On Parenting and Imperfection: My Worst Parenting Fear by Shannon Lell

Sep 16 2013

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Welcome to our Monday guest post series on Parenting and Imperfection.

Today, I’m excited to share this space with my friend, Shannon Lell. And, look, there are a lot of reasons I love Shannon, not least of which is the tag line on her blog which reads, “When we are our authentic selves, we give others the unspoken permission to be the same. In Truth, there is freedom,” because, oh my word, that is SO what we do here, right?

But I feel like, to give you a true taste of why I LOVE love Shannon, I must share our private correspondence with you. It goes like this:

From: Shannon
To: Beth

Oh Beth. I’ve been on vacation since Friday. We had a wedding down in California wine country and we didn’t take the kids. Sooo, that should tell you that mama danced her toosh off for 3-4 hours straight and drank entirely too much wine over a 3 day period for which I am paying dearly for in more ways than one. 

1) I can barely walk b/c my thighs are on fire from dancing.
2) I managed to fight off a monster sinus infection that is so pissed off right now it is making me nearly incoherent with pain. 

I feel like an amateur. A fraud. Like I should have trained for this weekend somehow with shots of tequila and zumba. I am a shell of my former self.

From: Beth
To: Shannon

If you ever decide to start a tequila/zumba training regimen and need humans to experiment on, I’m your girl. 

I hope you feel better very, very soon.

B

From: Shannon
To: Beth

 I think we have a nice little business idea. Boot camp for drinking in your thirties. Seriously, we can alternate tequila and vitamin C shots while doing calisthenics while wearing two sets of Spanx. I would totally pay for that shit. 

From: Beth
To: Shannon

Toss in a case of industrial strength of Depends and I’m SO IN.

From: Shannon
To: Beth

I GOT IT…. SPANX WITH ABSORBANT DISPOSABLE LINERS!!! BOOM… we’re millionaires.

From: Beth
To: Shannon

GENIUS. I’m opening a Kickstarter. Also, we’re OBVIOUSLY going to need an awesome video to go along with it. You and I will be the models. It’s going to be HOT.

So there it is in a nutshell, friends. I love Shannon because a) she’s going to make me easy millions, b) she needs me to model in a Spanx with Absorbant Liners dance video (DREAMS DO COME TRUE), and, c) she implied I’m in my 30’s! Which I totally am, since 39 11/12 counts, man.

Welcome to this space, Shannon. I’m so glad to have you here.

Beth

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My Worst Parenting Fear
by Shannon Lell

My husband has a long-time friend who is a police officer. We’ll call him Calvin. Calvin is an honorable, moral, upstanding person. One day Calvin was lamenting about how he works so much overtime and at such odd hours that he doesn’t spend enough time with his family. I asked him why he doesn’t just call in sick one day and he told me he would never do that because it would be a lie. Indeed, he is the exact sort of person you want carrying heavy weaponry with a license to kill.

Calvin is adopted. He is the oldest son of four children and his parents are still married and both highly educated. His two younger brothers (Ivan and Aaron) are biological children of his parents and they all grew up in the same home going to the same Catholic private school. Ivan is the middle brother and he’s a patent attorney in Washington, D.C.. Aaron has two sons by two different women, both of which his parent’s are helping to raise. Aaron is currently in jail for dealing drugs.

Then there’s the story of my 1st cousins. They are three biological siblings all from the same parents growing up in the same house.  They lived in a small town and their mother was a homemaker. The middle child, Brandon, is (once again) a police officer. The oldest child, Danielle, is living in near poverty with a drinking problem and the youngest, Anna, is an award-winning urologist at The Mayo Clinic.

Those two stories, combined with my own family history, encapsulate my worst parenting fears. That this whole thing is a crap-shoot.

That it doesn’t matter how many books I read, how many educational apps I buy for my iPad, how much I spend on extra-curricular activities and art supplies, or how many organic vegetables and hours of sleep I’m able to coax onto my children… my children have the same odds of ending up on skid row as they do being a renowned surgeon.

I know what some of you may already be thinking. It’s the same thing I’ve said to myself to assuage this dread.

 All I need to give my children is love. All I can do, is the best I can.

I want to believe that is true. Because those are things I’m already doing. I love them with everything I have and I’m doing the very best I can. But deep down I know, even that is sometimes not enough.

