Friday, January 2, 2015

The problem with being the present parent

So sorry for my extended absence, dear readers. I promise it wasn't intentional - it's just that 2014 was quite the busy year at Tara. But have no fear, as one of my New Year's resolutions is to blog more, especially after the encouragement I received from one of the editors I work with through my actual job to write more. So, here it is!

So...the problem with being the present parent, you ask? What's that supposed to mean? Well, it occurred to me as I yet again, for the umpteenth time earlier this week as I had to set boundaries on the electronics Jade and Gabby received for Christmas, that there are some perks to being the absent parent. Ashley and I have had a rather interesting few months as the girls thought they were being sneaky online, only to realize that Mom and Dad know a lot more about the Internet than they do. As a result, there have been groundings, extra chores and a lot of time spent being the rule enforcer.

Here's a dirty secret of parenting no one bothers to tell you before you get into it - no one actually likes being the rule enforcer. Well, maybe some authoritarian parents do, but not most of us. It's hard work to put your foot down, say no, and stick to it. It's even harder when you work all day, come home to cook dinner, do dishes, do the laundry, AND be the rule enforcer. It would be a lot easier for all of us if Jade and Gabby just followed the rules all the time. But of course, preteens - especially preteens who love to be oppositional - are practically required to break rules. Which is all the more reason why it's so important to enforce rules and boundaries.

But, I'm not a perfect parent. Especially after a busy few months at work, combined with some health issues I continue to face, it's quite exasperating to be the present parent most days. So, do I lose my patience at times? Yes. Are there moments that I look back and go, "Alright, Southern Step/Mom, you could have totally handled that better." Of course there are. All this means there are times where the kids don't see me at my best. Just as with spouses, when you live day in and day out with someone, you see all sides of them - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

But when you're the absent parent, like Jade and Gabby's bio-mom Maggie, you get to be whatever your bio-kids choose to see you as. Some kids see their absent parent for who they are, but as I saw plenty of times when I worked in child welfare, it's easy for many kids to sanctify their absent parent. The kid comes up with any and every excuse in the book as to why the absent parent is really the "good" parent, because it's easy to ignore the parent's faults when they aren't in your face every day. It's easy to think that life would be so much better with the absent parent because the absent parent never has to enforce rules, set boundaries, or....well, be a parent.

This is why I firmly believe it's so much easier to give birth to a child than it is to be a mother. Any woman, theoretically barring any physical issues, can give birth, but to actually stick it out through the next 18 years and raise that child? Well, childbirth sounds a lot easier than people would have you think compared to 18 years of active child-rearing. Maybe it's not as physically painful, but it surely can't be any more emotionally trying.

So do I expect the girls to appreciate all Ashley and I do for them and sacrifice for them now? No, but I do hope that when they are adults, they realize that despite our faults, being the present parents takes guts, determination and an inner strength that no one really explains before you become a parent, and that they cut us a little slack for being imperfect.

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