Friday, August 26, 2011

The Village

It takes a village, the old saying goes. A village to raise a child. The WHOLE village. And I have experienced that. If I did something wrong while riding my bike around the block Janice was likely to scold me, just as my mom would scold Janice's kids for errant behavior. The block was full of moms -- Joanie, Carol, Janice, Fae, Darlene -- who would hold everyone accountable for their transgressions.

Today people make fun of that saying, maybe because Hillary Clinton used it as a book title, maybe because it just got overused and now seems trite and cliched.

But it is still true, and I was reminded of it in a powerful way this week.

I worked yesterday morning and came home to find Garrett on the sidewalk, waiting for me. This is never a good sign. He 'fessed up to some inappropriate behavior and (of course) laid equal or greater blame on Evan. The what and how of the fight are not important -- they never are, are they? The bottom line is how my children treat each other. And in a word, they treat each other badly.

I posted on Facebook. I was frustrated. I was tired. I was discouraged. I feel like I am in the movie Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray relives the day again and again. The difference is, he makes the most of it and finds ways around the problems of the day (stepping in a puddle) and learning new skills (like playing the piano and learning a foreign language). In my version of the movie we all do the same things but NOTHING EVER CHANGES. I still don't play the piano well, and my Spanish could use some help. LOL

But here is the cool part. The Village kicked in. Nancy "liked" my status. When I objected to "liking" such a thing, she said it was just because she understands. She's been there. She struggles some days, too, with this parenting gig. Soon Tracy piped up, and Jennifer, and Susan, and my sister-in-law Woo. They all gave me encouragement and (this was key for me) showed me compassion. They cared for me. They let me know I was not alone in my struggle, and that having a bad moment or day as a parent doesn't make me a bad parent. Parenting is not a sprint, it's a marathon. One day is not going to make the difference. (Confession: The Jackson Five's "One Bad Apple" is playing in my head right now. You're welcome.)

I don't think I blogged about it (I was too wounded and ashamed to, I think), but our neighbor lit into me one day because I snapped at her dog, which was barking mad (literally), and I was impatient and tired and for god's sake the dog knows me and still will not stop barking.

She basically told me that I should put up with the dog because she listens to me yell at my kids. I know for certain one word she threw at me was berate. And because I already feel guilty for being a yeller, and because it was not long after Kris died and I was so tender inside, and for a million other reasons, I took it. I owned it. I internalized it. I believed it.

And yes, I have confessed here before to my struggles with my kids and the tidiness of their rooms, their personal hygiene, etc. etc. etc. I know I yell at them. But at some point can we not at least make an allowance that I have had the same conversation with them forty times and still they refuse to learn? Can I get an amen here? No, I don't always handle it well, but my anger and frustration are at least justifiable.

Not to her. She is a teacher. She is unmarried. She has no children. Clearly, she knows how to raise my (and your) children better than we do. I should know, I knew everything about being a good parent until I became one. Turns out, what you know beforehand is bullshit.

So I have been questioning my own parenting skills for a long time, but far more seriously after this incident in early 2010.

And you know what? All those friends coming out of the Facebook ether to tell me they understand, they feel the same way too, that their parents taught them lessons in grace and humility by admitting they were wrong and apologizing, that this was just one day in many, and that I am still a good mom, well, it made a HUGE difference. Huge. And I am grateful every day for that village; not just because I know they will be there for my kids, but because they are there for me. Turns out that it also takes a village to raise a parent.

I still have a lot to learn. I keep trying every day. I love my kids as fiercely and gently as I can. I would do ANYTHING to keep them safe and happy and well. So if my kids read this today, or 5 years from now, or after I'm long gone, I tried my best. I did the best I could. I'm sorry I yelled. I love you.

And to my neighbor, who moved out this summer without having to tell one person in our neighborhood goodbye (which I think speaks volumes about her), well, I hope you have a lot of kids. Twins, even. And I hope you have a village, because this parenting gig? Man, it is SO easy until you wake up one day and you are entirely responsible for providing EVERYTHING another human being needs. You should probably get to work on building that village now.


  1. Anonymous9:49 AM

    Funny how the universe works... this post couldn't have been written with any better timing! Thanks for being a part of my village! I needed to hear that my "idol mom" questions her parenting skills, because I have spent the last month seriously critiquing my own. And after my lost temper, and apology to the family following close behind yesterday morning, I was left wondering just how much longer till the girls set up their first appointment with the shrink to find out they are messed up because of my parenting incompetency. -Jen

  2. Do you ever ask them why? "Why do I have to tell you the same thing over and over and over again?!" I do. And my brats haven't come up with an answer yet! Bless their hearts. :argh: