It’s hard being a good parent when you are selfish. I have a tendency to measure my children against the expectations that I have of myself, instead of measuring them to their own strengths. At 38, I’m quite accomplished in my life. I have finally learned when to keep my mouth shut, I have learned that exercise is good for you, I have learned to work hard. To forgive. To not judge. To not complain (for the most part). I have learned that there are often good reasons behind why people act the way they act, which is often not the way I would want them to act.
So when my son, my 13 year old baby-man, comes out of his room supposedly ready for school but yet his hair is uncombed, his teeth are unbrushed, his face unwashed, well, I get a little crazy on the inside. I get a little disgusted with him. Does that make me sound terrible? Or am I the only one who is willing to admit it?
When he comes home from school complaining about having to do P.E., when his teacher tells me he is being flippant about his work, when it is so painfully obvious to me and everyone around him that he is so socially awkward, I feel like a failure as a mother.
Why do I do that? He is so super smart. He is funny. He is helpful. No, he’s not an athlete. His handwriting is disastrous. He leaves his plate on the bar every night after dinner. He wants to wear a leather jacket in the middle of summer because he thinks it looks cool. (Now where is that picture of me wearing my leather jacket? It was the only thing I wanted for Christmas that year. And my parents indulged me.) He plays piano. He listens to Yann Tiersen. He adores his father. He is on his way to being an excellent marksman. He loves physics (but hates math). He is a loving boy. He endeavors to be a gentleman. He knows how to tie a bowtie and a regular tie. He even knows different knots! He is cheerful. He loves God. He is respectful. He is healthy. He is sweet. See? I sound like a terrible parent, don’t I? Why am I even complaining, right?
And the whole time that he is showing his differences, I’m in a conundrum. I have raised him to embrace his differences. I am not like other people, and I do not raise my kids to be like other people. But then I see him being socially awkward, trying so hard to make conversation that comes so naturally to other people, and the selfish mom in me cries internally, “Stop being different! Why can’t you just be normal? Why can’t you be a cool kid? Why can’t you be a natural athlete?” When complete strangers tell him that he’s weird, it breaks a little part of me down each time. I want him to be weird in the cool way, you know? Not in the weird weird way.
But when a kid at the park tells him he has a very punchable face, well, I want to punch them in the face. I want to stand up for my weird child. I want to ask them what kind of terrible person are they to say that to someone? What the heck kind of parents do they have at home? I was watching from a distance, unaware of what was being said. Silly me, I thought they were all getting along. He was just standing there, not defending himself. Then I remember that I’ve told him it’s just best to walk away. It’s just best to ignore those people. Or to say, “I like being weird.” Or to say, “I’d rather be weird than rude like you.” But what I really want is for him to not be the kind of kid that other kids call weird. What I really want is for him to be like his dad. Calm, cool, collected, quippy.
But instead, I realize the he’s like me. He will never be like his dad. He’s stuck with my personality. (So there’s hope, right? I’ve learned to manage socially. Finally.)
I realize that these are the insecurities that I have felt in my life. I dislike the things about him that remind me of my own awkward teenage self. Yes, I played sports. But I didn’t really like it. I pretty much just did the bare minimum that I had to do. Just like he does. I really just wanted to draw and write and listen to my music and talk to the adults about adulting, even though I knew nothing about adulting. Just like he does. I wanted to be seen. I wanted to be important, too. But I had a lot of competition in my family. 4 sisters who were all cheerleaders. I was the baby sister. And I didn’t make the squad. I remember that I was crying saying that I didn’t want to be a cheerleader anyway. And that’s it, you know. I DIDN’T want to be a cheerleaders. But I WANTED TO FIT IN.
The struggle is that I was different. I was smarter than most people. I was nicer than most people. I wanted more out of life than most people. I loved stronger harder faster than most people. I wanted to be the child that pleased my parents but somehow seemed to always miss the mark. My own perception, of course. And as an adult, I now can say that I wish they would have encouraged my artistic spirit instead of wanting me to be the natural athlete. At the same time, I’m glad that I had that physical education. My body is glad, somewhere down in there, that old skinny Melinda is glad, lol.
And so it is mornings like these that I have to really reflect, I have to really set aside my own faults and my strengths and see my children for who they are. They are their own person. They are their own version of awesome. I can not handicap my children by continuing to compare them to myself.
I love my children. It’s just, at times, I’m still learning to love myself.
Here he is. My handsome baby-man. He loves to dress nice, too. And he’s always quick to smile. Just like me.