Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Foreshadowing My Life As A Horrible Parent

My gut tells me I will be a fine, albeit mostly clueless, mother.

I suspect I will also suck at being a good "parent."

Ish and I were at a gathering recently where we didn't know very many people, and those who we did know, we didn't know well. After a while, I got tired of standing and was fatigued from the whole day, and realized I needed to sit down. I found a quieter back room, and realized I wasn't the only one needing some space. A couple of new parents were hanging out there as well, nursing their 4-month-old. And, as these things happen, eventually all the pregnant women at the party (and there were three or four of us) ended up in the same room. And, as these things also happen, the conversation became entirely about babies and pregnancy.

And the strangest thing happened.

I realized I didn't want to talk about my pregnancy. I didn't want to talk about babies. I didn't want to talk about maternity pants or breastfeeding or weight gain or cravings or birthing plans. I wanted to go back into the other room and resume talking to that woman with the cool new business venture. (And I would have, if I hadn't been so damn exhausted...)

I was surprised at myself, and I left the party feeling a very strange sense of "Huh?" And while it's not a super-huge deal, I've had a hard time figuring out what was going on, what I felt, and why it mattered.

Here's what I've come up with:

First of all, parenting is incredibly personal. I'm glad we all talk about it, I'm glad there is so much open dialogue about it, I'm glad we don't just pretend parenting is easy and shutup about it. But um? I also think parenting is kind of like politics. I'd prefer not to discuss my views in a social setting where I don't really know the other participants. And I'd VERY MUCH prefer not to hear others' views about what is "right" and "wrong," either.

Secondly, I kind of think that pregnant women have as much in common with each other as people who own red cars. Our exteriors have one notable similarity, and it's entirely possible that that's where the similarities end.

Oh, of course I know that at a cocktail party, you mingle with folks for any variety of reason. Hey, you have an email address? I have an email address too! But with this -- with pregnancy, the idea of being a parent -- it's different. My expectations were different. If you're in a room with other people in your professional industry, for example, and everyone's chatting about The Industry, and what they do, and then you leave the party and realize you didn't really see eye-to-eye with anyone in the room, so what?

But there I was, with all these perfectly lovely people talking about babies and I had virtually no interest. I didn't want to hold the other woman's beautiful little girl. I didn't want to talk about my quest to find maternity jeans. I have no theories on baby-raising to offer (I don't know any more about raising a kid now than I did before getting knocked up), and no real desire to engage in any of the conversations on the table. So, so what?

No, not so what. Well, or maybe so what. Or...I don't know what.

Shouldn't I? Shouldn't I want to engage? Jump at the chance to hear what others are doing and share my experiences and hold a gurgling baby? I mean, this isn't me not finding common ground with networking professionals, this is me not being interested in my kid's world, right?

Hmmmm.

* * * * * *

I am often amazed at how much better I understand my mom as I get older, especially since she's not around to facilitate that process. My mom had all kinds of social anxiety and depression issues, and I have long assumed those afflictions were the reason she didn't do more typical "parent" things. She had always told me the reason she didn't get involved at my school or with PTA or neighbors or most of my friends' parents or really, any mommy groups whatsoever was because she didn't usually like other parents.

And while I still think that's an over-simplified answer, I also think I get it now.

No, no. I am not making a blanket statement saying I don't like other parents. That would be ridiculous on about a million levels.

But I did get a dose of what it's like to be thrown together with a group of people simply because we're in each other's proximity and our kids are or will be about the same age.

And what it's like to feel totally and completely unlike "them."

And what it's like to feel scared and isolated and to wonder, Should I pretend that I'm interested? Is this what we do? Oh, God, am I already messing it up?

Everything my mom must have felt became crystal clear to me in those few minutes.

But, happily, there's more.

I have always understood the never-before-experienced-in-human-existence power of the Internet, how it connects people in the most extraordinary ways. As such, I've peripherally followed the inception and growth of the mommyblogging phenomenon with sadness and relief.

Sadness, because it's possible (likely, even) that my mom did suffer from terrible anxiety and depression, and that it was made worse by the fact that she had no one she felt she could really talk to. I'd like to believe that her life would have gone differently if she'd had a vehicle for finding other people, women, moms, who felt like she did.

