Monday, August 07, 2006

It's not all Fluffy Bunnies and Baby Giggles: Musings on Sentiment, Symbols, and Parenthood

People make assumptions about me because of my job. This is hardly surprising: people do that to other people all the time, for any number of reasons, and a few assumptions seem reasonable, after all. For example, people assume I'm patient. It seems a reasonable enough thing to assume when you see a woman knee-deep in knee-high people, and said woman is not drooling along with the kids, screaming, or staring glassy-eyed into space, but is smiling and speaking softly. "There goes a patient woman!" people say. However, they're wrong. I'm not patient. This is not to say I indulge in screaming hissy fits when the children don't jump the second I utter a direction. I know what's reasonable. My expectations are high, however, and I don't put up with anything I don't have to. People also tend to assume I'm sentimental about children. I'm not, not at all. I love children. I take joy in their accomplishments, they make me laugh every day. I enjoy being around them. I respect them as people. Perhaps that's where the sentiment ends: I see them as people. Not cute little puppies that tumble about my house, nor live "Precious Moments" figurines. I respect them - and I expect them to respect me back. When this doesn't happen, I am not a happy camper, and don't tell me that the delicious sound of baby giggles makes everything worth while. It may make up for that horrible runny poop you are currently wiping off your baby's butt, but it might not make up for your two-year-old's biting habit, and it's probably the last thing on your mind when your 16-year-old hasn't returned with the car three hours past curfew. I have long accepted that there is much more giving in parenting than there is receiving. I don't resent this: it's just how it goes. I love all the perks of being around babies. The giggles, the cuddles, the funny things they say and do, the peeks of kindness, the dawning of imagination and empathy. It's wonderful. And yet. You think baby giggles, toddler snuggles, and the smell of a clean baby somehow, magically, creates balance in this relationship? Adults give till it hurts. Children complain of being hurt when the adult gives a little less than normal. Adults make sacrifices of sleep, relationship, time, career, even health, for their children. Children see eating their vegetables, or taking out the garbage, or coming home for dinner once a week as a sacrifice too great to be asked. It's the way it is. But that's young children and teens, you say. Young children are too, well, young to understand. And teens? Well, we all know how teens are! "When my kids grow up and have kids of their own, then they'll get it. Then they'll appreciate all that's been done for them, because they'll be doing the same for their kids." It's certainly true that having that first baby is often a huge wake-up call for the young parents. I know it was for me. THIS is what my mother did for me? Wow. While there are some adults out there who speak kindly of their parents, there are many who routinely mock and sneer at them. They make fun of their parents' clothes, their music, their vacation and home decorating choices. These are merest difference in style and taste, yet we mock. Adult children gripe about how they were raised, badmouth a mother's choice in clothes or toys for her grandchildren, deplore how grampa does or doesn't interact with their grandchildren. Sometimes these concerns are real and justified, but more often, as with the clothes and music, it's just a matter of personal style and child-rearing current fashion. So, while I am thankful that it appears that my own children, even the one who's left home for university, don't appear to be falling into that camp (yet?), it also seems that for many of us, if our own behaviour is anything to go by, we won't start to feel a lot of the benefits of parenthood even once our children have grown. So, parenthood is a life-long journey of giving more than you get. It's what it is. So, no, I'm not sentimental. People who are sentimental tend to see babies as symbols. Babies are symbols of hope, of innocence, of all that's new and fresh. As indeed they are. However, babies are not solely symbols: babies are real people, toddlers even more so, and teens are so much people that sometimes they forget anyone else, particularly parents, are people too. Firemen are symbols. Especially post-9/11, they are symbols of heroism, self-sacrifice, and courage. They must be prepared to be that way every working day - and they do. They act with courage, they save lives. However, if your best girlfriend has ever dated one and been cheated on or summarily dumped, you know that the symbol is not the whole story. While many are perfectly lovely men (and women), some can be real jerks. It is what is it. Once you get up close and personal with a symbol, it loses much of its mystery and takes on a more real, more human face. Warts and all. Children are many wonderful things: innocent, funny, kind, cheerful, vibrant with life and love and energy... Still, those of us who work with them day in and day out know their wonderfulness sometimes takes a bit of bringing out, a lot of encouragement. We know that there are also things that need to be dealt with, trained away, subdued, and modified in order to bring all that wonderfulness to the surface. Because children are people, warts and all.

