the best of all possible worlds?

I love this post because I think it captures the essence of my parenting (and life) philosophy. Could this frustrating, heartbreaking, devastating, mundane, puzzling, unknowable and maddening world actually be as awe-inspiring as it is not despite those things, but because of them?

The following post was one of my first ever paid writing gigs. It appeared on the Web Child site eighteen months ago.

I still embrace the bittersweetness of parenting.

Not Perfect, Best

German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz was a glass half-full kinda guy. His idea that our world was indeed the ‘Best of All Possible Worlds’ came to be known as Leibnizian Optimism. Of course the poor bloke was lampooned mercilessly by some of his contemporaries who found his positive outlook ridiculous.

Some days, as a mum, I find I’m just about out of my own supply of optimism and that’s where my friend Gottfried comes in. His idea – in the teeniest of nutshells – is that without the bad things in the world we can’t have the good. It’s a sweet and sour kind of arrangement.

Before I was a Mum I often envisioned my own future parenting world. I was definitely going to be the best of all possible mums. Kids seemed to gravitate towards me. “You’re so patient,” other frazzled mums would tell me as I puffed up with rosy visions of the glorious maternal days ahead of me.

When I had my daughter, Indiana, seven years ago, it all went according to plan. She was an amazing baby. Quiet, sweet, never a problem. My husband, Luke, and I are fond of saying, “We didn’t even know we were parents.”

So, sixteen months later when we had Levi, I guess we got a karmic comeuppance of sorts. He was a whole different type of kid – now we really knew we were in the game.

Levi has challenged many of the preconceived notions (delusions?) I held about parenting. Don’t get me wrong, he’s gorgeous and clever and holds me captive most days with his charm. But he doesn’t let me get away with a thing.

Let me give you a perfect example. What do we all say when our kids have hurt themselves– a knee scrape, a splinter under a fingernail, a bumped head? I know I used to say automatically, “There, there, you’re okay.” Not anymore. Whenever I try to use that one on Levi he looks at me, eyes blazing and says indignantly, “I am NOT okay.” I have to stop and reconsider. Yes, I suppose he’s right.

So I find I am slowly losing my delusions about myself as a Mum and indeed about this whole world of parenting. I am not always (if ever) the best of all possible mums. I get tired and cranky and frustrated and irrational. Sometimes I shout – and the irony is that before I had kids I never shouted at anyone.

There’s no doubt that my kids are everything and more to me. My daughter is incredibly sweet and loving and smart but she is also quiet and has a tendency to be shy which, as all parents of shy kids know, can be a challenge. I worry constantly about her. Is she going to be tough enough to stand up tall in this big, imperfect world?

And is Levi’s persistence – on days when my tolerance levels are dangerously challenged – a sign of his potential as a high flying litigator or human rights activist, or just an annoying personality trait?

So I turn to Leibniz with his ‘Good Plus Not-So-Good Equals Best’ equation.

Okay, so Indiana is shy and she cried quiet tears every morning for the first term and a half when she started Kinder, but doesn’t that make it all the sweeter when we go to her end-of-year concert and she quietly mouths the words to Pink’s “So What!” as her little fingers move to make chords along the neck of her guitar?

And isn’t it why, after her decidedly disastrous introduction to toddler dance classes, my heart leaps for joy now when she runs off to ballet without a backward glance?

And, okay, so Levi refuses nearly every healthy food on the face of the earth, but isn’t that why I come over all Italian Mama when he devours a boiled egg with toast?

And sure, no son of mine was ever going to wear a Spiderman outfit. But maybe that’s why my journey to understanding the whole ‘boys and superheroes’ mystery has been so profound.

And isn’t it why, after Milo -stained -school- shirts -two- minutes -before- the- school- bell and copious tears over lost library books and forgotten hats and raised voices and homework struggles and endless glasses of water after bedtime and no- story- tonight- because- no-one -wanted – to- put- on – their- pyjamas- and -tidy- up- their- room… Isn’t that why, when they finally do fall asleep, their exquisite faces put the angels to shame?

Being a parent may not be the most perfect of worlds but- and perhaps old Gottfried was right – isn’t that why it’s the best?

Do your kids challenge your notions of parenting? What’s the best thing about your parenting world?



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10 Comments

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10 responses to “the best of all possible worlds?

  1. Love this post and can relate to all that you are saying about parenting. The “down” times make the “up” times that much nicer.