Relief, because I have that vehicle. I caught a glimmer of what these next few years may bring and what on earth would I do without this place? This blog and you and Twitter and Google and Facebook and message boards and the hilarious, smart, cussing, drinking, messy awesomeness that is so much of the mom-o-sphere.

I know I won't be alone. I know that no matter what happens out there in for-real life, I will always have the in-here life, too. I can share and be honest and terrified and thrilled and baby-focused and NOT baby-focused (American Idol liveblog!) and not have to worry (as much) about failing. I am the MOST not perfect EVER, but thanks to this here social media thing, I can at least be real.

So we can all be real, horrible parents together. And raise real, horrible, terrific kids.

36 comments:

  1. It always felt a little like prison to me, the non-stop baby shower/breast pump/diaper brand/PTA/room mom chatter. When you get pregnant people assume that that's the sum total of who you are or what you want, and maybe for a lot of women that's enough. It wasn't (and isn't) for me.
    You'll be a great mother because you'll be HER mother - interesting, and funny, and individual.
    Who wants a Stepford Mommy anyway?

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  2. i was very much like you in the whole parenting thing at times. at first i wanted to talk about it, but then when i was with people who only talked about it and nothing else it wore me out. i was bored to death! after having kids i got so frustrated that the only other friends i seemed to have were moms with kids my kids ages. it was hard to do anything with them without kids being a major topic of conversation. i was always ready to leave whatever gathering way earlier than most because i was there to get away from my kids. to have some me time and it wasn't working for me. i ended up making friends with a few single women, and they were lifesavers to me. i could go and not talk about my kids (who i love to death) and they didn't think a thing about it. they were my friends because they liked me not because our kids got along well. it was refreshing. here's to a lifetime of people who like you for you.

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  3. I have a theory. Other people's children (or their birth experience, pregnancy, etc.) are just not that interesting. YOUR child, on the other hand, will be the most fascinating creature ever- to you.

    Fabulous post. I have a feeling you're going to be a great mom.

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  4. I am no more socially anxious now as parent then I was before I was a parent, it is just that as a parent I am are forced into what I consider situations that are extremely socially awkward.

    When I was pregnant I hated talking about it because to me someone asking if I was going to breastfeed was like asking if I liked nipple stimulation. Awkward. And, weird.

    I just do my best as I know you will to push through the awkwardness and do it FOR my children even if I can't stand hearing about what people think is right or wrong because frankly I could give a shit less.

    Like the previous poster said, YOUR child will be the most fascinating human in the universe, to you.

    You are going to be GREAT!

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  5. You know, one of my friends is a parent (and a good one at that) and she can't stand the song and dance of mommy groups. She doesn't have anything in common with the other mothers of her kids' schools. Her mom thinks it's weird, but her mom is very traditional. With my friend, while rearing Her children is important to her, she'd rather talk about music, movies, food and you know, Hobbies and Interests during her precious "adult time".

    I think you'll be just fine :-)

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  6. I felt the same way when I was pregnant -- like people assumed I had no other purpose in life beyond gestation and like I wanted to think about other things in social situations.

    Now that I have my baby, I'm completely addicted to him, and it's a little more fun to talk to other parents because I can hear about what they are doing and relate it to my own experience.

    But still -- sometimes I just want to talk about adult stuff.

    I agree with the other posters -- I think you're going to be fine. It's good to have a mommy who's also a person (or, at least, that's what I keep saying in my head :) )

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  7. As far as I know, in 1967 when my 22 year old mother gave birth to me, there weren't Mommy and Me classes or bounce houses or any of today's "conventional" parent/kid things. If there had been, my mother would never have been interested anyway. Parenthood isn't playdates on your calendar or validation groups to join. All of that crap you see yourself instinctively avoiding never existed until recent generations. I think you're most likely to be the great mother that your mother was. She was great because of herself, not in spite of. And she gave you memories that a lot of us readers wish we'd been a part of. You'll be just the same to your daughter.

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  8. wow.. i think i'm going to crawl under a rock and die... lmao... i think baby is pretty much ALL i talk about right now... then again... i also described pregnancy as "pukey" to a friend who's never been pregnant today... You have your poop, I have my puke... :D I DO know how you feel though, I had pretty much NO friends when I got pregnant with my daughter- I don't like other parents much either. That whole "this is right, and this is wrong" and "i'm going to BE the next MOMMY IDOL" (heh... ok.. read the other post first.. my bad)drives me CRAZY!!! Not as crazy as the whole "ohmygod!!! i don't get an ultrasound until 20 WEEKS!!! OMG!!! What if something is WRONG!!!??? What if I manage to panic myself into a bloody coronary!!???!!" So yeah... i suppose that's enough from me eh?? (heehee.. i'm so canadian I even COMMENT using the word "eh") :D
    ~c~

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  9. And by realizing that you are not perfect, you will be a much better parent. Do it your way and it will be the RIGHT way (for you).

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  10. I was pregnant at 19. Now, I'm 29 with a 9 year-old daughter. I went through college as the only parent in my major. Oh, I KNEW that feeling. Until my daughter brought home our new neighbors-- the perfect mom/daughter duo to pull me out of my shell. With the right 'mommy' friend, we took our girls to see Tina Turner for their 9th birthday, scoured thrift stores for vintage furniture and spent an day taste-testing obscure soda pops at the oldest soda emporium in L.A. You just haven't met your 'right' mommy friends yet... but you will!

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  11. I have a three year old and I've never read a parenting book.
    He's a great kid and I think I'm an awesome mom (I know that sounds a little bit bold, but I'm honestly proud of how I'm doing as a mom)
    Don't sweat it, I don't want to hear about other peoples' "attachement parenting" or "love and logic" techniques either.
    And seriously, I'm a super happy mom...most of the time.

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  12. As a prego I didn't give a hooey about babies or parenting. I found it all quite boring to be honest. Once my daughter was born I did find myself more inclined to discussions, but I still continue to relish my child-free friendships, they remain the most interesting ones I have!
    I love being a mom, sometimes I'm good at it, sometimes I suck, but so far my daughter seems to be taking care of being a perfect child all on her own! Ah, evolution, gotta love it.

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  13. When I was pregnant last time, I worked on a team of like 95 men, and 3 women. I didn't talk about pregnancy a lot... Here's the thing about "mommy groups" and all that: use the internet. It's WAY easier to never visit a site again than it is to never visit a mommy group again. I mean seriously, you can find people who:
    1) believe nursing is child abuse (moving along)
    2) use the rod and beat the child (not going there again)
    3) believe in weird practices for their kid's health (as mom of an autistic son, you better believe I hear about some crazy shit!)
    4) think all work-out-of-home moms are raising the spawn of Satan (yeah, I ran out of that one).

    But you can also find people who are funny as hell, who think life with kids is great except when it's not and are honest about both, who agree with you, who don't agree with you but make you think... and it can all be anonymous. I like that.
    Word verification: anduc - which I should probably do because someone is bound to disagree with the groups I stay far away from!

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  14. what a beautiful and honest post - thanks!

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  15. as much as you may think you're still a kid inside, you sound incredibly mature and self reflecting and that is the best place to be to become a mommy. don't worry, you'll be a great parent.

    as far as mommy blogs go, have you tried youbemom.com? it can become addictive. funny, exasperating, inspiring, infuriating, heartwarming, helpful, interesting, enriching and might make you bond with some others. you might particularly enjoy the comments made by a woman with the moniker "martini mom"... i'm currently "nutrisystem mom"...but it changes.

    take good care and gl!

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  16. I was always kind of alone as a stay at home mom because I was bored to tears with the company of the other parents. None of them seemed to have much of a life outside of their kids. I love being a mother but I never wanted to stop being a thinking, growing person either. None of the other moms seemed to care about that and were so domesticated and I just didn't have anything in common with them. So usually I'd watch my son play with their kids and instead of mingling with them at length I'd just say the duty "hi, how have you been, blah, blah" and then sit in the background with a good book. It was lonely but I preferred it to the brain-dead alternative.

