I’ve talked to other primary care givers–men and women alike–and they all agree. There’s a voice. It’s external, but not explicit. We’re not quite sure where it comes from, but it is present, persistent, and effective. Sometimes it whispers, sometimes it shouts, daily asking, “Are you being a good enough parent?” It has strong opinions about everything from screen time to homemade, organic food. The voice wonders aloud when you will decide to teach your child sign language, swimming, yoga and Mandarin. It silently judges every time you take a moment to disengage with your lovely little baby to go to work, shower, read, or take a deep breath.
I was taken aback by this voice, and I have succumbed to it. I feel a twinge of guilt when I’m not actively playing with my son, even though I know he benefits from time playing on his own. When I am at work, I want to be at home, even though I know he loves time with his grandmas. When Dan gets home from work, instead of taking a break, I continue to engage even though I know they need guy-time alone. It’s never enough. It feels crazy. And it’s not helping any of us.
So I read Bridget Schulte’s Washington Post article “Making Time for Kids?” She reminds us:
Though American parents are with their children more than any parents in the world, many feel guilty because they don’t believe it’s enough. That’s because there’s a widespread cultural assumption that the time parents, particularly mothers, spend with children is key to ensuring a bright future.
Now groundbreaking new research upends that conventional wisdom and finds that that isn’t the case. At all.
The voice persists. “Yes, parenting is the most important job you’ll ever have. So don’t mess it up!” The voice wants me to say, “All I want is for my children to be happy.” The stress comes in when we realize we’re just not sure what to provide to maximize that happiness. There are shelves of books and a whole section of the Internet devoted to telling you how to get there, but really, there is no path to follow. Moment to moment, then, we worry if we are doing enough.
Maybe happiness is the wrong goal. I watch Jennifer Senior’s TED talk version of her book All the Joy and No Fun, which reminds us that “parenting as a verb only entered our vocabulary in 1970….We are all now furiously improvising our way through a situation for which there is no script.” Pretty recently, instead of kids working for us, we began working for them. And the shift has been intense. We don’t know how best to equip our kids in this rapidly changing world, and there is anxiety in that not knowing.
Ensuring our kids’ happiness is a pretty lofty goal. Not only may that require me to disappear, but maybe most importantly, my child’s happiness as the only goal is an unfair burden to place on me and my kid alike.
The voice will probably never go away. But I am working on listening to a new script that includes my friend’s voice: “You don’t have to be the best mom in the world, you just have to be Simon’s mom.”