This week I heard Seth Godin ask “what is parenting for?”. I like this question. I can’t say why, but I do. It sounds big. Exciting. Like something we should all, as he says in the interview, be thinking about and writing about and arguing about. I’m so with him on this, but when I ask myself the question, I’ve got nothing. No answers. My mind is blank. Empty. Because it’s asking me to answer something I’ve never been asked before. I’m being asked to contemplate something I always figured other folks, the ‘experts’, had already worked out for me. My job was just to try and do it, and not mess it up too much. That’s my job. Or so I thought. When I’m challenged to answer a question like that, I’m floored. Overwhelmed. I don’t even know where to start. It feels too big. Too important.
But these days I’m rolling a little differently. I have a go where I never used to. I try things out for size. I take risks, even if they’re just small ones. I have a go in a way that works for me, sitting here at my keyboard. As Tanni Grey–Thomson said on Woman’s Hour last week: ‘if you’re not on the starting line, you can’t be in the race.’
Brene Brown asks whether we are the grown ups that we want our kids to grow up to be. It’s a question I love. It took my breath away when I first read it. It still does a bit.
I’m not. Not yet.
I’m trying to keep heading that way though. I’m more open, I’m less afraid than I used to be. I’m trying to be me, and not who I think I should be, or who I think others think I should be.
If I do ever become that grown up (the one that I want my kids to grow up to be), will my children absorb that through osmosis? Will my work be done? Will my example be enough? Is that what parenting is for? To become the best adults we can be, so as to pass that example on to our kids?
My husband and I were talking about the overriding messages we received from our own childhoods. We wondered whether or not these were the messages our parents thought they were giving us, or wanted us to take away. Which lead us to wonder what our own kids would take away from our parenting. And how much control we actually had over that. Or whether what they’ll actually remember will end up being something we didn’t even notice, or didn’t even think was that big of a deal.
It makes me wonder whether we spend so much time thinking about how to do parenting – how to respond to the challenges the kids throw our way – that we run the risk of overlooking how to be a parent – something altogether more subtle, something a whole lot less conscious, more obscure and difficult to put your finger on. Something that has nothing to do with a parenting method or philosophy but something that’s more about who we are, how our children experience that, and what message that gives them about who they are, and who they might become.
That’s my initial (no doubt incomplete) response to Seth’s question. What’s yours?