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  17. here is a good blog that only recently became a mommyblog. You might like her, you might not....but if you delve back before her kinda tired new baby posts she can be quite hilarious.

    http://thesixten.wordpress.com/

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  18. There's nothing wrong with not wanting to talk about pregnancy and children at all times. I'm in a situation where I live far from my friends and I wish I had more mothers(or at least one)to talk to right now. As things are, I don't even have anyone to host a baby shower and I'm not sure about the ettiquite of hosting my own.

    I get crazy excited about my midwife appointments and childbirth class because that's the only time I feel really free to talk about my pregnancy and the other person listens and really cares.

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  19. not pregnant, never been pregnant, will never be pregnant...but I totally get your post. I'm really starting to feel that way about the thump-thump-thump I am hearing from menopause. Don't want to discuss it with all my "women friends" or my guy friends who think they know everything.

    I look forward to your motherhood blog. It should be honest and very funny!!

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  20. What is the measure of a stellar parent anyway? You know? I think every single person has their own idea of what that means to them. And it doesn't have to include doing anything in the typical way.

    My current pregnancy was a surprise-(ish) too and it took me about 20 weeks to begin to feel any real connection to my baby. That's not what you were saying here, but I think it's in a similar vein. This journey is just so different for everyone.

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  21. You know what? You may feel totally different when the baby arrives. This could all be hormones. Seriously, hormones suck. Just wait until one minute you're pregnant and the next minute you're not. You jump off the proverbial hormonal cliff.

    But, you may not feel different at all. I'm the type of person who doesn't like kids the way your mom didn't like parents. The last thing I would ever do is take a job working with kids. So, that's why I now work in a 2nd grade classroom as a teacher's aide...and I love it. So much, scratch that...EVERYTHING will change and what you're feeling now may not how you will feel later. Go with the flow, do what makes you happy, and everything will be fine.

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  22. I am newly pregnant too, and while I liked telling our parents over the holidays, telling our friends felt like a different story. It's not that I wanted a secret, but I did not want the big deal. I just wanted to catch up with them, not discuss my guy and I's "future". It's going to be a big part of my life, but it's not the only part right?

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  23. I am not just a mom. Yes, I love my daughter and I enjoy being a mother... but that is not who I am. It is only a part of who I am. I think part of the challenge is relating to women who feel like being a parent encompasses everything about them.I don't want to talk about mommie things all the time. I want to talk about politics, books, movies, and use the eff word IN ADDITION to talking about the kids!

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  24. I had to explain to my daughters (13 and 16) that just because people: a) live in my neighborhood, or b) are her friend's moms, that does NOT mean I have to be friends with them, or even like them much. I told them that with adulthood comes the magic freedom of being able to choose your friends based on common interests, not on proximity.

    Go your own way. Make your own path. Do not feel like to have to compete with anyone, and realize that your daughter doesn't need to compete with anyone either. As soon as I let myself absorb those two sentences, I was released from the tension you describe so beautifully.

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  25. I spent a long time feeling guilty that my daughter had a mother who really didn't want the whole suburban mother experience. I don't want to go to PTA, I don't want to compare saggy boobs, I am not endlessly entralled with everything my child does.

    It's not that I don't love her, it's that I don't believe that I need her to be my whole world. Because isn't that a LOT to ask of a child? That they be the center of your universe? You can be (and you WILL be) a wonderful mother with out being an obessive mother.

    You'll be the best mother she'll ever have. Promise.

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  26. Beautiful post.

    The way you feel about being knocked up and becoming a parent is correct and right because it's how you feel. Nobody has the right to judge your feelings.

    Your points were excellent, especially about the only similiarities being, well, the preggy bellies. Why should you feel instantly bonded to these dames? You know nothing about each other.

    loved this post.

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  27. I hate Mommy-and-Me get-togethers, playgroups, etc. for exactly the reasons you've set forth. I have nothing in common with the other moms except our children being close in age. I realize I have to do some of these things for my daughter to have some time with other kids (since I'm a SAHM), but I don't have to like them and NEITHER DO YOU. I don't particularly care for other adults OR their children.

