Thursday, June 27, 2013
New Thoughts on Parenting
I woke up one morning this week on one of my myriad trips to the bathroom only to find our cat Josh laid out on the bathroom floor. No, he wasn't having a nervous breakdown. The poor little thing figured out that the bathroom floor was the coolest place in the house. I went back to bed feeling convicted. Can you tell the baby hormones are kicking in?
I started wondering if I was doing the best I could for him. I knew I would be cleaning out my drawers today and I seized upon the thought of using one of them to construct a makeshift cooling station complete with a hidden ice pack to keep him cool.
This is a new thought for me because we haven't been the best of friends over the years. El Hubster and I adopted Josh from a shelter back in 2009. I had been bugging him for a cat for years and he was adamantly against it because he knew I was very fickle. But I pressed on and finally I received all 7 lbs of gray and white fur as an engagement present. He was skittish at first, not knowing whether or not he could trust us. He hid in the bathroom behind the toilet for a few days before he would venture out. He's been a big part of our family ever since but my relationship with him has been rocky. You see, Josh loves my husband but he mostly just tolerates me.... or so I thought.
Slowly over the years I've watched him get so excited when El Hubster gets home from work. He literally smells him before he even opens the door and waits with rapt expectation of seeing him. When I come home, he just raises his head to make sure I'm not a murderer and then goes back to whatever he was doing, which is usually laying around under some piece of furniture.
But there are other times when we're alone in the house together when my perspective is changed and I wonder if I ever really knew anything about him at all. I've noticed that he'll come over to me just to get some affection; a little pat on the head or a rub on the back and then happily retreat. I've noticed that he won't go into the kitchen during the day to eat unless I go in with him. It almost seems like he wants to share meal times with me even though sometime I think if it were up to him, he'd eat around the clock regardless of my schedule. When I fall asleep on the couch, he's nearby sleeping too. If I get up, he knows. He's keeping track of me.
I wonder if he knows I'm not that good at this affection thing. I never really got much of it as a child. No affirmations. No words of encouragement. Just expectation. Expectation that I would be a good student. Expectation that I would raise my brothers. Expectation that I would always be happy when clearly I wasn't.
I didn't jump right into loving Josh as I thought I would. I was timid. I didn't really know how and I was pissed that he seemed to love my husband more than me when I was the one who really wanted him. I expected that I would be a good caretaker for him but it didn't work out that way. His stand-offishness with me mimicked my stand-offishness with him. I kept him at arms length and he did the same. He gave me a wide berth and introduced me to affection slowly. Thankfully, he's still working with me and we're learning together.
When I was in therapy, I remember bringing up my fear of being exactly like my mother; cold, manipulative, withholding. I know now that she was only doing what she knew. You know that old saying: Those that know better, do better. Well, she didn't know better and I'm coming to terms with the fact that she did the best she could at the time. My father was no better. I only just started hearing I love you from him when I hit my 30s! All that strife has made me realize I don't want to just provide meals and a roof over our children's heads. I want them to flourish. I want them to feel like there's nothing in the world they can't do.
There are huge class and race differences in parenting styles. At least that's what I observe in New York. El Hubster and I have walked by Central Park several times (and gone in several times) and noticed lots of Caucasian children happily playing in its playgrounds. We were surprised to not see many Black or Latino faces. Walking out of the park ,though, we noticed that there were a group of projects that abut the park where the Black and Latino kids were playing in the courtyard of their building. Why would they play in the courtyard if they've got the whole glory of Central Park steps away??? We don't know the answer. We can only guess. Do their parents think they don't deserve to play there? Are their parents too tired to take them?
It's a small snapshot of life here but it may hint at some deeper parenting philosophy. There seems to be a hands-off approach. Let the kids do what they will as long as they're provided for. There are exceptions, of course. Not every Black and Latino parent has this approach, in fact I know of a few families that don't, and the dynamic is probably different in other parts of the country.
Whatever the reason, I knew I didn't want that life for my children. I knew I would take advantage of every opportunity given to me. I want to love on them with loads of affection and encouragement. I want to take trips to the park for as long as I can do so. I want to give them the spiritual and emotional guidance I badly needed growing up. I want to read them stories at bedtime. I never want to make them feel as if they have to raise each other. I know there will come a day when I'll have to take my butt back to work so I want to do as much as I can for as long as I can.
I'm truly learning and growing so much as I go...starting with a 7lb gray and white tabby.