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.
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.
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.