and judge each other so harshly.  My goal is to raise people that do what is right, not out of fear of punishment or repercussion, but because they know it is right. I want them to be open minded and tolerant but not so tolerant they accept situations they know are wrong.

Like all parents, I also want to protect them from danger, Again, we all have different ideas about what is dangerous and how to protect them. I don’t want to shelter my children because I feel that can be as dangerous as not protecting them at all. Just as exposure to illnesses builds our immune system and exposure to the cold builds our tolerance, exposure to life builds our strength to endure and thrive. It’s difficult to find the balance between allowing them to experience a full life and protecting them from serious harm.

Not one of us will get it right. Not one of us will be the perfect parent. And even when you come as close to your goals as you possibly can someone else who does not understand your viewpoint will judge the situation from their own.

This isn’t how the thought process plays out in mind, for the record. I bandy about the phrases “judgmental pricks” and “just wait until their kids get older” quite a bit. That is one thing people never seem to understand when they do not have children or their own children are still very young. My teenagers are my babies. I feel just as fiercely protective and loving of my 17 year old as I do my tiny almost one year old baby. My 13 year old daughter is not one speck less important to me than my toddler. When I consider my parenting choices I am fully aware that they are teenagers but you must also realize that  not so long ago they were not the young ladies that roll their eyes and stomp away, they were tiny babies learning to walk and precious toddlers saying silly things that I wrote down so I would never forget.

Our children learn and grow and become new people everyday. Every phase, every moment, has its ups and downs, but inevitably every phase ends. It’s a somber thought, as you consider your baby or toddler, laughing and hugging and loving with abandon the way only the very young can. But this phase, no matter how much you love it, must end in order for your preschool child to amaze you with her many talents that you did not recognize in a younger child or for your pre-teen to impress you with how he handled a bully at school or for your teenager to blow you away with her understanding of humanity. And someday your children will be adults, and maybe have children of their own, but they will never stop being the baby you rocked to sleep, the toddler who’s owies you kissed, the child that said “I love you, too” for the first time.

How can we be expected to stop baby proofing their world?

But we must. We must allow them to live and learn and grow from their experiences. Just as I joked that I skipped the foam rubber padding on our coffee table and let Goldy learn the hard way not to run around the furniture, I must also let them learn to navigate outside our home and outside the somewhat controlled confines of the school.

That doesn’t mean I have to do it your way.

My daughters are still young but they are old enough for me to know that for all of my questions and all of my mistakes I must be doing a pretty damn good job. I won’t do everything the same with my sons. I’m at a different phase in my life, too. The world is already a different place. The only thing I can say for certain that I will do the same is to parent according to my own beliefs and my own goals.

I’m going to have my baby’s first birthday in a bar. I’m sure people will talk. I want them to know this is my Fourth And Final First Birthday Party. “This ain’t my first time at the rodeo.” I have my own set of values, my own set of goals. I don’t need yours.