    My children challenge me constantly – emotionally, intellectually, socially and physically. Just when I think I have this whole parenting thing worked out, a new challenge arises and I start at the beginning again.

    The most challenging thing for me is that my three children have completely different personalities. What works with #1 doesn’t work for #2 and #3. With each child, I’ve had to come up with a whole new strategy. It does keep life interesting though.

    Greatest parenting asset? Friends who stand by me, comfort me when it all gets to much, cheer me on when I’m doing well and are willing to speak up when I lose my way. Priceless.

    As an aside, a term & a half of crying? That’s nothing. I cried for the first YEAR and a half. Now that’s something to truly test the maternal heartstrings (sorry Mum).

  2. I’ve seen you in action. You’re still an amazingly sweet, patient mum. And I agree with Susan – the best parenting asset is your friends, the good ones who won’t sugarcoat it but will understand when you’re in “lovey dovey” mode with your kids too. Because sometimes they’re great and we love them to bits. And sometimes we walk around saying “what was I thinking?” when considering the fact that we are a parent at all. Either is fine, or anything in between.

    Finally – my mother used to tell me “you’re beautiful …. when you’re sleeping.” She probably meant it in the negative sense but oh god, they are so beautiful when they’re sleeping ….

  3. What a lovely post! As a mum of four I believe if I didn’t see the positives I’d be institutionalised!

    Now I’m going through the teen years with a whole new lot of issues to deal with but maintaining the same positive attitude (although almost impossible at times) helps me stay sane.

    It’s so important that mums realise they are only human and forgive their own mistakes and even take time to have a laugh at themselves. It may look like everyone else is following the parenting rule book to the letter but that’s never the case.

    J 🙂

  4. it’s not just the great points you bring up, it’s your writing. i really, really like it.

    i don’t want to get all beowulf v grendle (sp?) on you, but therein lies the answer of why parenting the down times make the good ones so good. you can’t know one without the other.

    but what do i know?! i don’t have half the experience that you do. i am a guy, however, who went from having zero kids to having four in the span of thirteen months. (became step dad via marriage, then we had triplets a little over a year after we were married), so that means i’d better bone up quickly. reading beautiful essays like this one certainly help. thanks!

  5. Brilliant. Love the blog. And you don’t need all the fancy pants trimmings to have a great one. Your writing, by the looks of it, should just get you by. (ha ha)

    My kids were the opposite. The first was very challenging, the 2nd so relaxed. The first had tantrums early on and right thru until close to age 3. (Although, he’s 7 now and STILL has them on occasion!) The 2nd – the first time he had a tantrum, I didn’t know what it was because I didn’t recognise his behaviour, and he had very few after that. He remains the calm one. Mostly.

    My 3rd…well, let’s just say he’s the one who challenges everything I have learnt with the first two. Very demanding, smart, cluey. All of that. And by now, my patience is wearing thin! But having said that, I’m also more relaxed than I was with the first. A bit of ‘been there, done that’. But like most mums I know, I will (more than) occasionally have a yell and almost throw a tantrum myself. Then feel bad about it afterwards.

    Parenting is a tough gig, and we’ll all make mistakes. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. But then, even without us knowing it, we’ll give our children some special gifts.

    I see it a lot in mine lately. I see my boys looking after each other when one is hurt or giving each other encouragement (but not always) and I think, ‘Surely, they learnt that from me?’ I hope so. You’d be surprised.

  6. candicelemonscott

    No wonder you still love this post! What a beautiful way to encompass what parenting is all about.

    What’s the best thing about your parenting world?

    Watching my daughters’ personalities emerge, learning who they are as they discover their place in the world and having the privilege of seeing everything through two completely different sets of eyes – one blue, one green!

  7. Thank you guys so so very much for this response to my first blog post. I am honestly so thrilled by it – what amazing encouragement.
    Jayne x

  8. Kylie

    Hey there- have been off FB (and the PC) most of the weekend so only just saw this… wow. I’m impressed. By the content, of course (I remember that post, and it’s a lovely one), but also that you have the stamina to blog again. I still wake up shaking from dreams that my blog is due and I haven’t written it- and it’ s been over a year since I quit!! I think I’m suited to the longer form of writing, where I only have a deadline every 18 months… but you’re great at this one, so good for you, and good luck!!

  9. I showed this post to my wife and she said “See, we are normal”.

  10. Pingback: a backward glance « the best of all possible worlds

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