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?