The Big ?

Those of us who have been blessed to clean a baby’s poopy bottom day after day eventually arrive at a huge question mark. It looms in our midst while we go about our daily routines as we work our way around it, sometimes pretending it isn’t there at all. Despite our efforts to continue doing what we do, the huge gets in our face until we can’t avoid it any more.

The baby bottoms grow a little. They walk around on unsteady feet. They climb and tear their way through the days until they are too tired to think. After they’ve slept for many months as a destroying machine, they start speaking recognizable words which they eventually use to construct full sentences. These sentences usually start with “I”, as in “I want xyz” (use your imagination here).

While the child is actively pronouncing their wants and needs, the parent is involved in a slur of mental activity: Does she need this or want this? Why does she want this now? How will she act if she doesn’t get it? Is it possible to give it to her? And on and on.

But the looming that trumps the others is this: “Am I doing the right thing?”

The uncertainty of parenthood relies on the fact that as the child’s needs increase, a parallel sense of doubt backs the decision of the parent. “Was it right to let her watch that TV show?” “Should I have let her go to his house with her friends?” “Is it OK if I don’t pressure her to study for the test?”

Parenting doesn’t come with a manual so we are left to our own parents’ parenting and recent knowledge to determine the best solution to do what we instinctually have no idea how to do. I often question my own judgement which is normal and expected, but I hate when I worry about the mundane details which will never affect my child’s recollection of my parenting ability: “I let her stay up late on Wednesday. I’m a crappy Mom because she has school the next day and she’ll be tired, etc., etc.”

I’m learning to forgive myself for allowing these thoughts because: 1. I am not a crappy Mom. 2. The most important result of parenting isn’t what I allow or disallow, it’s who the child feels she is: Does she feel important and unique? Does she trust Mom and Dad to provide an emotionally, physically, and spiritually nurtured environment? Does she know her limitations and articulate a call for help when she is confronted by them? And does she receive that help?

As children’s needs grow more daunting, the well of uncertainty deepens for parents. To answer the always looming ? parents must assess their own answers to these questions: Do I feel important? (Are MY needs being met?) Do I feel unique? (Am I involved with an activity I enjoy?) Am I emotionally, physically, and spiritually nurtured? (Do I spend enough quality time with my spouse or loved one? Do I exercise regularly? Do I renew and deepen my spirit on a regular basis?) Do I ask for help when I need it? (Babysitters, parenting classes, and Google articles are ALL amazing support go-tos when a parent is overwhelmed with doubt.

I’ve found that when I have put a checkmark next to all these questions my children respond to me altruistically. Children are amazingly selfless creatures despite the constant stream of “I want xyz’s” that come from their mouths. When parents exhibit a life that is self-focused enough to be healthy, children mimic this behavior.

The opposite can be found when parents use the dangerous “martyr” method. Parents who pronounce dissatisfaction or a sense of being overwhelmed and under-nurtured create an atmosphere of pity and concern. Children blame themselves for the dissatisfaction of their parents. This environment teaches children that they are responsible for “Mommy’s sadness” or “Daddy’s drinking”. When a child feels their needs are an inconvenience they take great guilt in what is technically their “God given right”.

I speak out of experience, and while I am by no means an expert on parenting, I know enough to know what is acceptable as parents. Next time you are confronted with the big ?, I hope you’ll ask yourself if you are doing what’s right for you. The chances are that is what’s right for your children too.

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