A few years ago, when I started this blog, I created the tagline “Join me in the fight against helpful parenting advice.”
This is, of course, a joke. But like most jokes, it’s also true. I’m pretty sure my special talent is the ability to shoot down parenting advice in midair.
This is not because I think I know everything. I haven’t known everything in at least 10 years.
It isn’t because I’ve never received helpful advice. My midwife suggested I set one goal each day (clean my bedroom, do the laundry, etc.) and just do that first. The rest I’ll get to if I can. I tried this. It worked. I still do it.
And it isn’t that I think you know nothing. I watch you. I see you succeeding. I know you know all kinds of things. Well, some of you. Some of you are are not succeeding. Like Matt Walsh, for example.
There’s some ego involved. When I share some story about my kids, particularly if there’s a hint of negativity in it, and Other More Knowledgeable Parents share their “how-to tips” with me, I often respond (in my head) with a tween-like “fuck off” for no reason beyond I don’t like being told what to do.
Maturity. It’s my jam.
Who the hell are you to tell me how to parent? You know nothing about my family. I wasn’t writing for help. When I want help I’ll ask for it.
I DON’T WANT YOUR ADVICE.
And the reason is pretty simple: IT NEVER WORKS.
Or it might work, but probably not. And if it works, it probably won’t work with the next kid, or in 6 months, or tomorrow. And after I hear your advice, and try it, and it doesn’t work, I’ll spend a while feeling shitty because the advice isn’t working, but there’s a chance I won’t be able to face that fact, because IT WORKED FOR YOU so it “SHOULD” work for me so now I feel like a failure for not applying advice correctly so I just keep trying and trying and trying until I say FUCK THIS NOISE and start a blog.
Because I’m tired of the bullshit, the idea that there’s any uniformity to this insanity, that parenting philosophies will work for all, or even most, or anybody for that matter. I’m tired of people creating road maps for that which cannot be tracked.
Hey parenting books, you’re applying your map to my land and my land has never been seen before. So fuck your maps.
Oh come on. I know I’m not the first person in the world to have kids. I know my kids aren’t some never-seen-before uniquely gifted snowflakes. They’re kids. We’re a family. Pretty standard.
But the fact is that the shit that makes my family really difficult, the parts that are tough and unclear and gray and rugged – the problems for which I really wish I had solutions or “advice” that works – cannot be “solved” by something that worked for you. I listen to your ideas. I think about them. I try it out. But the brutal truth is that just like anything else in life, there is no silver bullet. There is no “sure fix” to the shit that isn’t working in my life.
But we don’t want to admit that with parenthood because the stakes are too fucking high. We can’t accept “don’t know shit” as the pinnacle of our parental credentials. We don’t want to accept “flawed human” as the CEO of young lives.
It’s too hard. There’s too much happening. There are babies and kids and tears, trust and reliance and broken sprits and wild kid joy, there’s innocence and vulnerability and memories to be made, reformed, forgotten and recrafted through a lifetimes of what the hell will my kids remember?
When I yelled? When we laughed? When I lost it and screamed in her face? That camping trip in Tahoe? The crystal blue? Or the dark and cold?
I couldn’t stop yelling at my older daughter. She will be 13 in a month. Every day, I couldn’t stop. It was like everything she did was an affront to something in me.
We battled over and over and over and over again.
I’d lie down at night and wonder if there were any moms meaner than me. Secretly I knew they’re weren’t.
Sometimes I would try to blame her. She can be annoying, you know. She’s got a very strong personality. Rigid, at times. If she would just.
No. Not it.
I’d conclude I’m unfit to be a mother.
Why did I have all these kids?
What the fuck is wrong with me?
I’m the only one who treats their kids like this.
On and on like this. Days, weeks. Maybe months.
It’s exhaustion, from the newborn. The stress of lack of money.
Wake up, drink some coffee. Try again today. Fail again today. Tell them you love them.
Until one day I lost it. It built and built and built. I could feel it coming, rage, a voice in my head, “Janelle, stop now. STOP NOW.” But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I saw red, screamed and swore at my daughter. Not the kind of yell you tell your friends about. The kind of yell you pretend didn’t happen because you can’t face it in yourself. The kind you want to run from, hide from, forever. The kind that terrorizes and destroys, leaves you wrecked and shaking from shame.
After, I collapsed in my room. My fury made my body shake. My heart pound. My whole body seemed to writhe and push and pull against something. I was furious. I wanted to punch, hurt things.
And after there was utter sadness. Desperate sadness. The surrender kind of sadness. The kind that knocks you breathless and pounds your gut, consumes you at once, spits you out and leaves you for dead.
I saw myself, a monster, screaming. I felt it all again. I saw her face, her eyes. In my mind I looked deep into her gorgeous young face and realized I was not yelling at my daughter at all.
I was yelling at myself.
I was yelling at my fear.
I was yelling at my terror that she would turn out like me, make the mistakes I did, walk a path so dangerous she may not survive at all. She was entering her teenage years, the years when I got lost, when it all began for me. I was furious that she was like me, and terrified that she would not be better than me.
And there is nothing I can do about it.
It wasn’t her that was driving me nuts. It was my hatred of myself being reflected back to me through a child with very similar characteristics.
I told her that. Every word. Our relationship was reborn.
There is no book to tell me to look there, in the part of me I don’t even know exists. There’s no parenting advice called “Surrender to the most fucked up parts of yourselves so you can face the truth and move on and become better for your kids.” There’s nobody who can do that work for me. There’s nobody who can make me braver, more willing to see the truth. There’s nobody who can break me for me, stand wild-eyed with love in the gaze of these beings so entwined with my own heart, mind, past and memories.
This fucked-up path is mine, world. The victories too.
So please, sure, tell me how you fixed that clogged milk duct, or what food you started your kid on, or how you got your 6-month-old to sleep through the night or your 4-year-old to obey, and I’ll listen, and I’ll file it away as potentially useful information. I’ll give it a shot and see how it goes.
But understand that my vacant stare is because I’ve accepted that all the words in the world can’t make this gig easier. Some kids sleep. Some don’t. Some are built for school. Some aren’t. Some fit some don’t some listen some don’t some write some build some are like nothing that makes sense and some are just “right” in this world.
I have a little of this and a little of that. It’s gray and weird and shifting and relentless.
And the only one who can navigate it, in the end, is me. Them. Us.
Maybe a little of you.
I don’t really need your advice.
But I think I need you. Tell me how you keep walking your path, the unknown, as the world looks on shouting useless direction. That’s some shit I can seriously use.
We had to enter the next place, and I didn’t want to go. We’re getting there now.