Why Bother Being A Good Parent At All?

I had a theory going into parenting: If I was, or at least acted like, the best parent ever, I would have the best behaved children ever.

I told myself: I must model the behavior I seek.

Two Kids Playing Nicely In The SandboxIf I don’t want my children to grab, I don’t grab out things of their hands unless there is danger.

If I want my children to be polite, I use please and thank you even when I want to scream a startling amount of curse words at them.

I use a gentle voice and hands.

I ask first.

I apologize.

And I manage to yell only a handful of times in my son’s first three years of life, which awes my sharp tongue and bright temper.

But with baby number two and E’s continued tantrums, I begin to backslide. I yell more. But I catch myself quickly and apologize. I am tired and overwhelmed but still strongly clinging to my good parent mantra.

Until now.  When I gaze enviously at the parents shouting, grabbing, ignoring their children. And those kids seem no worse than my mine.

I become more careless and self-justifying as I wade through the exhaustion and disappointment of motherhood. I begin to snap and grab and assume and demand.

I keep thinking: Why spend so much time and effort reining myself in? My children still fuss and struggle and ignore and fight. Haven’t four years of parenting taught me how little I matter?

Because when I raise my voice, my children listen. When I grab something, the problem is over in five seconds rather than five minutes. And when I ignore them, they show me more love. Or go away and let me finish what I’m doing.

So I think: See. It’s okay. It’s worth it. They deserve it. I deserve it.

But I’ve carried an ache this week. I don’t want my children to remember me yelling at them. Pushing them around with my voice and adultness.

So I pray. Because I feel so lost. Because I am afraid of who I’ll become.

And in my fear and brokenness, a thought surfaces as it often does when I pay attention to that spark of God or love or whatever it is that makes us human and empathetic.

The words crowd out the cacophony of guilt and self-righteousness.

You work to be a good parent because it is the right thing to do.

And I remember that parenting is not about the outcome.

It’s not even about my children.

Sure I’d love well-adjusted, gentle, God-loving, liberal children. But there are too many factors out of my control. I did not birth lumps of clay no matter how strange newborns look to me. My children have tendencies and character that will place them on journeys with amazing highs and terrible lows of which I have no control.

Yes, I can nurture certain qualities in them and teach them how to cope with others.

Yes, I can be an example of love and possibility.

But I cannot force them to be anything other than who they are meant to be.

And I can only be who I am meant to be.

I’m meant to be a good mom.

Mostly for me.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

26 thoughts to “Why Bother Being A Good Parent At All?”

  1. I get to be the first commenter (yay for living in Mountain time zone) and the first to say this… Al, you are such an awesome mom. You have always taught me (through your actions) to take a step back every once in a while and look at myself. Am I being the best me that I can be? Rest assured that I continue to work on this everyday just like you. Keep up the great work.

  2. The lesson of powerlessness is a terrible one to learn. Why even try, if we can’t control the outcome?

    But how would divinity ever get in if we didn’t even show up? You showed up; divinity was already there, waiting for you.

    And you are very right. It’s a lesson I’ve learned again and again and again. We might not be able to raise Carter to independent adulthood no matter how hard we try, but what if I just yell and slap and nag? How would I feel about myself then?

    Even if the outcome was the same either way, that isn’t the person I was meant to be, even if sometimes it’s the person I WANT to be!

  3. Yes yes yes to all of it: the good intentions, the second child backslide, the obvious reaction when you model the behavior you don’t want them to repeat. But how do you get back to the good intentions when you barely have time or energy to think? I don’t know where to find the reserves.

    1. Another thing I am wondering, based on interactions in my home this morning, is how do you encourage your partner to be a better parent, especially if you are the main parent? I can see where I am not doing as well as I want, and I can see my partner emulating me, but I don’t know how to appropriately say “I don’t think this is the way we should be parenting” when I am the one who started it.

  4. I’ve learned through my teaching experience that the best parents are those that are consistent and set boundaries. Same as with teachers. It’s as if kids beg for boundaries and consistency. AND fairness. Mixed in with love of course.

  5. I was going to type something about when I realized Roo was no exception to being born with a sin nature. Then I thought I’d type something about teaching in Charleston. Then I thought, “Ya know, no advice really ‘helps’ or makes someone feel better when they are in the trenches of parenting and dealing with those emotions.” Just know you are NOT alone and that the easiest way of parenting is seldom the best or most fruitful. I enjoy a nice temper tantrum myself from time to time in my bedroom alone.

