Yesterday I dropped Kiddo off at his Judo club dojo and did what I do nearly every time he goes to play there:
I went to a nearby deli, ordered a pint of beer (Great Divide's "Hercules", if you must know) and a pretzel bagel and set to work on relaxing myself for forty minutes.
On the way, I stopped in at the Thurman library and picked up a book "All Joy and No Fun" by Jennifer Senior. Even before opening it, as I walked to the deli, I wondered if this would be a book of hyperbole, much as many parenting books which have come before tend to be. Tiger Mom, French Mom, Nature Mom, Progressive Mom, Christian Homeschooling Mom.... all of these books, telling us what sort of mom to be. Their examples are polarized, drastic, and tout one philosophy of parenting practice as superior to the others.
I'm going to guess that, while our kids do contribute to some of the 'no fun' the author is suggesting in the title, we also do ourselves in as parents by saddling ourselves to the 'supposed tos' of parenting. Maybe, even doing what might not be best for our kids because it's what other parents expect of us.
My afternoon was a case in point: dropping Kiddo off at the dojo and leaving seems a bit, well, sad, to some of the moms I've met there. Kiddo gets distracted with Joe and I there, and we agreed as a family that we'd honor Kiddo's request to for us to leave so long as he was doing fine in the group. The Sensei felt this was fine and assures us that Kiddo is doing well. How much is he progressing? I don't know. See, I like taking him to judo and I like that he's learning this different way of doing and thinking, that he's getting comfortable with his body....
... but I don't have to witness every second of this to know he's okay. I don't need a regular progress report because he's in judo for himself, not me.
Maybe it's this letting go of my son-- leaving him in the care and under the instruction of a Sensei I spent a considerable amount of time researching and choosing-- that helps me to enjoy my parenting more. That it's not apathy, it's also not over-involvement. Letting Kiddo have his own experiences, away from me, is important for both of us. I experience more comfort and satisfaction as a parent because I am finding good people for him to be with and he gets time to navigate his own relationships in a very age-appropriate way, a way in which the adult is friendly and authoritative and helps him to know there are other good grown-ups in the world.
As a parent, my goal has always been to create a community around our son which feels safe, warm, welcoming, and which offers reasonable guidance to him. When Kiddo was four, he had three great preschool teachers and an after-preschool caregiver-- a nice neighborhood dad who became a sort of uncle to him. Perhaps this is because of my own background in child care: I know that kids who have more adults they can trust may be more likely to experience the world as a safer place. Knowing that other people besides mom and dad can help you meet your needs is really important.
I never felt guilt about sending Kiddo to preschool, nor, when everyone recommended full-day kindergarten, did I feel he was missing something because we decided to go with half-day. Sure, I'd read lots of articles about the benefits of full-day K, and I knew that he wasn't quite there yet. So we got to go to the zoo when hardly anyone else was there, go on adventures in the afternoons, walks, library trips... these were far more satisfying to both of us. Had I put him in full-day, chances are we would have missed some very sweet moments.
So, back to the book and the break from the afternoon... perhaps this is the key to happiness: just doing what best works for our own family and letting go of the idea that there is a better, superior way to do this parenting thing. There are all these new ideas, that we have to focus on our babies immediately. We must shape them up, and right away! Mold them properly with Mommy and Me music and movement classes or Gymboree tumbling and take them to the library story times so they can sit and listen and oh, we've gotta make sure they are getting enough proper socializing, so you'd better find a Mom's group too.
Sorry, but if I hear one more Music Together cd, I will barf, on the spot. Being THAT mom, the one described above-- if it works for some women, that is awesome for them. I mean it sincerely. Some parents love these things, immerse themselves in the child-centered activities and then go home and make mildly-gourmet healthy meals before giving baby a body massage for bedtime. And I'm so glad that there are people that love this. But that wasn't me-- and I would have suffered under that sort of expectation. My baby slept as babies do, quite often and unpredictably and so we coslept and were fine until we weren't, right? I spent so many years working with little ones, I know how incredibly child-rearing can consume our attention. And I mean consume... hours can be swallowed whole and it is still not enough at times.
This is where my own parenting philosophy comes into play: everything in balance. Yesterday afternoon, I walked a tired, complaining kid to the bus stop, took a 40 minute bus ride across town to his dojo and then, holy shit, it was time for a break. Because, even though I made as much of dinner in advance as I could (his class gets us home later than our usual dinnertime), I know that once I go to pick him up and we get home, I get to hit the ground running again until 8 or so. That is, if there isn't laundry waiting for me too, which there often is.
So, I'll be interested to find out what in "All Joy and No Fun" rings true for me. These days, parenting books are more like cookbooks for me: I find a few good ideas and can leave the rest for another day. After years of studying how children learn, how to help keep them happy an secure, I'm starting to also focus on what keeps myself and my husband on track and in balance as well. Unlike some parenting philosophies which advocate being everything to our kids, I just want to be one person. I want to be me. Happy to escape, some joy and some fun, taking a few minutes to chew on a pretzel, sip a beer and read the local rag without being interrupted. I am a woman of simple pleasures. So what if I'm not doing it like the magazines and the French or anyone else says? Trusting our own selves as parents is probably the greatest feeling we can have in the midst of the chaos that is raising a family up. That's when we make our best, most authentic decisions for our family.