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Why being a Parent is NOT like running a Marathon.

So you wake up one day and think “You know what? I’m going to be a mother/father. I know it’s going to take a tremendous amount of training, non-ending exercise of patience and long hours of grueling commitment, but hey, I will post all my milestones on Facebook, everyone will know I’m slowly but surely reaching my goals and when the BIG DAY comes, I and everyone else will know that I proudly crossed the finished line.” Plus, I’ll get a t-shirt.

If we could only approach parenthood with the same methodology that many of us approach athletic challenges such as marathons, many of us would be faring much better and instead of constantly stressing our adrenal system we would actually be pacing ourselves amongst the many milestones that being a mother or father affords.

The main problem is this: Many of us simply stumble into parenthood. Wake up a decade later and stupidly exclaim as others skeptically eye our large brood, “Wow, I AM fertile/virile, aren’t I?” But hey, maybe that’s just me.

Though as a caveat, I do understand that many of us take much pride in approaching parenthood more like a 5k, being smart enough to know that we’re definitely not cut out for the long haul, therefore taking the appropriate measures to limit our family size to 0-2: please know that I’m just addressing those of us who woke up this morning and marveled at the fact that our life now mainly consists of haphazard attempts at parental sanity.

I’m not great at lists, but I’m going to give it a go.

Why being a Parent is NOT like running a Marathon.

1. Sometimes there is no way to measure our progression toward success. (Very scary for those of us who need to feel like we’re in control of at least a somewhat predictable destiny)
2. More often than not, we’re simply ashamed of the fact that being a “parent in training” is actually just kicking our butt. i.e. it’s not semi-cool to brag about the fact that we JUST came in short of the mark on our daily training routine this time. “Oh man, I was almost a great parent today. The only thing I forgot to pack my kid for lunch was their lunch. And we were only FIVE minutes late to school this morning.”
3. There is no “big day” to obsessively focus on so that we can keep our eye on the goal. (Yes. There is the infamous graduation day (12 years away) and that elusive hope that someday our child will become all the things we never were…but hard to put an exact date on that)
4. No one is standing on the sidelines with water or a cool towel to congratulate us on a job well done because there is NO FINISH LINE.
5. Sweating parenthood is just never attractive. People will eventually figure out we’re not actually training for that “big day.”

Preparing for a marathon can be quite a risky proposition (and I would know because I have FB friends who’ve done it). There is the chance that you might not ever reach your goal. But at least you HAVE a goal. There is the chance that you may face serious injury. But at least others will revel at your undying commitment to accomplish something big. Once you’ve marked “finishing a marathon” off your list, you can pretty much leave it in the past and brag about it when necessary. But lifelong passion and discipline for running is a choice, NOT an obligation.

Parenthood requires this lifetime herculean effort to accomplish something big, but that something big in the day-in, day-out of it, can be quite elusive. It’s like we’re in basic training with someone spitting in our face–yelling at us to keep going, keep training, but there’s no promise of graduation at the end of 10 weeks. And it happens over and over again, year after year.

I know there are some parents who have successfully broken parenthood into manageable, bite sized pieces and they meticulously build their life around each milestone/goal.

But for me, being a mother is more like a work of art. I’m always obsessing over the final touch. I’m lucky if I’m inspired to add anything at all on some days. Sometimes, I very literally want to tear up the atrocity I’ve created and start over–with a clean slate. Surely, I’ll do better next time…I will have learned from my past mistakes and I’ll finally create a prized piece of artistry that everyone will recognize as noteworthy up against the greatest parents of all time.

Then I wake up and realize, I’m not Vincent van Gogh and never will be. I’m just a mother who wants to be someone I’m not. I will never win a marathon. I’m just running. Most days, my effort will never elicit tangible recognition.

Whether you’re the obscure father running a race you could never possibly intend to win or the artistically frustrated mom trying to draw as little attention as possible to your “work of art,” let’s remember we’re all in this together. Seeing parenthood as the chagrin to a society where “other” productivity trumps it all, is our first mistake.

