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A Minute to Myself (3)

Perfect Parents and Divorced Parents

People whose children have not yet developed pimples and body hair, and who did not try to parent their children through the breakdown of a marriage should not presume to tell others how to parent children.

This morning, as I was outside planting hot pink and white begonias in my front garden (hoping to tempt someone to buy the house because of my garden), my neighbor from across the drive came over to talk before he went out for his run. He and his wife have three children (six, four and three, or some close combination like that, they just moved in a few weeks ago, so I have an excuse for not remembering). They seem to be a very close family (but who ever knows what goes on inside a person’s home?); she is home-schooling their oldest daughter, and presumably the others as they reach school age. He told me that he took his elder daughter rock climbing the previous week and that they have been going riding-running, where she rides her bicycle and he runs alongside her. And, he went on, this will keep them close as she grows up, that doing things together will keep them close.

His surety got to me. That confidence in a formula: if you do A and B with your children, then your children will be C. But in my experience, you can do A and B, and X will be the result (or perhaps just the temporary result in the tween and teen years). I didn’t feel like letting him bask in his glory, so I said to him, “you know, you can do things together, but that doesn’t guarantee that she will want to run with you when she’s fifteen.”

He didn’t seem to want contemplate a downside: What, if you do everything right it won’t necessarily turn out right? So he just replied that it wasn’t a guarantee for success, BUT it MAY guarantee success. I did appreciate that he acknowledged that it might not always work. But did he say that just to make me feel less bad and not really consider that it could happen to him and his wife? That perhaps their daughter might not want to hang out with her father when she is sixteen? That perhaps her parents’ struggles between themselves might alienate her in spite of all the shared songs and meals and exercise routines? That perhaps parenting is an exercise in improvisation more than anything? That a parent of a six-year old has nothing on a parent of a sixteen-year old, and maybe he should ask for advice?

While his comment was understated, a man who I had dated told me what I need to do to get my daughter to be better behaved. (Although he did deny it, but only, I think, so that I wouldn’t be mad at him so that we would still have sex.) He was pretty blunt in stating that I had missed something in the parenting formula, or that I didn’t follow it correctly. But his formula was a strict one involving taking lots of things away. And, if I remember correctly, it didn’t have contingency plans for: if your husband calls you a “bitch” in front of your child, and you tell your child it is wrong, what is she to think about the use of the word “bitch”? And, how is she to think about each of her parents: her father for using that word to her mother, and her mother by reacting by ignoring him, or telling him to be quiet, or walking away?

Maybe people need the formulas because otherwise they wouldn’t know what to do, but I’m here without a formula, and I’m just trying to do the best I can. When someone is so darn confident that all will be well, I know I should pat him on the back and say to myself GOOD LUCK TO YOU (and mean it!). But I need, desperately, for people to understand that you can do all of the things you are supposed to do (and by this I mean in marriage as well as with children) and still things don’t work out the way you had thought they would when your child was six. Maybe then their words won’t outline what you need to do, and instead reveal some empathy and compassion.


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