Saturday, April 26, 2008

On Being a Good Enough Parent

Cathy over at Chief Family Officer participated in the My Life in Six Words meme, and I think hers is a great one: I'm not perfect, but good enough.

She also asked other people out there reading to talk about being a "good enough" parent.

This was a very hard place for me to get to in my life. I have an unusual situation among most of the mothers that I know in that I am not the primary custodial parent to my boys. It took me four years of very difficult processing to get to a place of being as ok with this as I think I can be. Of course, it sucks more than you can possibly imagine, and it's not something that most mothers can even fathom. I couldn't either for a very long time.

I've blogged before about my very difficult time with severe PPD after my 2nd child was born, along with undiagnosed and spiraling out of control bipolarII. I was also in a relationship that I didn't feel supported in and putting that and the decision to leave that marriage in the midst of all of this going on made things impossible for me to be a full time mother as I had been since the birth of my oldest child.

I felt completely lost and helpless and like I was simply a bad person in my inability to communicate with my spouse, take care of my children perfectly all of the time, and to deal with my severe depression over it all.

I had a bit of a mental breakdown and could not sustain that life. I still stayed home with the kids full time after we separated, for nearly a year, and I still just felt overwhelmed and incapable of taking care of myself well and exhausting myself in every way struggling to care for the kids. When he filed the divorce and the custody arrangement came up, there wasn't anything different I could have done at the time. That was my biggest obstacle, accepting that it was the best decision at the time. Especially once I was treated and could see that it was the mental illness and not me simply being a bad person.

Since that time I have had to do a lot of work to forgive myself, to stop blaming myself, and to come to terms with the impact my mental illness had. For a long time I wanted nothing more than to go back and do anything I could do to change the way things happened.

But I had to rethink that, because I did do the best I could, and I did do everything that was in my capability at the time.

This is something I have to live with now. While I could attempt to change it around and take it to court and all of that, not only is it beyond my financial means, but I feel like it could be detrimental to my children. I have just recently seen what kind of stress a parent can put on their children by just this very thing. It isn't fair to the kids and it can be a selfish road to take.

If I felt that my children were suffering greatly in this situation, I would, but while there are definite difficulties in the situation (mostly involving me and their father at times), things are ok for them. Not ideal for me, but they are ok. My children are well taken care of and happy, they have two sets of very loving and involved parents who make them their priority, they have lived their lives in this way for nearly 5 years now. I would jump at the chance for things to be different, but not at the detriment of my kids.

This is the way my reality of mothering is, and I have come to accept it.

I did what was the best I could do, and it was good enough. My kids will undoubtedly have some things to work through as they get older, but I think to a certain extent most people do. Even if they have an "ideal" childhood, there are things that will crop up, and will need to be worked through.

I am not a perfect mother, but I am an awesome mother. I kick all kinds of ass when it comes to parenting my children, and I know that I do.

It also took me 4 years of adamantly denying even the thought of ever having another child. I sincerely did not believe I deserved to raise another one, since I felt so much like I failed the children I already had.

After a lot of work in dealing with my feelings about my situation, I finally got to the point of being ok with having done what I could and that it wasn't my fault. I didn't choose the mental illness, I didn't choose the PPD, I didn't choose to be unable to care properly for my children for a period of time.

And once I worked through all of this, lo and behold, I was finally able to also realize that I did want another child. Another child with my husband,, my life partner, my best friend, the awesome step parent to my children. And of course, a month after we started talking about it and we decided to try in about a year, I felt a little funny and peed on a stick, and here I am, at 27 weeks pregnant with our daughter.

With this preganancy, there has been the acceptance of not being able to breastfeed due to the medications I have to take to control my illness and be able to be a good mother. And that I don't actually want to co-sleep for 3 years this time. I just don't. And I am not doing cloth diapers this time.

I had a little bit of mourning over the breastfeeding thing, but I know that this is what I need to do. It still hits me sometimes, and makes me a little sad, but I know that my mental health is the most important part of my ability to parent. The other things are just my own decisions and wisdom of my own limitations and what causes me undue stress, etc. Well managed mental health care for is the best thing I can give all of my children and my family and myself, this is the first priority always.

And I also have had occasion bouts of guilt when it comes to my two oldest children. They have been less than thrilled with this baby, and I know that it comes from (because they have told me) them not being here with me all of the time like this baby will be. That's hard. But I do everything I can to allow their feelings, to try to reassure them that they will not receive any less attention from me because of the baby, etc. There is only so much I can say to them to make them feel better, so they will just have to see it to believe it.

I also drink more caffeine that I should while pregnant sometimes, and other times all I eat is cereal and soymilk. Meh. Don't sweat the small stuff, I say.

Wow, this has become a long post. I'm sure there are some other things I would have liked to have touched on, but brain melty and it's late.
I also wanted to add in a six word thing, but haven't thought of one for myself. I will think about it some more and post it another time. It's 4am and I want to go to the farmer's market in the morning. If only I could sleep!


pianomomsicle said...

This is a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing it! You are a very brave and honest woman, and you make an awesome parent.

P.S. i'm drinking Dr. Pepper right now. And it's my breakfast.:)

Rachel said...

Thank you so much. I really appreciate your words. It's scary to put something like that out to the big giant internet :)