My grandmother had 10 children — 10.
She sailed across the Atlantic when the first two were just babies, took trains and trucks in the midst of culture shock and wound up in a small town where the only people she knew were her husband’s family — many of whom subsequently moved on.
She started a dance school and ran it out of her home while raising those two and the next eight.
I moved across the island with three youngsters in a caravan with my parents and it took me two months to recover.
I work out of my home, but thank goodness no one is coming in because the place is a sty.
Never mind the accomplishments of other parents today making me feel incompetent, my grandmother makes me feel incompetent.
Well, no, she doesn’t. She’d never want that.
I feel incompetent, and I pin that incompetence upon comparisons with other parents. But it’s my choice to feel it. Just as it’s my choice to feel anger when my kids make a huge mess seemingly uncaring of the amount of work they’ve created.
It’s my choice to feel guilt when I buy them take out twice in one week or when we miss swimming lessons because I couldn’t get them all out the door in time.
All those feelings are certainly aided by comparing myself to others. But they don’t tell me to do that — OK, yes, there are some vocal and self-righteous parents out there who compare their relative successes to my relative failures, but comparison is a two-way street and if you refuse to co-operate, well shag ‘em.
My grandmother hit her children. She left them home alone when they were young. She let her babies cry.
She fed them whatever she could toss on their plates and according to some of her now adult children there was never enough.
They had two suits of clothes. They didn’t bathe every day. She tossed them out the door when the sun rose and let them in when it fell. Extracurricular activities were the household chores and whatever trouble they could get into out of her eyesight.
And guess what? None of her now adult children are in jail or on the streets or drug-addled prostitutes.
As a matter of fact, my aunts and uncles are all successful in their own rights.
Some went to university. Some didn’t. Some own their own successful businesses. Some are now retired after years of working for others. All are contributing members of society.
She got them there alive. All the way to adulthood. She taught them some values and some recipes. She loved them. And that was enough.
My children are still children, but despite occasional threats to the contrary I think they’ll live to adulthood.
I doubt they’ll end up in jail, though the eight-year-old makes me wonder sometimes. They know how to apologize and how to help others — two of the things I consider most important.
They have wondrous manners and when they’re not around me, all reports are that they’re pretty well-behaved.
They’re bright and creative and caring and they never stop hugging and loving.
How I can look at those three amazing little individuals and consider myself a failure I don’t know. Because my living room is a mess and I fed them cereal for supper last night I have the audacity to say I have failed at parenting? How disrespectful of them, their spirits and their being.
When we tell ourselves we’re not good parents or not good-enough parents or not succeeding — what we’re saying is that our children are the products of failure. When we compare ourselves to other parents, what we’re really comparing is our children to theirs, and saying theirs are better.
Can you look your child in the eye and say “I have failed. You are the product of failure. You don’t measure up”? Can you really do that?
If you can’t, then you need to suck it up and understand that you are doing the best you can by your children. Stop comparing to others.
The only thing you can compare yourself to is yesterday or last week. And even then, you can never expect constant forward propulsion.
Chances are, if you’re even worried about the fact that you’re failing, that’s a pretty darn good sign that you aren’t.
You can comment on this column or access previous editions of Readily A Parent using the following short link: http://bit.ly/DaraSquires.