I believe that there are some people who are made to be parents. And I also believe that some are not. I am one of the latter. Parenting doesn’t come “naturally” to me. It is neither easy nor instinctive. I had to be taught everything I know by others and it still didn’t make me love parenting. My children are alive and well despite of this and because I love them. I’ve done everything I can to be the best parent I can be to them, yet so often I still feel like a failure.
When I decided to have children I thought I had a fair idea of what to expect. There was the nappy changing, bathing, breastfeeding, cutting and pasting and colouring in. But I didn’t realise just how all consuming it was all going to be. I didn’t realise that as well as being my children’s nurse, cook, cleaner, dresser and feeder, I would also have to be a tutor, counsellor and therapist. It’s those last roles that I find the hardest as my boys get older. All the other stuff is easy to learn, there are thousands of books, blogs and magazine articles written about it, but I don’t know how to be my kids’ therapist or tutor.
Being a sole parent, I can’t rely on the other parent to come to the rescue and fill the gaps that I can’t meet. Our extended family is too far away to be of much help, so no wonder that I constantly turn to psychologists, teachers and other parents to help me parent my kids. Even then, knowing what to say or do and actually doing it are two separate and often incompatible propositions. When I’m angry with my kid for not knowing how to write a piece of work for English, it’s really hard to be a tutor, even if I knew how. When I’m angry with my kid for not participating in an activity he’s been looking forward to and I paid for, it’s hard to remember how to be his therapist.
I am only human. I can’t be all the things for my kids. At least not all of the time. And perhaps the reason I don’t love parenting is that I’m not very good at it. I am frequently stumped by my kids’ problems and behaviours. I just don’t know what to do. I was telling my psychologist that most of the time I feel like you do in those dreams, where you are pushed out onto the stage and expected to play the piano or play a part and you don’t play the piano and don’t know your lines.
My coping mechanism is to hide and withdraw. If I don’t have to deal with it, or think about it, I can maintain some level of sanity. Don’t get me wrong, my kids are not neglected, nor are they allowed to run amok. In fact, they are surprisingly well behaved, given that they’ve only had me to parent them. Or maybe because of it?
I know I could do better, but I don’t have the energy to be the parent I wanted to be. Dealing with my own mental and physical health issues leaves very little for me to attempt perfection. There is way too much screen time, not enough outside time and few family activities. Spending time with my kids is exhausting, simply because I’m an introvert and quite possibly autistic, like my son.
Can you tell how much I beat myself up about this? There is a constant refrain of the “not-good-enoughs” and “shoulds” in my head. Every weekend I promise myself I will get up early and try to “do something” with the kids, but more often than not I wake up with a headache or migraine and need half a day to recover and feel human again. I loathe board games and apart from eating out (which costs money) there is precious little to do around here, that doesn’t also cost money. And we won’t even talk about the weather.
I never suspected just how wide-ranging my skills would have to become as a parent. I’m currently reading a book on parenting anxious children, having already read up on parenting boys and teenagers. Quite a few people have told me that I would truly be a bad parent if I didn’t care as much as I do about parenting. And I do care. About them, about the effect I am having on them, about the kind of humans they will be when they grow up. So, caring I have lots of. Enjoying the process? No.