I stood at the white picket gate in the backyard and felt it rising in me, from even deeper than the pit of my stomach. That unwanted feeling that I have become more familiar with than I ever wanted to be. Shame.
I had snapped, again. I barked at the little face in front of me about being told to close the gate so the dog doesn't get out. I issued ultimatums that this was the last time I was getting up to help him fetch the ball from the neighbor's yard. Next time he was out of luck. I sighed that I just wanted to relax for a few minutes, and he was making that impossible.
That was when I looked up and saw the neighbor wave at me from her back deck. She had heard me being less than a stellar parent. Heard my short words and my exasperated tone. Witnessed me not embracing the chance to play with my child, but rather being frustrated at my inability to be lazy. And I waved back with the shame rising and my heart falling.
This intentional parenting trend is a hard one to follow. I wholeheartedly agree that parenting should be guided by goals and a clear idea of the type of people you want these tiny humans to become. But I also completely relate to those early years of parenting often being much more about surviving the days and less about deciding what they should entail.
Seven hours of office work filled my day, interspersed with bouts of some stomach issue from who knows what that I ate. I came home to throw a sandwich and some blueberries into a sack for my older son to eat in the car on his way to an early baseball game. Then making round two of sandwiches for the younger one and I to eat before his late t-ball game. I had a precious few moments to sit down and gather myself together before running the next marathon of the day.
I was barely surviving that day, never mind making the most of every moment of it. But the guilt and the shame flared up in my face. The quotes about the days being long but the years being short floated through my mind. I could just sense the eyes of every parent out there who extolled the virtues of savoring every moment and enjoying the littleness every second. And I felt like a failure. [Tweet: "I wasn't sailing this ship, I was floundering for a lifeline."]
Intentional parenting is a fabulous theory. I want to savor every moment, and teach kindness, model patience. But let's face it, that's a lot easier to do when kids aren't draining you of every last shred of everything you have. And for years, they often do just that.
But I see glimmers of that space and breathing room out there on the horizon. I have moments where I can talk with my kids, and teach through life experiences, and model through fierce love. They are getting older, and we're learning how to not drain one another, and how to not only coexist in this environment, but mutually thrive, as well.
Maybe intentional parenting isn't meant to be from birth on. Maybe it's okay that intentionality starts when survival mode fades. I asked my son the other day if he remembered when I was pregnant with his little brother. He said no. I tried to figure out the earliest he remembers, but I'm not really sure. I thought about my own memories and I only have a handful of them from before the age he is now. I came to the calming realization that he's not going to remember much from before now, whether I was intentional or not.
I saw my neighbor a few days later. I told her I felt embarrassed she had witnessed me being snappish with my little guy. She said, "Oh no, I was feeling for you. I remember those days. They're exhausting." And just like that, the shame faded, and the hope rose.
More from parenting