I want to tell you all something: you are f*cking up your kids. I mean it. Just like I'm f*cking up my own, and my parents and your parents built all those flaws into you and your siblings, you are doing it right now. And I want to tell you something else: the kids are going to be fine. Great, even. It's all going to be OK.
Remember that, because I am exhausted by the constant, well-meaning barrage of parenting essays by people who have stopped yelling, stopped using their devices, stopped hurrying their kids out the door, stopped eating animal protein, thrown out their televisions, gone free-range, homeschool, charter school, unschool, moved into yurts, quit their jobs and are saying how all of it has made them better people raising better people. I know it sounds really good -- who doesn't want to love their kids more? Who doesn't want to be more awesome? -- but it's one more to-do on the ever-growing list of modern parenting requirements.
It's all so much more noise than we need to deal with. You're doing fine, and just the fact that you read those things all the way through says that you're trying to be better. Don't overthink it, you already have enough on your mind.
I try to imagine my mom; when I was little she'd drop my sister and me off at our warm, loving, and deeply alcoholic grandparents' house (apostrophe not a typo). We'd spend the day watching television or swimming and eating Jax, hoping Gramps would stay in a good mood, and come home reeking of my grandmother's Parliaments. I once watched my mom chase my sister from the driveway and up the stairs into our split ranch after my sister -- who was on crutches at the time -- mouthed off. I remember Mom locking her door and crying because the house was never, ever, ever clean. Not even for company. Sometimes she'd call us "little animals," and I don't doubt my sisters and I inspired the phrase, "This is why we can't have nice things."
I'm sure my mom wondered if she was doing a good enough job for us, but I don't think she had time to consult pediatric journals about how exactly one raises happy, precious, unique children into functional, compassionate adults. She probably locked herself in the bathroom to talk to my aunt or my nana, cried out her frustration, made some coffee and went back to work. I might be biased, but I think Mom did a goddamned bang-up job with the three of us.
One of her well-worn parenting tenets is, "You'll live" (though I've yet to hear her use this one on the grandkids). I was reminded of those words a few weeks ago when I texted a friend a photo of Anna having a complete breakdown after she'd been fresh and I revoked her time at the park. I was feeling terribly guilty, and she was deep in the throes of actual sadness. He wrote back, "I think Anna will live."
I thought, Of course. He's right. Why do I forget that? It's OK. I don't have to please her all the time. She can hurt. She can feel slighted, ignored, even betrayed by me sometimes, and she will live because I love her and I am sure she knows it.
She'll live whether or not I use my phone to connect with friends instead of playing dollhouse. She'll live when I have to work too long, when I pack her a crappy, last-minute lunch, when Steve and I argue in front of her over money or dishes, she'll live if I have to yell at her and if I tell her to hurry up because we're late, she'll live when it's hard for her to make a friend, or when she's the last to learn to tie her shoes. She will survive my flaws.
And because her life is already rich and intricate, she'll be flawed too. Steve and I are screwing her up, her teachers are too, and her cousins, television and the Internet will have their turn, strangers will leave their mark on her. Because this is how we all gather our complexity. This is how we all grow to be human.