Ayelet Waldman, Redux

Ayelet Waldman, kind soul that she is, did reply to the interview questions I'm sure I mentioned sending to her. Originally, I was going to post that interview here, along with my thoughts on her book, but then I decided to instead post that interview to a new eZine our library writers' group will be getting off the ground sometime in July. I will post the link here, in case you're curious to read the interview, but for now there are just a few things I'd like to say about her book before I send it packing back to the library from whence it came, so others may enjoy it.

First off, I think Waldman is so, so courageous to express her honest feelings on the subject of parenting. What she says resonates with me. Not in every way, but in many.

When I had children I knew they'd change my life. I didn't realize to what extent, not ever having really been around babies or parents of young children, but I knew things would never be the same. In fact, a day after I had my first child I mourned the life I had before. It was a mixture of post-partum depression and the sudden realization I was at least 50 % responsible for this mewling, needy bundle. From there on out she wasn't just a theoretical child who sat on my bladder, kicking me in the ribs and keeping me up nights from sheer discomfort. She was a real, live, breathing human who needed me for everything. I was terrified. There's no other word for it.

Naive as I was, I had in mind the sweet, chubby baby I'd cuddle and show off. Though I was warned about the exhaustion, the lack of sleep, the total lifestyle change, I brushed that off as not being that big a deal. When it happened I'd handle it. I thought it was that simple.

You may laugh now.

Then, she grew older, and I had a new set of fears that she'd stick something in a light socket, fall on the fireplace hearth and get a concussion, or choke and I wouldn't know what to do to save her. And it didn't help she was a cranky as hell baby.

Shortly thereafter came my middle son. Then, two years later almost to the day, my youngest son. The worries lessened, as I'd grown partially immune, but I still had irrational fears they'd just stop breathing, that they'd choke on something I didn't realize was in their crib, that one of any number of disasters would happen. So many times I leapt out of bed to check on them, to make sure their little chests were still rising and falling. So much for sleeping when I could.

Waldman's book, while clearly illustrating the same sort of irrational fears and love for her children, openly admits they're not, nor should they be, everything in the life of a parent. Parents need to retain their personal identities; they should never forget who they are and what they want from life just because they've created another human being. Because that human being, once he or she is grown, will blossom into his or her own person. And if the parent has built a life around that child, without continuing to pursue his or her dreams, where will that leave them? Forgetting who you are, and giving up your dreams, is a terrible mistake none of us should commit, ever. Not even for our children.

Again, children are life-changing. They rely on parents for so many of their needs, and it's a parents duty to provide as much as humanly possible. But we're human. We're going to mess up. Some of our decisions will make us cringe, and give our children many good topics to bring up with a therapist later on. Perfection is a delusion.

But so long as we are not abusive, not cruel, not anything inhumane or terrible, we should be forgiven for our missteps. It's difficult not to judge ourselves or others, and second-guessing is par for the course. But there is such a thing as a good enough parent, one who gives not everything but enough.

I think most of us agonize as to whether we are good enough, and because we spend that time worrying that automatically equals a parent who cares. It's those who act without ever looking back and feeling sorry who are bad parents, not those of us who occasionally beat ourselves up for our choices.

Her take away message is we're not only too hard on ourselves, but way, way too judgmental of other parents. Occasionally we short-circuit. Every parent does. That doesn't mean we're awful, that our children should be taken away, or that we're not capable parents. It just means we're human.

It's about time someone stood up and said that.

2 thoughts on “Ayelet Waldman, Redux

  1. I loved the book too. We all went from ‘children should be seen and not heard’ to ‘we must all orbit around our children completely or we are bad parents, dooming them to disease and failure.’
    Can’t we settle somewhere in between?
    Ha ha – Awesome to hear the eZine is getting the interview! I am really excited about that!


  2. “I think most of us agonize as to whether we are good enough, and because we spend that time worrying that automatically equals a parent who cares.” I totally agree. I thought both my parents were excellent parents (and pretty good folk in other ways) but they both felt they hadn’t done anywhere near enough. my wife, similarly, feels guilty at her lack of parenting skills after 20 years. As you say, if the parent doesn’t worry that’s the bad sign!!


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