  6. Walking that line between drill sergeant and saintly caregiver is awfully hard, isn’t it?

    I listen to women beating themselves up because they “lost” it one day. And I see women with children who are never scolded and are subsequently less than perfect.

    It’s a tightrope. We often fall off. But good moms are always consciously, conscientiously doing the best they can.

    And you’re a good mom. Period.

  7. I am right with you. I think being good parent isn’t always perfect. Sometimes you have to get attention quickly, somethings are too dangerous to ask nicely about. And yet, treating our children as people matters to me. On days I wasn’t my best self, I question how I can be better tomorrow. I try not to make the same mistake twice, but
    I also try not to beat myself up.
    I chaff against any one definition of parenting, because it seems to me that each child has certain needs and abilities, and so do we. Where we meet those needs respectfully is good parenting.

  8. Oh, I’m so with you on this. I have gone through the same emotions. I keep trying to tell myself that I could be the best (or even worst) parent out there, and it doesn’t guarantee that my kids will cooperate and follow the plans I lay out for them. Sigh. I guess this is really what parenting is all about.

  9. I’m pretty sure those monkeys (as I like calling mine) are watching our every move. All those good intentions and bitten tongues are being recorded and studied carefully, it’s just that it is also easier for them to pull, scream and interrupt.

    we have little control, all we can do is try, and be as kind to ourselves as we would be with them when we fuck up. me thinks

  10. Beautiful and True! It’s so hard to know if you’re doing the right thing and to find the resolve to do the right thing because it never ever seems to be the easy thing. Why can’t it be easy? Thanks for this, I don’t feel so alone in the struggle.

  11. I struggle with this question all the time. All I can do is hope that the disappointments are outweighed by the successes. None of have an instruction manual, and some of us have almost no examples of what we’d like to be as parents.

  12. OH! And let me not gloss over the recent event of Riley’s meltdown at his 3 yr check. It was like all the frustrations of a new baby and turning 3 hit the boiling point at the same exact moment and he turned into this amazing little monster – still totally loved – but monstrous. Melted to the floor when asked to stand on the scale…in the HALLWAY. Said “No,” to every question he was asked by the dr. Said, “Tree,” to every shape on the eye chart. Sweet. However he didn’t cry when he got his shot. Yes, THAT was a hard parenting moment…and I was so glad EVERYONE got to witness it…WHILE I HAD CHILLS AND A FEVER FOR PETE’S SAKE…AND A NEWBORN WITH ME…A-L-O-N-E. Ok. I’m done venting.

  13. I think it means something that you wrote this today and I read it today. At least to me. It sounds like you needed it, but I needed it to. I had 12 hours of solo parenting and this was hard only because I’m so not used to solo parenting. I hardly ever do it. And I’m exhausted, hanging by a thread. I can’t keep up with them, and I beat myself up because I’m not even all that great at trying. But I try, I try to find grace in moments, I try to think over my day and look deep inside myself to improve. To be honest, like you, it seemed much easier with one. But with two I’m flying by the seat of my pants, trying to be two things to two to children who need different things. And it has caught me off guard. How hard it is! So thank you for both this reminder and your wisdom. I appreciate and value every word. (And I’m sorry, I just rambled!) And I miss you. Really


  14. What a good read for a Sunday night… every Sunday night I reflect upon the previous week and look at what I could be doing better. What I need to do to elicit some change in our how our household runs. Because ultimately, I set the tone.
    And like you, I don’t want the kids to remember the tone of our days being loud and angry and hasty.
    But it is so much easier. Sigh.
    Nothing good every came easily… I think that’s the phrase I’m looking for 😉
    Hang in there… you are an incredible mama.

  15. Alex you ARE a great model. These kids will just wear you out–I just had a similar post before I saw this–they make it difficult for you to like them sometimes!

    I think it’s amazing that you barely yelled the first three years–that in and of itself is saint-like.

  16. A few nights ago, my 15 yo daughter was in a mood and decided to tell me every wrong she’s ever been done by me. The list was long. And detailed. And stretched back to five years old. She remembered things I had said/done that I have zero recollection of. But she felt better after. And that’s really all we can do is make it okay to talk about it. And listen.

  17. You, my friend, are an excellent mother.
    Wanna know why? Because you are present, thoughtful, and aware.
    And you love those two beautiful children with all that you are.
    That’s why.

  18. You are so right. Sometimes, I come here, and am reminded why I keep returning. Like today.

    You are doing conscientious parenting. Aware. No knee jerk stuff.

    You get back what you put in.

    And it’s never too late for anyone to start.

    Love forgives a multitude of sins.

    This was wonderful….wonderful…wonderful..

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