~~~~~~~~ © 2006, MaryP


Anonymous yogamama said...

THANK YOU for saying this! I cared for other people's children for three years, and now I have my own. They have all been adorable children. Amazing, brilliant, wonderful. None of them -- not even my own, at only 3 months -- have been little cherubs, though.
It seems like people who don't interact with children on a daily basis have this idea that children are just adults without the imperfections. As in, we're born perfect and it's all downhill from here.
The families for whom you provide care are very fortunate to have someone who understands that good, kind people are made, not born.

8/07/2006 11:07:00 a.m.  
Blogger Alli said...


This isn't unlike how some men want to put women on a pedastal and expect us to be princesses. We're not princesses and children aren't magically symbolic. We're all just human!

8/07/2006 12:03:00 p.m.  
Blogger Kristen said...

Sadly, I think a lot of people choose to have kids because of the exact symbols you are talking about, and then, once they "get" the kids, they are blown away by the fact that the symbol is only the tip of the iceberg, and the rest is a lot to deal with, takes a lot more effort and life-long energy that they weren't expecting.

8/07/2006 12:23:00 p.m.  
Blogger Mamacita Tina said...

Well said! I think having taught before having my own kids gave me this same belief. I couldn't get over how many parents excused their child's inapproriate behavior just because he or she was a child. And yet these same parents wondered why their own child didn't show them respect. Hmmm...

8/07/2006 12:46:00 p.m.  
Anonymous Erin said...

Hurray! I've said this since my first son was born--people love baby's because they are cute--but I realized that my son was beautiful not because he was a cute baby, but because of the person he was and was turning into. It's easy to love cuteness, but another thing to love a baby as a whole person, worthy of respect. Thanks so much for this post.

8/07/2006 02:18:00 p.m.  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

Very well put, Mary! It's a reminder that everyone needs every couple of days, or so. Sadly, I know too many people to uphold their child(ren) as the very symbols you wrote about. It's a lot of pressure on such a young person - PERSON! Far be it for those same people to place judgement and criticize these kids once the novelty has worn off.

Great post.

8/07/2006 06:08:00 p.m.  
Blogger Candace said...


The people who see babies and children as the symbols you wrote about are the ones who don't seem to be approaching parenthood with the intent of someday letting the children out into the world. Yes, I have children, and I allow them to *be* children. But I'm *also* raising children who will someday be adults, and I can't expect to cram in all the information they'll need to be productive adults on their 18th birthdays. It starts from day one.

8/07/2006 07:37:00 p.m.  
Blogger Haley said...

For the record, I never kept the car out three hours passt curfew. Of course, this may be due to the fact that you didn't have a car. ;-)

8/07/2006 07:44:00 p.m.  
Blogger kittenpie said...

Oh, well said.
These are the same people who give away puppies when they become dogs...

And funny you should mention the firemen, because a friend of mine who used to have a thing for them worked with a bunch of them for a time, and all the gloss rubbed off in not much time at all.

8/07/2006 08:39:00 p.m.  
Blogger McSwain said...

There is so much wisdom in this post, Mary! You can tell much about a person by the way they talk about and treat their parents. And I've known some firemen pretty well--many of them hounds. Theme parks lose their mystery when you work there, too. :)

I've always done well with kids because they say I treat them like people. This post makes sense to me. They have their warts, and they are also not mindless cute little fluffballs. God forbid we treat them that way and they grow up to think that's what they ARE. And then become Paris Hilton.

8/08/2006 12:35:00 a.m.  
Blogger Lady M said...

Thanks, that was beautiful, Mary P.

I hope that I'm able to raise I child who respects me as much as I respect my parents. For my whole life, they've supported me and given me advice, but let me make decisions. Easier said than done.

In this day of "helicopter parenting" (hovering over the kids), it'll take some self-reminding to stay sane. There's a balance between letting the kids run wild, because "kids will be kids" and protecting their every step!

8/08/2006 02:04:00 a.m.  
Anonymous the weirdgirl said...

I think it's even worse when the parents treat, not just their kids as symbols, but themselves as symbols, too. Trying to fill the role of uber-woman, empowered, I-am-fulfilled-because-I-am-mother-and-this-is-all-I-should-need all the time makes it really hard to deal when the children assert themselves as people in unpleasant ways.

