I love my child more than I’ve ever loved anybody – a lot of love, given that I’ve loved very hard and very deeply in my life.
But I’m troubled at the idea of parenthood that has taken root since I was a kid, this notion that becoming a parent immediately converts you into an acolyte worshiping at the altar of the child.
Following the publication of her essay, Waldman was not only shouted down by America for being a bad mother; strangers threatened her physically and told her that they would report her to child protective services. This is not how a civil society conducts open-minded discourse. This is how a religion persecutes a heretic.
The above refers to this essay written by Ayelet Waldman, which I would call a confession if she expressed any guilt about her feelings. Instead, it is an unapologetic declaration of love for her husband before her four children. She admits to feeling some of the same things that other mothers feel, the lack of libido sprung from fatigue and the all-day, all-encompassing role of devoted parent. Still, what Waldman describes is a strong, healthy marriage that in turn makes her and her husband strong, healthy parents.
In the last 18 months our life has more closely mirrored those of the other Mommy & Me ladies than Waldman’s. I don’t feel guilty about it. This is the most vulnerable time in our boy’s life and also the most physically demanding – breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping and the demand for my mere presence mean that Brian usually gets the short end of the proverbial stick. Together, we have created a safe and loving space for Arthur and given him the tools he needs to explore his independence and individuality.
But we will not worship him.
My name is not Mary, and no angel came down to announce that my child would be the living embodiment of God. So why should I treat him that way?
Life is rich and beautiful and full of wondrous things and places and ideas. It is also frustrating and challenging, and sometimes the very best triumph is followed immediately by an equally daunting trial. Worshiping my child will not prepare him for the good or the bad: if the good comes easily, he will never learn to appreciate it; if the bad is easily swept away, he will never learn to overcome it.
I will tell my child “No.” His world will not end if he doesn’t get what he wants right when he decides that he wants it.
I will tell my child “Yes.” At the same time, allowing him to take some measured risks is important so he can learn and set his own limits. I won’t always be there to protect him from disappointment or harm, so he needs to learn to trust his own discernment.
I will model a strong relationship for my child. Obviously I won’t do it alone. Together, though, Brian and I can teach Arthur how to treat a partner, the treatment he should expect and require from a partner, and how to resolve conflict in healthy ways.
I will not hover around my child. I am a woman, not a helicopter, and to behave otherwise will smother his spirit. This goes beyond physical proximity, though I believe in age-appropriate distance where that is concerned as well. I will review homework, job applications, etc., but I won’t write them and I won’t submit them. I will participate in teacher conferences but I will not bombard the teacher with emails and visits simply because of a poor grade. I will always be in my child’s corner – and I will stay there until my involvement is well and truly warranted.
And, if Arthur ever wonders why he is merely loved and not worshiped I will take a page out of Waldman’s book:
I will tell them that I wish for them a love like I have for their father. I will tell them that they are my children, and they deserve both to love and be loved like that. I will tell them to settle for nothing less than what they saw when they looked at me, looking at him.