Friday, May 6, 2011

Trust and Parenthood

I am not a very trusting parent.

In some ways this is true. 

I have never left my children with a babysitter.  I think they have gone somewhere or stayed somewhere without me or my husband or one of their grandparents about 5 or 6 times in the seven years since our oldest was born – and about half of those were during a time I had a broken ankle and couldn’t drive. 

I don’t accept advice from experts – medical or familial – about my children without lots of questions.  I am a skeptic if you are suggesting I do something to fix something about one of my kids.

I know some of this distrust, this possibly excessive self-reliance, comes from my family history.  I’m the child of a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.  Maybe especially because the abuser was a family member, not a stranger, the idea that it’s hard to know who is trustworthy is deep rooted in the family I come from.  I also see a link between my distrust of authority figures and the religious tradition I come from.  In Unitarian Universalism we value the inner voice of conscience and each persons’ search for truth and meaning – more than we value the external voice of any kind of authority or the narrow path to a received Heaven.

In other ways, however, it is not true that I’m a distrustful parent.

I do trust myself.

I do trust my children.

I do trust the Universe.

I trust – but I verify.

I trust myself to be the best mother I can be to these children.  I adapt.  I change, I grow as a mother.  I don’t know how to do everything right.  I don’t have all the resources I want or even sometimes need.  But I do the best I can at the time.  This doesn’t mean I never have regrets or mess up.  I do, all the time.  But I keep trying. 

My oldest child is a highly demanding person.  Somehow, that’s not what I was expecting as a very new mom.  I sort of thought I’d have a calm, quiet baby who’d let me get things done.  I remember this moment in the shower in the first few days of his life when I just said to myself, okay, this is not what you were expecting, that’s okay, this is who he is, get on with it.  And that was that.  I did get on with it.  I enjoyed him as a baby and I enjoy him now.  I trust myself not to get stuck on expectations that are not in line with reality.  I trust myself to keep being able to do that mental shift to deal with what is before me now.  But I check in with myself about it all the time.  Have I got stuck?  Am I adapting?  What do I need to do differently?

I trust my children deeply.  They mostly know when they are ready to do something, and when they aren’t.  They mostly know their bodies and what they need to eat and how much they need to sleep and when they need to play and when they need to be quiet.  Mostly.  There are times they need some help figuring these things out, or when what they need or want isn’t working with what other members of the family need.  My job as a parent is to help them with the negotiations, with resources and ideas about what to do differently.  There are limits to what they know and can figure out because their experience base is limited.  I set limits and boundaries and, because of who my particular children are, do a lot of conflict resolution.  I occasionally suggest getting help with something I think one of them is struggling with in some way.

And I do trust the Universe.  In a sense, that is.  I don’t believe the Universe will magically make everything that ever happens to my kids turn out to be for the best.  I don’t like it that they will experience pain and suffering, I do fear (like all parents) that they could be hurt or killed for no reason in a thousand different ways.  But I do believe that it is possible for them to learn and grow from the bad things that will happen in their lives.  If they choose, these things can be made into meaning.  A humanist at heart, I believe that the human struggle for life and happiness is a thing of beauty and a passion worth participating in.

Trust, but verify.

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