Not to disrespect women who do feel completely fulfilled by motherhood! (Because I know some great ones.) But there are those who mix up the idea of fulfillment (as a symbol of parenthood) with actual fulfillment. You know? And a lot of times they just seem very unhappy and stressed out.

8/08/2006 02:10:00 a.m.  
Blogger LoryKC said...

Yet another brilliant post, Mary P!

I also love Cheryl's last comment up there, too. I won't use up your space commenting about how it validated how I dealt with my daughter yesterday---except to say that I always find encouragement here on your site!

Some people who see children as symbols of hope and innocence regret how--or maybe just THAT--they had to grow up; while we must protect our children, we do not have to shelter them and shield their interactions at all costs. Those children aren't allowed to become full adults.

8/08/2006 08:54:00 a.m.  
Blogger Kelli in the Mirror said...

Oh, this is wonderful, Mary!! Amen.

8/08/2006 09:22:00 a.m.  
Blogger mo-wo said...

Did you see that children bore me thing on BB. When I read it I thought about a lot of what you profess here... it is so obvious that woman just doesn't get this, eh?

8/09/2006 06:22:00 a.m.  
Blogger Mary P. said...

yogamama: "Adults without imperfections, and downhill from there". I love it. I think you're absolutely right - that is precisely the misconception so many suffer! If you say you believe kids are born with nagative tendencies, you may well be met with horror. "What's a nasty person like you doing around innocent children??"

Interestingly, nasty people like me tend to end up with polite, kind, civilized children. Strange, huh?

Alli: I guess we can all do it. Look at all those women who expect their men to read their minds - "If you really loved me, you'd understand". Mm-hmm.

People are people, and nobody's perfect.

Kristen: I had a client who had a child because she was 40 and time was running out. A child was something you "did". The reality shocked her, and she truly regrets being a mother. He's six now, and she'll tell anyone who'll listen that she's not cut out for it at all, and it was the wrong decision for her. (In the child's presence, no less.) Very sad.

Mamacita Tina: "Just a child" excuses the attempt to bite you, or hit that other child or cheat on a test or lie about where mom's best shoes went - but it doesn't excuse the parent from dealing with it, and teaching them better choices.

Erin: And the "whole person" is going to include some less-than-marvy bits. Just like everyone else!

Jennifer: I hadn't thought about what happens once reality hits and you discover this kid isn't all sweetness and purity. Do you blame yourself? The child? Or do you say, "Oops. Guess I had that wrong", and love the child you've got?

Candace: Someone once quoted to me something they'd heard (in a sermon, I think) that said "We're not raising children, we're raising adults." Which is not to say you don't allow your children their childhood, but means that our goal should always be the end product: a fully-functioning, considerate, independent adult member of society.

Haley: Not when you were 16, we didn't. And you're brother isn't licensed to drive on his own yet. So you guys are safe! Mum's not telling any tales on her blog!

Kittenpie: Puppies and dogs. You're right! I hadn't seen that parallel, but it's the same issue.

Cheryl: Thanks. My sweetie treats his parents so well. Respects them both. Looks up to his dad. Every phone call to his mother ends with "love you, mom". My first husband was polite to his mother, but dismissed her concerns and interests a lot. Tells you something.

"And then become Paris Hilton." LOL

Lady M: Raising kids to respect you. It's tricky. Something I've become convinced of over the years is that this, too, can be done by modelling. How you treat your parents shows your children how one treats one's parents. So I'm thinking that maybe how you treat your parents may be how your child treats you, thirty years from now. At this point in my life, however, it's still just a theory!

Weirdgirl: "I am a mother, and mothers are like this and this, and they feel that and that? But I know in my heart that I don't really feel that - so what's wrong with me???"

I've seen that a lot in the blogosphere. It's a rotten thing to do to yourself!

Lorykc: And kids who are constantly shielded and not allowed to grow up don't become happy adults. Relationships, jobs, friendships - all those are at risk if you're a child in an adult's body, interacting with adults who expect you to be an adult!

KEP: Thank you.

Mo-wo: Yes, I did. How pathetic. As if the only solution to not completely submerging your self in your child is to utterly ignore them! Surely there's a middle ground. Well, of course there is: she doesn't get it because she doesn't want it. Bah.

8/09/2006 08:09:00 a.m.  
Blogger Jenorama said...

God, you are so smart, and you say it so damn well.

8/09/2006 12:34:00 p.m.  

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