June 7, 2010

Labels are for cans

"The trouble with being a parent is that by the time you are experienced, you are unemployed."
  ~Author Unknown

My parenting ability is so-so.   There's probably some scale with varying degrees of parental aptitude somewhere on the Internet.  I figure I'm smack dab in the middle.  I put myself there simply because I make mistakes, but I also strive to do better.  Parenting just doesn't come naturally to me.  I'm not fishing for reassurance.  I'm irritated about a thread on the TJEd Secular email loop.  It took me a while to figure out why I was bothered; the real reason and not just my first feelings of defensiveness.  Here's how it started:

Someone brought up the radical unschooling segment from ABC.  A lot of people jumped into the conversation and it branched off into several other related topics.  Common themes include everyone expressing a desire to stop being judged for their personal family choices because what works for them might not work for everyone else, and the inevitable bristling when sweeping generalizations are made because everyone knows someone who unschools.  Depending on which side of the coin they are on, they either know mostly successful unschoolers, and only a few bad apples, or vice versa.

But this isn't even about unschooling.  This about parenting, because the one thing every one can agree on is that permissive and controlling parents are bad.  Bad. Bad. Bad.  These people should not have had children because they don't understand what children need.  I find this irritating.

Guess what?  I was/am/might always be - a permissive parent.  There I said it.  It's not like I embrace permissiveness.  It's not my desire for my kids to run the house.  Call me naive or whatever you want, but I had no clue how darn hard being a parent was.  I was completely unprepared, and then I went and had two more.  I think of parenting the same way I think of sex education.  It's not being taught.  It's like a secret among the parents out there to keep all the messy stuff to themselves.  We are either deluded or stupid.  Normally, I'm not one for mandatory education, but I can at least see a strong case here.

All I knew going into this "being a mom" thing was that I wanted to do it differently than my mom, and I did.  I also didn't.  I did what is currently considered the worst thing you can do to kids these days; I was permissive until it seemed out of control, and then I got controlling until I hated myself.  Back and forth.  Over and over with my son, mostly.  I didn't know I was royally screwing him up.  I began to figure it out when I started learning about emotional intelligence, and I've harbored the guilt ever since.

So what really bothers me about this stuff on the email loop is the united front against permissive and/or controlling parents.  First, some of them may not even know what they are doing.  I can hear the responses in my head.  "If they didn't know how to parent, they should never have had kids."  Absolutely.  But who knew parenting was so much MORE than just loving these little people?  I didn't, and I can't be the only one.  So this argument holds no weight with me.  Second, some of them might want to be less permissive, less controlling and more...whatever the heck is in the middle, but maybe they don't know how.  Or maybe it's really hard.  It doesn't come naturally.  This is me.  Third, maybe they like being permissive or controlling.  Some of these parents must understand and choose their styles.  Does that make them terrible parents?  How in the world can I judge that?  I've done both - sometimes purposefully.

The conversations are winding down now.  Everyone has said what they wanted to say.  No one has changed their minds one iota.  Everyone feels judged and all hate it, regardless of choice.  Every single one of us just wants to raise healthy, happy, thoughtful, wonderful people.  And every one of us probably has days when we think we must have gotten it completely wrong.  Can I get a do-over please?  I'm done with these parenting "wars."  I want to keep my opinions to myself.  No, I have no idea how I can do that and still blog.  This will probably pass, and I'll be back to labeling myself and spouting off my values by next week.  I'm just finding myself less interested with each passing debate.



  1. I love this post!! I feel exactly the same way a lot of the time. I have been giving serious consideration to homeschooling (from a secular perspective also) and sometimes wonder how the fact that I don't feel like the perfect mom will fit into that picture. I'm an Alfie Kohn devotee, but I often wonder what the difference is between gentle discipline and permissiveness and whether it just takes a more discerning eye than mine to detect it, because I often feel permissive rather than a gentle discipliner. Anyway, I've been a lurker for awhile, but this is my first time commenting. :)

  2. Thanks for commenting Star!

    For me, it's easy to feel alone - like no one else feels as lost as I do. Perhaps we need to redefine "being permissive." I don't think it's permissive to let children make the non-critical decisions, or to work with them to resolve issues. But I know many people would say that we are the adults for a reason. I sometimes envy the parents that seem to see so clearly where that line is drawn.

    Homeschooling is fun. If you can find a supportive group in your area you'll do just fine!

    Thanks again for the note, I'm off to check out your blog.