Putting the “Me” in Mediocre Parenting
Ironically, my generation was labeled the “me” generation, because allegedly we were selfish and self-absorbed. It’s ironic because if you look at the current parenting trends, at least with regards to our children, we act anything but. There has been a cultural shift in American parenting to that of a complete focus on the children, without any regard to the parents, their relationships with each other, or their own mental well-being. It has become a hyper-race where the more time you spend concentrated on your children, the more devoted you are, and the (ostensibly) better off your children will become. In modern circles it’s called attachment parenting; yet, while not every parent embraces the entire style, its core focus-putting the children first-has become pervasive in today’s parenting culture.
Numerous articles have questioned its efficacy, and more specifically its effect on parents and their marriage. Some have postured that it is effectively killing the American marriage. These articles have some inner truths, yet were met with a decent amount of scorn. (How can you blame the children for a failing marriage??) Not to mention that there was very little focus on the mental health of the mothers employing this parenting technique. But these effects are just considered necessary casualties in the hypervigilant parenting that has permeated American society. What the commentators miss is that the articles are in no way blaming the children. They are blaming the parenting style, and more so society for pushing this parenting style, for the negative effects on marriages and self.
I embrace mediocre parenting because it pushes back against this notion that our children have to be our sole focus and always have our undivided attention to be healthy and happy. In fact, I would argue that it is better when they don’t because when we are allowed to have breathing room and to engage in other satisfying relationships with our spouses and friends, it makes us happier, resulting in better parenting interactions and a better parenting model for our children.
I always use this example: on an airplane, parents are instructed to put their oxygen mask on first, and then to help the child with the mask. The reason for this protocol is that in order for the parent to maintain consciousness and mental clarity to help the child, he or she needs to have the oxygen to do so. Put another way, neither the child nor the adult is going to survive if the parent passes out first. I would argue that this protocol is just as applicable to every day parenting. If there is no break, no chance to re-charge, no ability to put on that oxygen mask, the ability to parent well becomes severely limited.
Alternatively, imagine it from a working scenario standpoint. After all, leaves and salary arguments aside, parenting is a serious and difficult job. Imagine if in the business world you were never given a break. You had to work at the same thing, from the time you got up until the time you went to sleep, without a recess or a meal. How efficiently would you be working? Not well. How good would your work product be? Not good. Those breaks give workers the ability to clear their minds and see things from a fresh perspective. Why then, is parenting any different?
Indeed, I am at my best on those days following nights my husband takes the kids so I can go out by myself. Sometimes I meet a friend for coffee. Sometimes I get a massage. Sometimes I just drive around. But those few hours are priceless. They allow me to breathe and re-charge. They allow me to focus just on myself, without any interruptions and anyone else’s needs coming before mine. Are they selfish? Perhaps, especially to the sanctimommies out there who would sacrifice their last breath before spending a minute without their children. But for me, they are the aforementioned oxygen mask. When I come home from these outings, I am a much better parent. I can actually listen to their stories and pay attention to them with my entire being. They have more than my presence because I am actually present.
Likewise, they similarly benefit when my husband and I have our date nights. We try to do a couple of these a month. The “date” may not be particularly special and may involve a trip to Target after a dinner, but it still affords us time to reconnect and be with each other in a way that being with the children doesn’t allow. For starters, we can have uninterrupted conversation. Or we can just snuggle without wrestling kids off of us. Either way, it provides a necessary re-charge to our relationship. As a result, when we return home, the kids get a better, more unified set of parents. How can this not be important? How can couples put their marriage on hold or on autopilot to be completely absorbed in their kids but not see how detrimental it actually is to their kids? You say that you need to always be teaching your kids. So what lesson do you think they learn by having parents who have absolutely no time for each other, let alone themselves? I would argue that is a poor lesson indeed.
Mediocre parenting, then, at least according to attachment parenting standards, defies this. It tells you to put the “me” in parenting (meaning you). Take some time for yourself. Take some time with your significant other. Your body will thank you, your partner will thank you, and, believe it or not, one day your children will thank you.
I am mediocre mom!
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