I could go to a meeting.
I could sit around the circle.
I could stand up at my turn and say "Hi, my name is Sarah, and I am an Imperfect Parent."
Oh yes. I could.
The She-Ex used to accuse me of perfect parenting. My favourite insult, and one that continues to make me laugh, was that I thought I was Mary f****** Poppins. LOL!
I parented then, and I do now, in the way that seems to make most sense to me. AC was an extended feeder (2.5yrs), he was cloth nappied and fed homemade food. He never had a jar of the insipid rubbish that the baby food manufacturers claim to be nutritional and tasty. He was consistently disciplined with a choices and consequences approach, and this was consistent right from 9 months to now. He sat by walls if there were no stairs, and we talked about his behaviour afterwards, and about my response to it, and how we could change things next time. Obviously that was a developmental thing because he was such a late talker! I answered questions when he asked them as fully as I could, never, ever using the phrase "Because I say it is." He had a story every night.
I can remember getting flack though, from the She-Ex, from Rich until he saw how it worked and used it for himself with BG, from mums at the toddler group, from my family, about how hard they thought I was on him. How I should remember he is only little. How I needed to appreciate that he was only a child. How I should accept x or y, because "all children do that." How I should just let him watch tv if he wanted to. How putting him into an empty bath to eat when he was learning to use a spoon and it was baked beans for tea was bad parenting. (I thought it was very practical myself!) How I should leave him with other people more. How he was going to be a baby all his life.
And now I look around me.
I can take him anywhere. He is well mannered, polite, and loving. He can talk with adults or children, and is responsible and understanding. He loves without limit, and he reads without stopping. His reading age is now almost 2 years up from where it should be, and he knows how to use the internet for research, but also to be judgemental about what it says. He watches tv, but mostly Discovery, History, or Phineus and Ferb. He has survived a dairy intolerance, repeated croup, divorce, step-parenting, sudden bereavement, learning to love again and to take that risk. He is working through his problem with writing without condemning himself. He knows that sometimes the answer is no, and sometimes it is wait until payday, and sometimes it is yes. He is a confident child who expresses his feelings in a responsible way. No, he doesn't always have the right P.E. kit, or books, but he is taking responsibility for that, and knows that we are still not back to how we used to be before the accident, before his 6 year old life fell apart, and we won't be, we'll just be differently good at different stuff!
And yet I cannot seem to do this for T-Boy. He's been in my life for over a year now. I've applied the same consistent boundaries that I do with the AC. I've applied the same expectations, the same discipline, the same encouragement, the same input of educational answers. I treat him in the same way as I do the AC. They both get to choose the tv programmes, in turn. They both get to choose the story, they both get to choose what's for tea in the holidays, and to help make it. They both get to choose where we go to play, in turn, and the AC has gone from being an only child to being part of a two, to having an older brother, to travelling 2.5 hours each way to see the T-Boy, and accepts it with his usual equanimity. T-Boy has always had an older brother, so has always shared.
I know full well that they are different children, and that even different children from the same parents behave in totally different ways. I'm a teacher. I know this thing. I know that even identical twins are separate people with different needs and ideas. I don't expect the boys to turn into carbon copies of each other after a year.
But is it unreasonable to expect good manners? To expect a 9 year old to use a knife and fork? To expect help with household jobs and with cooking the things that *they* have asked for? To expect a child to take some responsibility for his own actions, his own possessions, for the words he uses?
Do I expect too much because AC is so able to do all these things because that is the way he has been brought up and because of the person that he is? IS that the issue? Do I expect a 9 year old to be more capable than a 7 year old? Well, yes! I do!
Perhaps it is these expectations that are reducing me, Dear Reader, from the dizzy heights of Mary F. Poppins, to the depths of Imperfect Parent.
The question is, what do I do? I offer to help T-Boy with things, he refuses, but then cries because he can't do it. I let him choose what he wants to eat, and then he refuses to eat it. And so on. Ad Infinitum. But please don't think he is a little toad, because I know that he is not. I know he is a loving child, insecure because his mother ripped him away from his father and moved him without considering what it would do to him (and yes, we've been here before!) and that his mother refuses to let us have his reading book at the weekends, so he can't read with us, and so on. I know how sweet he can be. How sweet he used to be.
When he's been here a week, he'll eat what he's given with the some of the usual fuss but not an all out tantrum. He'll do as he's told, he uses good manners, he helps in the house, he reads to one of us daily, and he is a lovely child, as long as his Daddy is around, and he's even quite lovely when he's just with me. When we just have him for the weekend though, things aren't like that.
I'm dreading going up there this weekend. Today. I'm dreading having him for the half term holiday even more. I'm dreading that feeling of failure, the arguments, the food issues, the tantrums. I'm dreading not being able to go out when we want to, or where we want to. I'm dreading the stupid American tv that is on (Pair of Kings, Hannah Montana. Really? You're 9!) Even now I am sitting here with the feeling in my stomach that makes me want to throw up, I am so nervously apprehensive.
So there we go, group. My name is Sarah and I am an Imperfect Parent.