From today's Briefing:
You know those social media memes in which an old- fashioned illustration is accompanied by modern text? They often give voice to pet peeves or universal truths, sometimes with an edge of sarcasm, sometimes with downright cruelty.
The one that speaks to me the loudest features a mom leaning over to speak to her young son: “You’re making it difficult for me to be the parent I always imagined I would be.”
I want to reach out to that imaginary mom and give her a high five — then give that little guy a big hug. Because all the theories and pontifications about parenting mean nothing once you’re actually in charge of young people — and because those children bear the brunt of our scramblings as we constantly adjust.
The parent I imagined I would be is trapped in a romanticized world that failed to consider all kinds of variables, like strong personalities, learning disabilities, hypercompetitive peers, illness and even death.
I once dreamed of relaxed mornings getting ready for school, warm homecomings (with cookies and milk!) every day after school and uber- organized spaces for homework.
I imagined reliably rational conversations, clear-cut decision-making and steadfast adherence to reasonable rules.
Some days our home reflects the realization of some of those dreams. Other days, well, not so much.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, perhaps every day until the year 2027: Parenting is tough. It’s difficult because we have high expectations of our children and of ourselves. And because we’re all human, with quirks and preferences that bind us and sometimes alienate us from one another.
Good thing we humans are also adaptable.
Cooper’s learning disabilities — dyslexia and dysgraphia — nudge me to make decisions I hadn’t anticipated before his diagnosis in fourth grade. For example, if there’s a homework assignment that requires extensive writing, I sometimes help him.
I don’t do the actual crafting of words, but if I determine that the assignment is designed to assess his understanding of a topic and not his ability to type, I might take over the keyboard, letting Cooper dictate sentences. Together we edit the work, talking through punctuation and word choice, organization and phrasing.
Before I was a mom, I also hadn’t considered fully the role of personality in raising children — mine and theirs. I’m a classic introvert. After hours of interaction with others, I’m drained. I need a break — all alone.
My children take after their dear, late father, a classic extrovert. They draw energy from interaction with lots of people. And if there aren’t lots of people around, one will do.
That’s usually me.
I’ve learned to tell Cooper and Katie without guilt or shame, “I need a few minutes of quiet time, then I can focus better.”
I need that restoration, especially to prepare for Katie’s intensity. She’s strong-willed and opinionated in ways I never imagined in my pre-children years. Being her mom challenges all kinds of ideas I once had about discipline and motivation.
I can’t count the number of medical appointments that have included this plea of desperation: “If you will do exactly what the doctor says, I’ll buy you a treat when we’re done.” What I once would have called a bribe I now rationalize as an incentive.
In my mid-20s, the days I started thinking about becoming a mom, I never anticipated taking dictation from my child nor momentarily escaping to another room nor offering a milkshake in exchange for good behavior.
I also never fathomed how rich the rewards would be.
Bear hugs in the morning before we scatter, detail-rich chatter in the afternoons. Spirited discussions about Harry Potter and Anne Shirley. Dreams of faraway lands we’d like to visit — all three of us, together.
Every day we’re creating our own version of what family should be — not like I imagined, but exactly the way we’re supposed to be.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.