I was at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in a crowded facility over the weekend. Kids and people everywhere milling about, with lots of excitement and stimulation and entertainment. As one would expect, my two boys trolled the halls of this place with more than their usual energy and broke out into a run every minute or so. There was also chocolate involved. After one particularly annoying episode of energy, where they almost plowed down some people and just kept running, I pulled them aside and gave them the stern lecture about it being crowded, the need to mind their bodies, not be too wild, etc. As I stood upright after delivering the requisite lecture, an elderly man stopped and touched me on the shoulder. He said, “I need to tell you that you are doing a great job as a mother. Just fantastic.” Then he walked away.
I suspect that at least nine out of ten times that a stranger talks to you regarding your children or your parenting, it is an unsolicited criticism, or at least a veiled expression of disapproval. Rarely have I had such an out of nowhere compliment from a stranger. What was even more interesting was that I didn’t think what I did was so fabulous… to me, the best mom’s children wouldn’t be acting like bats out of hell in the first place. But as the night wore on, I was reminded once again about the variation in parental influence attempts with their kids, as well as the variation in effectiveness. Again, chocolate was involved. At the end of the night, I was still not so sure what got me singled out by the elderly gentleman but I didn’t much care. I liked the compliment, and it got me thinking.
Parenting is the most long-term and interaction-intensive thing most of us will ever do. Quite possibly more so than a marriage relationship (or maybe that is just true for me since I am not married to a talker). I find myself constantly assessing how I am doing. Am I doing a good job? A bad job? Overall, how would I rate myself as a mother? For me, part of why it is so hard is that it never ends. Sure, there are milestones for my children like becoming a toddler, potty training, becoming school age… later there will be graduation, marriage, and whatever else comes next. But you never really get any objective summary feedback about your parental quality, and I want it!! I think I do because I have become so acclimated to
being evaluated for everything else. You get grades in school. At work, you get an annual performance appraisal. Maybe you also complete projects and are evaluated on those. Or perhaps you complete a major landscaping renovation and your neighbors walk by and tell you how nice it looks and what they like most. I mean, even as a stay home mom I can be readily evaluated by my laundry productivity or my effectiveness at not getting ants in the house this spring.
If, at the end of our lives, we did receive some sort of evaluation about how we did as parents, who has the authority to determine such an evaluation? The kids? Our friends? Our own parents? A formula like (income x happiness)*grandchildren^2? And what is the goal? If we don’t know the goal, then how do we know if we have been successful? Of course, there are no answers to those questions, but it doesn’t stop my quirky mind from thinking them.
Rather, I think my success will be judged cumulatively by thousands of small moments, good and bad. Just last week I was relieved to overhear a conversation where my 6 year old was telling my 4 year old that you can’t have babies until you are at least 23. That isn’t anything I ever said, but like a lot of those kinds of moments, you know that somewhere in there your child has absorbed a positive value or preference or life practicality from you and it feels good to hear it come back at you. The occasional “dammit!” out of the mouths of babes is the down side of that reality…
I am sure there are no perfect parents out there. However, I am not sure who, other than myself, will ultimately hold me accountable for the job I do as a parent. What I do know is that in order to accomplish a goal you have to have a realistic target to be able to aim for. If by the end of my days, I can achieve a parenting B-, I think that is pretty fantastic. To do worse would be a disservice to my kids. To do better might be a disservice to me.
Erika is a recovering workaholic turned at-home mom of two boys ages 4 and 6. She is married to a recovering chemical engineer turned firefighter. Erika is slowly discovering what she likes to do now that she has time to do it.