    The only group I half-way liked was at my church, but I think that was because we could gossip about people we all knew in our large church. Isn't that awful?

    Even as a parent, or parent-to-be, you need to maintain your "you"-ness. Whether it is professional groups, personal interests (a capella group?) and such. You need to maintain your friendships with folks who knew you pre-baby, who know YOU, not Kristy-the-mom. It's essential for your mental health, trust me.

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  28. Roll with it, kiddo. I don't like the vast majority of the moms at my eldest's middle school. I love the vast majority of this year's preschool moms but spent all of last year feeling like every single one of those bitches hated me. Maybe they did, maybe you will never ever have this experience or any other remotely like mine. Being a mom doesn't mean you become one of the Borg. There's room to be you. And your kid(s) will be better for it. I think.

    On second thought, forget I said anything.

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  29. i have lots of friends who have kids and/or are pregnant. and for obvious reasons, it's something liz and i talk about fairly often in the "what kind of parents will we be" kind of vein. because we're a young, getting married couple, who are clearly of the age that kids will be somewhere in the not terribly distant future, i think we become a little like magnets to some parent friends. and really, i think that my friends fall into two camps (both of whom love their kids):

    1. parents who do their own thing and are comfortable raising their kid the way they see fit. sometimes they share their thoughts if you ask or point out things of interest (e.g. you'd never guess how many crayons a kid can eat), most of the time they simply do their own version of parenting and let you enjoy and love their kids as you wish. good times.

    2. parents who feel that they are raising their kids/approaching pregnancy THE RIGHT WAY. any deviation from this is wrong, and thus they proselytize about how they parent. they are looking for validation that they are right, and actively looking for people to tell them they are wrong so they can describe, in painful detail, why they are superior parents and why they are raising a superior class of child. it's the difference between "we don't let junior watch t.v. because we believe, based on things we've researched or been told, that it can hinder certain development," and "letting a child watch t.v. is an evil and terrible thing that makes anyone who does it a bad parent...you don't plan on doing that, do you?"

    and basically, to me, it just feels like an extension of common human behavior. people adopt a belief set based on a highly visceral and deeply personal concept (spirituality, sexuality, parenting) and use it to power self-validation and the intrinsically related de-validation of others that do not agree.

    parenting is so incredibly personal and visceral, and the fear so real that if you "do it wrong" you mess up your beloved kid, that it seems like more people take the approach that they're doing it right.

    now, layer on top of this the degree to which our media driven culture spreads certain messages about what being a good parent is, which often are expressed in ways to promote commercial interests, and you have a real mess.

    i love all my friends kids.

    and i'm going to love my little cousin more.

    and you don't have to talk about parenting or pregnancy with us at all, unless you want to.

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  30. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  31. my internet friend,
    not wanting to discuss the one thing you have in common with a bunch of people is not any indication on your parenting abilities.
    you are a delightful, wonderful, enticing woman.
    don't become one of THEM.
    stay you.
    :)

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  32. i felt the same way when i was pregnant. i hated these women who would just go on and on and on about their kids, pregnancy, etc. - it was overwhelming. when my baby was born, we all of a sudden got invitations from these people with kids who never invited us before. oh boy, it's even more horrifying. parents tend to ask you questions and compare. my friend's friend came up to me and asked, "is your baby potty trained?" my girl at that time was 13 months. when i said no, she said, "i just started to potty train my 3 month old baby." then for what seemed like hours, she started raving about her kids and pre-schools and swimming lessons and what i have to do to be a better parent. I wanted to say, "fuck you!" I was able to hold my composure and avoided her.

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  33. Yep, and yep, I agree 1000%.

    And then I find myself, in a Mommy and Me music class, introducing my six month old to the other mommy's baby and not myself.

    (Shakes head.)

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  34. Parenting and your relationship with your child is personal. Besides you are more than a parent. Don't feel bad for not wanting to conform.

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  35. Disturbing; what starts out as a blog on the usual new-mommy nerves makes me feel even worse about the next generation. Blogging, really?

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