You see, my parent’s loved me while I was growing up. They still do. And they did the very best they could with what they had. I know this. But all of that wasn’t enough to stop me from making some unfortunate mistakes. Mistakes so dire, so potentially deadly and dangerous that it is only by the grace of God that I am where I am today. If you look at me and my siblings we are all on different planes in life too. Very different.

All of these stories have me grappling to make sense of parenting because it is the ONE job in this life where I pray I can succeed. I find myself wanting to understand the odds. I’m inspired to read smart books and save lots of money so that I can make educated choices and send them to great schools. Feeling desperate to safeguard my children against devastating potentialities of lives lived in pain and suffering.

Worst Parenting FearAnything else has me feeling powerless, and powerlessness is a cold and frightening terrain. Powerlessness feels like very little oxygen inside a cave that’s growing darker by the minute.

This reality that the fate of my children’s lives is a total crap-shoot morphs into one big, pathetic excuse:

We can’t afford private school so I say, “Well, parenting is a crap-shoot anyway, might as well go to public.”

I have a shitty day and ignore and/or snap at my children, “Oooh well, parenting = crap-shoot, doesn’t mean I’ll scar them for life.”

I get a little too excited when my 2-year-old labels his letters correctly, “Pfft,  crappy, crappity, crap-shoot, doesn’t mean I’m doing it right.”

I get a little too frustrated when my kid melts-down in the grocery store checkout line, “This sh!t is such a f*$%ing crap-shoot, doesn’t mean I’m doing it wrong.”

It’s a useful excuse for almost any parenting insecurity you can think of. It instantaneously absolves you of responsiblity by putting your children’s fate in fate’s hands.

But that’s not how I want to parent. It’s not even how I want to live. I don’t want to put all my cards in the deck of complete pre-determination. I want to have an impact. I want my hard work to pay off. I want my children to be happy, well-adjusted contributors to society. I want that. I want that more than I want excuses and apathy.

I’ve searched my soul for something more comforting than “crap-shoot” to ease my fears about my children someday ending up on skid row. There is only one reasonable answer that brings me any margin of comfort. It is respect.

The R.E.S.P.E.C.T. find out what it means to me kind of respect.

My children will make mistakes. My children will fall off wagons, jump off bridges and take the low road more times than I even want to contemplate. We all do. It’s inevitable, really. But if they respect their parents; if they value our opinions; if they feel bad when we are disappointed because they enjoy our approval… then that is something.

But here’s the problem with respect. Respect is not merely given. It isn’t something that you can control, command or demand. Respect happens when the person you are is the person someone else strives to emulate. And, sadly, that has nothing to do with parenting and everything to do with one’s own sense of integrity and self-worth.

In the end, respect is something you must first have for yourself, before you can earn it from others… especially your children. As far as I can tell the best strategy I have against safeguarding my children from the more difficult paths in life is to inspire their respect for me. No small feat I assure you. Because respecting my wishes by remembering to take off their shoes in the doorway, versus caring how disappointed I’ll be if they have sex with their highschool girlfriend, are two separate levels of respect in my mind.

One is common courtesy, the other is having a bond that acts like kryptonite on teenage hormones and peer pressure and we all know how strong those things are. They are the two singular forces responsible for a $1.6 billion dollar company called YouTube.

So how do I get this kind of relationship with my children? How do I inspire their respect for me so that they hear my voice during difficult decisions? Must I be flawless in front of them? Must I exemplify perfection and make every right decision?

No. That’s just too damn much to ask from any human being especially not one who suffers from chronic tardiness and likes french fries because they come with ketchup.

The people I have the most respect for in life are not perfect. In fact, they are usually the most flawed. But to me, respect means humility. It means grace. It means saying I’m sorry, I was wrong, can you forgive me? and I forgive you, and why don’t we  try to do better next time because trying is the most important thing. Not perfection, just trying.

To me, self-respect is knowing you’re not perfect, and yet believing you were perfectly made.

It is something I remind myself of daily because if I can believe it — really, truly believe it… then hopefully, someday, they will too. And if they do… then I can put my fears to rest because I will have succeeded at my job as their mom.

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ShannonLellShannon Lell is a fallen corporate ladder climber turned writer and stay at home mother. She writes introspective pieces on personal and social issues and she tries to use just enough sarcasm so that you don’t think she’s emotionally unavailable.

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You can see all of the Parenting and Imperfection posts here.