Each time parenting comes up in conversation I find myself making the same joke: if only each came with a users manual! I think I will stop: it is a silly and old joke and life would be ever so boring.
Children don’t come with a user’s manual each, because they are not objects that belong to us. They are invitations. They enter our lives and, whether we like it or not, whether we feel ready or not, they bring a provocation to our doorstep: to love like we never thought we were capable of loving, to live life with intention, to push our limits so we can understand just what we are capable of, to be constantly humble and reform over and over again.
Because life’s always about choices, when the invitation is extended to us, we stand at a crossroads: we can honor our children’s invitation or we can ignore it and pretend they are small beings (and I don’t mean just physically) in our care whom we can and must mold in our image. And our ignorance will most definitely mold them. For when their invitation for us to be real in our lives and meet them where they need us to is answered with ignorance or, worse yet, with violence, they are molded in ways that scar them deeply and can only be altered if they have the strength to see beyond their wounds and start healing.
There is no need for a manual when raising children because the only way we need to respond to the invitation we are extended is by being … human. By allowing ourselves to be molded in this amazing and petrifying relationship that is parenting so that, at the end of the journey both children and parents are grown up. And I am not refering to this as a destination, I am referring to it as just a different stage of our joint journey.
I have written before about my admiration for stepparents. I have always loved the way Abby Wambach was referred to in Glennon Doyle’s home as “the bonus parent.” I wish I could undo the ugly picture that stories and movies have painted of parents who join this scary joyride of their own volition, jumping on the rollercoaster in full swing. The words themselves, “stepparent” – and not just in the English language – have become almost equal to detachment, unkindness, sometimes even danger.
I am a better parent because my partner has added her bonus existence to the lives of my son and I. I tell her many times that, without her, we would have both been overweight, addicted to something and much, much poorer (in more ways than one). And I mean it.
My partner came into a family that was not easy to care for, to get involved with. Extended family on both sides raised eyebrows (to put it very mildly) and adjusting to each other and to parenting, accomodating our own scars and preconceived ideas was by no means an easy feat.
Eleven years into this, as I watch her throw herself completely into caring for our son, help him with his work, grind her teeth next to me as we allow hard things to happen to him and, most importantly, growing beyond imagination, I am in awe. I know for a fact that I would not have managed a stepchild as well as she does. I am much more impulsive, the world in my head spins stories even I have to stop and marvel at sometimes and I would have been too scared (aka selfish) to get involved.
As I witness miracles of parenting daily in watching them navigate their own relationship, watching her grow and push her own boundaries and assumptions, as I am witness to how she molds her life while raising our son, I realize once more that parenting is a journey that only the courageous embark on. Oh, of course, many become parents in this lifetime, but deciding to do your very best as a parent, with no guiding but the compass of your attention and courage to say “I am sorry, I made a mistake,” is not for the faint hearted.
The best parenting manifesto I have ever read is one I feel we should guide ourselves by more than any of the miriad of books that have been and will be written.