When I was pregnant with my first child, I had a list of all the "dos and don'ts" required for effectively achieving the status of perfect parent. Seventeen years ago, the momentum for creating flawless beings was in full swing, and I had my arms and legs tightly wrapped around the pendulum. As I swapped my hopes for a career in nursing, and instead chose countless hours of time bonding with my children, in those early days of motherhood when I was stumbling over the educational toys strewn about my home, nobody could have convinced me then that I would become what I am today.
Perfect Parenting Tip #1: Children need socialization
By the time my first baby could hold his head up, our enrolment in Mommy & Me groups was not only viewed as important, in my opinion it was crucial to his social development. To not take part in these programs which were meant to teach infants how to interact with other infants, a skill which could only be accomplished through the congregation of enthusiastic mothers determined to one-up each other via the sharing of their babies' impressive feats -- to forgo these classes meant endangering the child's ability to function in society.
By the time my second child was born, playgroups and Mommy & Me socializing opportunities were forfeited for time on my front step with a magazine while my kids frolicked in our sandbox. My once great concern that my children would not know how to interact with other children was replaced by my concern that their appetites would be spoiled by the ingestion of too much dirt...and even that worry settled once I figured out that what goes in must come out.
Perfect Parenting Tip #2: Education is so very important
The first few years with my children were spent sitting on the floor with them, presenting flashcards on which colours, letters, and numbers featured prominently. If a book, DVD, or toy had the label Baby Einstein on it, or a certain commercial spoke of increasing children's IQs, the book, DVD, or toy was added to my collection.
When my kids entered preschool and primary school, we spent hours upon hours of time at the kitchen table practising printing and spelling. School projects were a family affair in which my child's final product was more a reflection of my own artistic abilities than his/hers. Grades and report cards were celebrated like Christmas; the ceremonial waving of the report card along with hoots, hollers, and cheers at the sight of straight-As reflective of my obsessive need to be a perfect parent.
By the time my kids got older, my zealous need to be involved in their academic undertakings had flickered out to a faint ember, and grades and report cards simply became a piece of paper that gave me the opportunity to say to my children, "You did your best, that's all that matters;" the sight of Bs and even Cs a reminder that my children's independence is far more valuable than the honour roll. And let's be honest, my time was better spent watching reruns of 90210 than hovering over their shoulders while they sped through math homework that I didn't understand anyway.
Perfect Parenting Tip #3: No guns allowed
This one can be summed up very simply: my kids were absolutely not going to play with guns.
Fast forward to the third boy, and my battle to forbid my children from playing with weapons was lost long ago when tree branches, hockey sticks, and/or anything made of plastic, wood, or metal in the shape of a rifle was not only a fan favourite, but it was accompanied by the sound of gun shots.
Today, water guns, super soakers, plastic swords, battery operated devices that are shiny, light up, and make a lot of war-like noises are all perfectly acceptable. It should also be added that violent video games are played in my home, and furthermore, high scores and top-rated achievements in said violent video games are congratulated by family members (me) in hopes of showing interest towards my teenagers' video gaming hobbies.
Perfect Parenting Tip #4: Children need their mummies
The first several years of my children's lives, I was present for all of the major and not so major events: recitals, hockey games, hockey practices. It didn't matter if other parents were even going to be there; if there was an event, I was standing in the back of the classroom videotaping.
As my children got a little older though, sitting in the dance studio waiting for my daughter's class to end, my desire to use the hour to sit in my vehicle to read a book, or run to the grocery store without any small beings attached to my hip also grew into a desire to experience a life of my own. I entered university, worked towards my baccalaureate of nursing, and throughout these past five years, I've become that mother who pulls up outside the studio to wait for her daughter, rather than the one who is still sitting inside. I'm that mom who works night shifts, and then has to sleep all day, forcing my children to get themselves off to school without my presence at the door handing out backpacks, lunch bags, and kisses.
Sure, I could let the guilt that my desire to live my own life has altered my "Perfect Parenting" doctrine. But after coming home from work this morning, when I asked my nine-year-old "Did you miss me last night at bedtime?" and he replied, "You weren't home last night?" I realize that my kids don't know about the "Perfect Parenting" rules, so I get to rewrite the manual.