Nothing you ever do in life – and I mean nothing -- prepares you for parenthood. This is not an attempt to brace you for the unexpected. I’m not saying your heart won't overflow with unconditional love -- it almost certainly will. I’m not trying to prepare you for inevitable hardship -- that will almost certainly come.
I’m trying to tell you this: most of what you know about parenting is probably bullshit. Books are bullshit. Classes are bullshit. The patronising, shaming articles your wife’s best friend posts on Facebook are especially bullshit.
Google’s advice is bullshit.
Your sister in law’s advice is bullshit
Your mother’s advice is bullshit.
It’s all probably bullshit.
More importantly: everything you think you know about being a mother or a father, your parenting strategies, the tiny building blocks you shape your parental identity around. All of it is bullshit.
I’m a father of two young boys. I have no idea what I’m doing. You don’t either.
Just admit it. You’ll feel better.
Admit that as a parent you have no fucking idea what you’re doing.
My oldest son is three-years-old. Before he was born I was as prepared as I could be. I read the books. I scoured through the articles. I asked trusted friends for advice.
I thought endlessly about the kind of parent I wanted to be. The way I wanted to raise my son. The values I wanted to instil in him.
My son slopped into the world an eight pound lump of flesh and fluid. Almost instantly I began putting these ideas into practice.
- I’d never do anything for my son that I thought he could do himself. - I wouldn’t place my own limitations upon him. If he thought he could climb that tree, who am I to say he couldn’t? - I’d just be there to catch him when he falls. - (But also make sure to let him fall when he needs to) - I’d teach him to respect women (to respect everyone, but especially women, particularly in this current climate) - I’d allow him the space to be physical and move in his body. Movement is important for a number of reasons. I believe that. - I’d teach him to be generous – with his possessions and his time. - I’d teach him how to be resilient. I believe too many children lack resilience (and the ability to lose, or struggle and overcome) - I’d try my absolute best (as a flawed human being) to be a positive example to my son. Above all, children learn by example
Those are just some of the values I tried to instil in my first child.
I fail (and have failed) constantly. I’ve made mistakes. I struggle with the choices and decisions I make every single day. Should I feel guilty about the time I let him watch all that TV. Does he play too many video games?
Does he play enough video games?
I constantly make mistakes, I stress about the mistakes I might make. I stress about my stress -- am I projecting my own anxieties? Am I making things worse. Am I relaxed enough? Am I too relaxed?
Ultimately -- If I’m being honest -- I’m content. I’m proud of the three-year-old boy I’ve helped raise. Proud of the role I’ve played in his upbringing to this point. He is strong and he is brave. He tries new things and isn’t afraid to fall. He is resilient. He is generous and caring.
But is this even a good thing? Is my parenting style benefitting my child? Are his positive personality traits the result of my parenting or is it ingrained in his DNA?
I ask myself these questions constantly.
Do I have any control over the kind of adult my child will become?
How could you know? How could you possibly know?
Studies show this, studies show that. Studies provide a low level benchmark for what parents could or should be doing -- but that’s a low-level, meaningless thrum of static. It’s white noise in the face of your responsibility to raise an actual living, breathing human being. Every child is different. No child is the same, therefore no strategy should be the same. Sure, there are basic needs that must be met, but outside of that, who fucking knows what’s right and wrong?
The correct strategies you are employing now may affect your child negatively in the future.
- Should I raise my child to be polite when we live in a world that rewards brash behaviour? - If I raise an entitled child will he be less willing to take no for an answer in the future? Is this a good or a bad thing? - Am I setting my child up for failure by teaching him resilience, or am I preparing him to endure tough times?
Again, who knows? How could you possibly know?
And what’s the end goal? What does success look like? How do you even define what success is?
Is it contentment? Is it happiness? Do you simply want your child to be a ‘good person’, to not be an asshole? Is financial or professional actualisation part of that?
The reality: parenthood is a tangled mess of variables you cannot hope to manipulate or control.
This shit is hard -- way too hard – and you might as well accept that.
There are no easily defined KPIs for parenting. No simple definition of success or failure. At no point in your parenting journey can you feel certain you're doing the right thing or instilling the correct values in your children.
I find that terrifying. It's also mildly liberating.
No job, project or endeavour can compare to parenting in its complexity. You are dealing with a human brain. You are attempting to control the uncontrollable. The ruleset is constantly shifting and you stand in the chaos -- like King Canute – trying to control the direction of the tides.
Good luck with that.
It’s a harsh reality, but one we must all face. Research is valuable. Personal experience is vital. But it’s impossible to call yourself a good parent when we have no idea how to accurately define what a good parent does. I might be a good parent. I might be a mediocre parent.
I might be raising a serial killer. I just. Don’t. Know.
I have no fucking idea what I’m doing and if you’re being completely honest with yourself, neither do you.