Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Graceful parenting

Most moms I know are harried. Some dads are, too, but, mostly it’s the moms who show signs of unraveling – one short yank on the guilt string from a child or one pull on a perceived criticism of their parenting skills, and they come undone faster than a snagged thread on a just-purchased sweater.

And who can blame them. Motherhood is a low-paying gig with a tough audience; a precarious juggling act with flaming light sabers and exploding Lego pieces; a barefoot walk on glowing coals while balancing a stack of Barbies on your head.

Graceful parenting often seems unattainable. I try, like the rest of my comrades, but most times I stumble through it, feeling guilty that I’m not measuring up or feeling frustrated or unappreciated.

Case in point. My husband and I are blessed with a wonderful daughter, who just turned 10. We adore her. Still, there are moments when even adoration is tested. A few weekends ago, we were in church of all places, waiting for service to begin, when bickering over an inane subject of the color of her pants – Were they gray, like I thought? Or brown, like she insisted? – finally pushed me over the edge. I won’t lie. It had been building for weeks. The nagging to get her off the electronic devices and to practice piano, the frenzied preschool moments of searching for her shoes, the natural pushing of her boundaries.

So there we were, embroiled in this silly argument, and I finally ended it with a frustrated comment about how she had to debate everything. And she followed that with a “That’s not true,” gearing up for said debate. And then I looked at her and said abruptly: “I’m done. Today, I want a vacation from motherhood.” Perhaps it was said more tersely than the way I normally speak to her. But you would have thought I physically slapped her.

It wasn’t my finest parenting moment, and certainly not my finest oratory moment. But I felt better just saying it aloud. It summed up my need to get away from the responsibility of being a “good” mom, trying always to respond with level-headed logic, fighting my primal urge to yell.

The look she gave me that Sunday reminded me our visit to the St. Louis Zoo when she was 4. We had gone to the orangutan habitat section and happened upon a mother and her baby in an alcove, where the only thing that separated us was thick, floor-to-ceiling plexiglass. My daughter and I were in awe. I couldn’t stop staring at that mamma, and she returned the curious stare. She had raisins cupped in her left hand and would take one raisin at a time and gingerly chew it. He repeatedly grabbed for the raisins, but she’d gently shove him away again and again. He tried rolling in front of her, stroking her arm. But she’d push him away.

Our daughter was upset. Why won’t the mommy share the raisins with her baby? she asked over and over, her little brow pinched at the injustice. She couldn’t believe a mother would do that. I could understand why she found it difficult to watch; I certainly wouldn’t deny my child food. But the scene wasn’t really about the food. The mom orangutan’s look seemed to nonchalantly say, “Sometimes life isn’t fair.” She was teaching her offspring a valuable lesson: Sometimes you don’t get the raisins unless you’re bigger or stronger or smarter. Sometimes you get knocked down, and you have to get back up and reach for them again and again, knowing you may never reach one.

When she finished her raisins, the mom orangutan gently pulled her little one close to groom him. She tenderly took her time, and at one point, he cupped her face and looked at her adoringly before nuzzling her neck. What had been difficult to watch moments earlier morphed into a beautiful moment.

None of us are perfect mothers, though we keep reaching for that. And none of our children are perfect either. Is it more graceful to be the parent who prepares their children for the fact that life isn’t a series of scheduled play dates with structured activities and pre-packaged snacks? That sometimes in life people – even mothers –lash out when they’re overwhelmed or frustrated or just because they want a few moments of peace. Is it more graceful to show them that we’re only human, too, or keep up the facade that we’re above all that?

During that church service, I reached for my daughter’s hand. She grudgingly allowed me to do so. I felt a twinge of guilt, but I didn’t let it overwhelm me because I wanted her to understand that like every other human, I’m flawed, except in the way that I love her. That’s the only true grace there is in parenting.

In life, sometimes graceful goes out the window. But maybe we harried mothers should take solace in knowing that we don’t have to be the perfect parent all the time. We just have to love our children and trust that they’ll love us back -- flaws and all.

Gina Augustini Best, the mother of a 10-year-old daughter, is a Plano-based freelance writer and editor.

1 comment:

  1. very well written, and enjoyed reading this. Keep up the good work! (Bobbi, friend of Jim Barlow's)