Parenting, pure joyStumbled upon an article summary last week, “Bad Behavior Linked to Poor Parenting.” I am going to call this BBLtPP. I clicked on the link with butterflies, hoping not to find something like: We’re following a pediatrician with 2 sons, one doctor husband, and one overweight Labrador who live in Seattle. She writes a blog. It’s her parenting we’re worried about…
But I clicked on the link and it didn’t exist; I got an error message. Then again, nothing. Clicked a few minutes later. Nothing. The page on MSNBC for some reason had vanished.

Thank goodness.

I hate seeing reports like this in the media. They propel this myth that there is one way to do this, this raising of child. When American Idol advertised for “Mom Idol” last night, I wondered was Mom Idol going to sing or just win for being the best all-around-rock-n-roll-Mom? I’m certain not to win in both categories. I’m sure I’m doing something wrong. Parent teacher preschool conference next week, so I’ll let you know. But really, what defines ideal motherhood and who is the one doing the defining?

The immense task and joy of raising, loving, feeding, and enriching a child’s life while gaining incredible perspective along the way, seems utterly un-definable at times. Articles like BBLtPP strike deep stomach drops and fear in many of us. I know this. My patients tell me about these types of articles. Then they ask questions like, “Do you feel it’s wrong if I give her peaches before avocados? “ Seemingly basic question but it’s loaded with self-doubt. There is a particular look in their eyes. It’s: “I’m a bad parent, aren’t I?” But their mouth forms the words “a-v-o-c-a-d-o” and “p-e-a-c-h-e-s.”

This idea that there is a right way to parent and a wrong way to parent is nothing I learned in medical school or pediatric residency. Rather, it’s something I’ve learned at the mommy group I went to a few times, or the playground I visit, or via the snide comments I got while feeding my son a bottle of formula in Seattle. The limited and rigorous idea that there is an essentially scripted good way versus bad way to parent needs no further emphasis in the media.

There are safety concerns and gross errors in parenting. I’m not entirely naïve, of course. I have cared for many children who are the victims of the lack of parenting: assaulted children, abused children, abandoned and neglected ones. I am not saying there are no lines in this sand. There really are right (evidence and life saving) ways to have your baby sleep, safer ways to feed and avoid choking, safer ways to play, and safer ways to protect and buckle your child into a car. But those tasks and preventative measures for preserving and promoting health aren’t the essence of parenting.

Parenting is all the other things in between.

The mortar, really. The sticky stuff wedged between all the tasks and lists we check off throughout the day and night with our children. At the risk or sounding all Hallmark, I’d say it’s the really good stuff. Parenting is the consistency, the listening, the remembering. The non-conditional love part. Parenting comes when you enjoy or laugh with your child, when you are respond to their cry, when you remember who they are and how to help them regain their idea of themselves. It’s when you advocate for them in difficult situations. Or in easy ones. When you provide them a trusted and reliable model and space to be. When you provide them a platform to grow and develop. Parenting is grossly individual.

I watch parenting happen every day when I’m in clinic. And at home. It happens all the time. But I still don’t have a manual.

My sons are growing me up, too. Just as they gain inches and pounds, I gain insight, wisdom, and conscience for the world.

Most of us perform constant self-evaluation. The ubiquitous monologue running, “Am I doing this right? Am I a bad parent if I _________?” Rarely, I suppose the answer is yes. More often, no.
We constantly self-monitor, self-reflect and project ourselves against our peers and family, co-workers and neighbors.

Oh, crud. Just tried the BBLtPP link again and it goes through when you hit refresh. The first sentence reads, “Poor parenting causes boys, but few girls, to be particularly prone to bad behavior, a new study suggests.”

Now it’s stacked against me! Good grief. You read it if you’d like, but I don’t think I’ll pick apart the study for you. Instincts on my back, I believe the four of us will find our way in this house. Mom Idol or not, with help from my dear friends and family, I’ll hopefully avoid showing up in the study labeled “bad parent” while F and O grow me up, too.