Parenting

Maximum parental perfection or a perfect storm of the unobtainable?

Maximum parental perfection or a perfect storm of the unobtainable?

Even before your baby arrives in this world, the pressure that society puts on parents is enormous.  (File photo)

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Even before your baby arrives in this world, the pressure that society puts on parents is enormous. (File photo)

Opinion: There’s a sentence about parenthood that bugs me.

“You do the best you can.”

There are many incarnations of this expression, and of course they are not specific to parenthood. People tell you to “do your best” before an exam; they’ll say, “You did your best” when you ran a race or missed a birthday cake.

And if we’re being completely literal, you probably haven’t. You could have done another workout or Googled a YouTube clip on fondant.

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Things

The decline of stay-at-home parents. (First published December 2020)

I have a reasonable dose of pedantry in me, inherited from my meticulous father. He’s the kind of person who takes a long time to do a job, but he does it beautifully. If you want your kit furniture built with a factory finish, leave it with it – but give it a week.

I’m more my mother’s daughter in this – three jobs 92% done is better than one 99% done – but linguistically the pedantry runs deep.

Most of the time I’ve learned to suppress the urge to make unnecessary corrections when people scoff so my mom doesn’t have two people pointing out that the totally irrelevant car in her story was red and not blue. (It became a brief shorthand for his frustration when Dad intervenes for the sake of perfectionism – “Never mind the color of the car, Bruce!”.)

Going back to “doing my best” as a parent – it pinches every time.

Parental guilt is an exposed nerve. What does your “best” look like when you’re in charge of little humans? There are a dozen ways to do better that I can immediately conjure up.

Getting up half an hour before the kids every day, rather than being roused from sleep by one or the other materializing next to the bed. (Sometimes they creep in so stealthily that the first thing I see in the morning is the face of a six-year-old three inches from mine.)

I could cook dinner in the middle of the day so that I would be fully accessible during stressful hours after school. We should spend more time with family. More one-on-one time.

I should sing more to my toddler, draw more with my youngest boy, read more to my older boy. And it only gets BETTER, not even better. It would be best to get up a good hour earlier. Or two.

WARWICK SMITH/STUFF

Megan and Matt Shaw from Palmerston North talk about juggling parenthood, daycare and their jobs.

Stacking it with parenthood is that it’s very important to get it right. It’s so important. Nothing I do will matter more than that. It’s such a scramble, and there are so many moving parts. There are small fires to put out everywhere. The rules change every day.

Rather than telling a parent they’re doing their best, when we all know that technically will never be true, I like to be reassured that I’m “doing enough.”

I like that my supportive vibe is, “You’re perfectly parented in the areas of what one would reasonably expect at this time and place.”

Basically, “Today you are not zero”.

However, I agree that I am the best mother my children will ever have. It is an indisputable fact, protected from the most robust pedantry, and it is a badge that I can wear with pride.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF

Neuroscience educator Nathan Wallis on the limbic system and its role in parenting.