This loaded question was posed to me by a lady whom I had just delivered a Jazzy power chair. I had finished up her initial demonstration and per usual with the job, this sweet old bag (her term, not mine) was more interested in chatting with me about life than she was in breaking down the finer points of 3 amp, off-board battery chargers.
She had been a stay-at-home mom for over twenty years and, after a short stint as a middle school English teacher, had recently jumped back in to this realm as a “stay-at-home-grand-mom.” She could also see before her a young, enthusiastic father whose world was beaming with the prospects of a second child on the way. So as she warmly smiled at me after unleashing her best Barbara Walters-esque parental query, I tried to give her a look as which to convey, ‘lady, you might not like what I’m getting ready to say’.
“I don’t know what in the hell I’m doing… and neither do you.”
That is my actual “parenting philosophy.” And it’s a hell of thing to tell somebody who’s life work has been rasing her children (and now her children’s children). Fortunately for my sake she got where I was coming from and nearly laughed herself right out of her shiny new, jet-blue Jazzy chair.
There is an oft used cliché that gets floated out into the world of parenting that says children do not come with an instruction manual. I beg to differ. So does the cash cow otherwise known as the new parenting section at your local Barnes and Nobles. When my wife was pregnant with our first child, we submerged ourselves in the deep end of the new baby information pool (yes, that pool is shaped like a cute and friendly whale). We trained ourselves by the codes of What To Expect When Your Expecting. We meditated to the words and wisdom of Dr. Sears. We were going to be black belted ninja warriors of parenthood.
Also, as Justine’s baby belly began to inflate, so too did the opinions of many well-meaning “walking experts.” It was as if her fetal girth was some kind of weird tractor beam that would draw in the parenting thoughts and persuasions of any passer-by who dared glance its way. Friends, family, next-door neighbors, the cashier at Food Lion, a postal worker in an elevator, etc. All, and the like, would randomly shower us with advice on all things babies. And we were suckers for it! We would soak up every bit of Starbucks-barista-infused baby knowledge like we were made of Bounty. Soon it began to become overwhelming.
One night toward the end of the pregnancy, Justine and I got into a heated debate over the type of sheets to put in the baby’s crib. Regular cotton? Organic cotton? Egyptian cotton? What to do… WHAT TO DO?!! So-and-so says this, but the book says that, and that damned barista said babies sleep best on a bear-skin rug! Some may not know this, but every single choice you make about baby #1 can literally shatter the Earth. It was in that moment that I had come to the realization that neither I or anyone else knows all the answers to being a parent. Specifically, in terms of me being a parent.
Parenting seems to be less simple math, and more unique, complex, and situational problem solving. This doesn’t mean that I devalue the experiences and thoughts of other parents. In fact, the way I look at it is that you take all of that outside knowledge and funnel it through your own intuitive filter. Through that scope we then make choices, work hard, pay attention, and remember that life as a mom or dad is a fluid process.
A little less than a month after this conversation, my theories on being a dad were about to get put to the test. After the company folded, Justine and I had some hard choices to make. We chose that I would be the one who would have “stay-at-home” in my job description and she would bring home the organic bacon. This would be my opportunity to not only go back to school and finish my bachelor’s degree (via night classes), but to be the one at home during the early developement of our kids.
I know what you’re thinking. The same guy who just refered to his wife’s pregnant stomach as an inflated, weird tractor beam is responsible for the rasing and well-being of two bright-eyed, innocent cherub children? Don’t look at me… I’m not the one who wears the pant suit in this family.