Perfect or good enough? Selfless or selfish?
I am mindful of the fact that after reading some of my columns you may start doubting your own capability as a parent; you may be so overcome with fear that you start believing that no matter what you do, you are going to have an adverse influence on your child. As though you are not worried enough already about your child’s future and your capability to deal with it, without my having to scare you and paint a picture of gloom and doom.
My intention in this column, dear readers, is not in any way to take you away from the joys of parenting, or create a doubt in your mind about your ability. Quite to the contrary, it is to make you mindful and aware of how simple things can go wrong, and how easy it is to fix those simple things, provided we are willing to fix them.
Parenting is a journey, like the rest of life. We can view it as a leisurely, luxurious trip, taking time to enjoy the scenery as we go along, and crossing roadblocks as they come along the course. Or, we can view it as a long, arduous trip that we just need to somehow complete, with each roadblock becoming a further nuisance on our course, delaying our arrival at the destination. The choice is ours.No matter what outlook we choose to have with respect to the journey, our views and expectations of ourselves hold a vital key. Are we constantly expecting ourselves to be perfect? In which case we will always fall short of our own expectations since there is no such thing as a perfect’ person. Or, are we willing to accept ourselves the way we are, with all our strengths, ability, intuition and gut feeling, yet with some weaknesses, doubts and anxieties. Are we willing to accept a less than perfect version of ourselves when it comes to our being a parent? Are we able to accept our own mistakes and shortcomings as a normal part of our journey of life and growth?
Nothing makes one feel as vulnerable as when one becomes a parent – “Now I need to be perfect,” “This is one area where I can’t afford to make any mistakes,” “I must never give anyone a chance to say that I did not do my best as a parent,” “Now everyone is going to judge me not on the basis of me, but on the basis of my child.” Yet, nothing also makes one feel as responsible as when one becomes a parent. I remember the immense sense of responsibility I felt when I looked at my new-born baby – this was a life that I was totally responsible for, and a life that was totally dependent on me for its very existence! And then I was overcome with fear – what if something went wrong? What if I am not able to cope? What if something happened to me? Would my child even remember me?
I think the one constant factor through the entire journey of parenting is being overcome with conflicting thoughts and emotions – hope and fear; love and anger; joy and sorrow; optimism and pessimism; trust and doubt; selflessness while secretly wanting some me time; fostering independence while longing for dependence; fulfilling your own dreams while wanting your children to live theirs; the elation of soaring high and the deflation of falling flat on your face – quite like a roller coaster ride.
So is parenting a selfless pursuit, or a selfish one? The first time that question was raised to me, of course I said it was absolutely selfless – how outrageous to think otherwise. But as I think about it now, I am not sure anymore. And maybe I don’t need to be – maybe it is a bit of both. And that is okay!
I believe that in being able to deal with this ambiguity, and the consequent shades of gray, lies a possible answer to enjoying the journey of parenting. You are neither perfect nor awful, and you don’t need to be; you don’t need to label yourself in the extremes. You are good enough and at any point of time, you need to believe that you are doing what you believe is right given your current understanding of the situation. When your understanding changes, or the situation changes, you may choose to do things differently, but as of now you are doing your best – and whether it is selfless or selfish is only a matter of inconsequential semantics. Believing in yourself and enjoying the journey is all that matters in the end. Really!
Maullika Sharma is a Bangalore-based counselor who quit her corporate career to work in the mental health space. Maullika works with Workplace Options, a global employee wellbeing company, and practices at the Reach Clinic, Bangalore. If you have any questions pertaining to this column please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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