We need you. Populating the planet and parenting the population is still an essential piece of what makes the world go ’round. If everyone stopped having children right now and the youngest children alive had just been born, the human population would cease to exist in just 84 years, assuming the average life span. So, at best, we’d be looking at a century, then that long coveted silence. Now, There’s a finish line for you.

Newsflash:  You’re NOT running a marathon. Cut yourself some slack.  You’re populating planet earth. Who cares if there’s life on the MOON.

Earth is winning and YOU are on the team!

~Happy parenting!

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On Being a Crazy Parent Much Less for God

Cover of "Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as...

Cover via Amazon

I often times wonder how different it is to be a dad as opposed to being a mom. What kind of a link do dads feel toward their children? How much of the link that mothers feel toward their children is just a product of socialization–the way we were raised to believe we should in turn raise our children? And how do those expectations of motherhood and fatherhood affect our level of sanity more than the actual work that we put into raising our children  in the right way or as best we know how?

Thanks to one of my relatives who shall remain unnamed, I just finished browsing the book: “Crazy for God.” The book perfectly and not so politically correctly describes in great depth the psyche of the author’s parents who were major proponents of the Fundamentalist movement. Having myself grown up in a home formed at the peak of some of those great fundamentalist revivals of which my parents were loyal participants, I inevitably relate to the some of satire eloquently penned by Frank Schaeffer, so much so that it seems we might have been best of friends or worst of enemies should we have grown up together in the same neighborhood.

I’ve often wondered, especially most recently since my children started using a more sophisticated part of their brain, putting two and two together to formulate their blaring judgment of me into sentences–how they might describe me should they grow up to be a writer and need to use my personality as fodder on paper–going into painful detail about my dedication or lack of dedication as a mom and ultimately my sanity as a person.

Then I came across the book by Schaeffer and resentfully revisited the dread that I might feel should my children ever see me for who I truly am.  The “crazy” light in which Schaeffer shed his mom included the following quote and reminded me of the glorified version of myself:

“Mom lived her life in tension between her unrealized ambition to be recognized for something important, refined, and cultured and her belief that God had called her to do Christian work that required her to sacrifice herself, not least her image of who she really felt she was when the cultural elites admired, or at least envied, mocked fundamentalism.”

The parts that stick out to me here are “unrealized ambition” and “belief that God had called her to do a Christian work.”  And everything in-between is enough indeed to inspire a child to call into question the sanity of his parents.

I’m not sure what Schaeffer’s conclusion was since I haven’t finished the book but forget the schizophrenic Christian part of being a fundamentalist on the fence, my days as a mom are definitely filled with regret over “unrealized ambition.”  I don’t think any parent-to-be truly understands the risk of living ocean front–that the view, the time spent walking on the beach, and the easy access to beautiful moments also make us vulnerable to floods that could rush in and exchange all of our belongings for debris once we’ve settled on having children.

Yes old things are washed away and everything is forced to become new but having children is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.  It’s an emotional tsunami.  All of the unspoken dreams, those things that you’d held quietly in your heart because you still felt like life was slow pace, slow enough that you could catch up to it–All of the ideals that were never challenged by real life circumstances so you could just carelessly hold onto them without the fear of cynicism snatching them away–I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that having children is like an ugly forceps rebirth of self.

And the rebuilding of the thoughts, ambitions and dreams that twist and turn in God forsaken fashion as an initiation into a life of letting go of everything you’d been becoming up to the point that it was your children’s turn to become-could indeed drive one to insanity.

I’m not even sure if I’m in the rebuilding phase.  I’m still wandering around picking up the pieces of what I used to think was important–seeing what I can put back together from the past–trying to determine if there’s any intrinsic value in who I was before I realized what it’s like to be a parent.

And all that to say, “Thank you mom and dad for all you did to maintain some level of sanity in our household growing up, even though I’m sure you must have felt quite the crazy yourself at times.  Thank you for believing through the doubt and holding onto the pieces of everything that perhaps you’re still trying to put together.  Regardless of how your children gauge your level of sanity, as sure as there’s a God in heaven above, He’d reward you with an A for effort.  And fundamentalist or not, there is surely nothing that will keep my boat afloat if human frailty is not factored into the grading curve.”

Happy crazy parenting!!