Monday, August 20, 2012

Good Mom, Bad Mom, All of the Above

I did a bad, bad thing this weekend.

Precocious Daughter was using my laptop, so I borrowed her iPod Touch. Because if I'm not wired into teh Intertubes at all times I break out in hives, yes.

Oh, teh Intertubes, I could just eat you up.
So I noticed that PDaughter had a bunch of messages on her gizmo. I know that she and her wired-in little friends are constantly messaging each other. When they're not e-mailing, texting, talking on the phone, or communicating through Minecraft. She is so much more social than I am. Doesn't she ever just want to scream "Get the f**k away from me, all of you!"? *shudder*

Anyway, she was on my laptop, paying me no mind, and I was on her iPod Touch, looking at her message icon, and...

...and I read some of her conversations.

I felt really bad. I also felt really relieved that I didn't discover anything that would have required parental intervention. Because it's good to know that my little girl is mature and trustworthy. Also because I would have been totally busted if I'd said anything.

Like Willie Nelson on a tour bus.
I'm just not one of those moms. One of those "you have no right to privacy under my roof" moms. One of those "if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about" moms. One of those "I will do anything to protect my precious little chick, even if it means treating her like a criminal" moms.

Also not one of those moms who make Phineas and Ferb
bento lunches. Because...damn.
I'm not a helicopter parent and never have been, because frankly that's more work than I care to invest in the job. Seriously, I have a hard enough time navigating my own tempestuous route through life without also being responsible for screwing up someone else's. Which is totally what I would do if I micromanaged PDaughter.

Oh yes I would.

Call me crazy (many have), but when I envision my child's future, I don't see a gameboard with a start and a finish and a bunch of neat little green plastic houses along the way.  I see a work in progress, something pleasingly amorphous and abstract.

Maybe that's just me.

I don't think about which school she's going to, which career she's going to choose, how she might vote, or what her wedding will look like. Not that those things aren't important. Not that I won't encourage her to think about all of those things in due course and offer her whatever help and support she may want. It's just that I'm not raising a career or a degree plan. I'm raising, to the best of my limited ability, a person.

I want that person to be intelligent, compassionate, fearless, self-reliant, and happy. I want her to develop principles and live by them. If I play my cards right, her principles will be inspired by mine, but not dictated by them. I want her to discover what she believes in and to fight for it. I want her to trust herself first...and her parents a close second.

I expect - in fact, I hope - that PDaughter will make mistakes. I want her to experience failure, because that means she will have taken risks. I want her to get hurt, because unless she knows how it feels, she won't be motivated to avoid hurting others.

Do unto others, etc.
Am I a terrible mother because I want her life to be less than perfect? She's going to learn it's less than perfect, even if I turn into June Cleaver overnight. I don't intend to spend my life shielding her from the world. My shield's not even big enough to cover me, let alone her.

Of course, there are things I would prefer PDaughter avoid. I don't want her to use drugs, or to have sex before she's ready, or break laws, or make trouble in school. She may do any or all of those things, or none of them. I can't allow myself to believe that I control whether she does or not. Sure, I could threaten her or keep her on a choker chain. Maybe she'd turn out a repressed angel, or a resentful rebel. I don't want her to be either of those things. I'd rather have her tarnished love than her unblemished resentment.

I want my child to be safe. To use a gruesome worst-case example, I don't want her to wind up dead of an overdose or mangled in a DUI car accident. Sadly, I can't guarantee that won't happen, no matter what I do. But I can do my best. I can teach her to love and respect life too much to put herself at risk, or I can scare her with horror stories and angry lectures. Either could succeed or fail. So why would I take the approach that makes us both feel weak and powerless?

Likewise, I could try to head off a bunch of adolescent problems by prying into her thoughts and eavesdropping on her conversations. I could tell her at every turn what she's doing wrong with her young life. I could give her the benefit of my parental wisdom before she even knows she needs it.

Being a bitch hurts me
more than it hurts you, maybe.
In other words, I could project all of my fears and insecurities on PDaughter and teach her to live life accordingly. But I won't. In fact, I fight every damn day to make sure I don't. If my life is any indication, she has plenty of time to acquire her own fears, prejudices, hangups, and peculiarities. She doesn't need mine. And she doesn't need me fending off the influences of her friends, either. I'm afraid I'd strain out the good along with the bad. And if her father and I are the only influences she knows, she's never going to know how much better (or worse) she can be than either of us.

What PDaughter knows - oh Lord, she knows - is that her parents are well acquainted with confusion. If she experiences it as she grows up, she can come to us for expert advice. We'll give it to her straight. That's how she's been raised. It's not much, but on the other hand, it's going to have to be enough.

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