Parenting is Not an Innate Ability

Growing up, there is sometimes an idealistic view of what a father is and does. He is a protector. He loves and uses his experiences to guide. I wanted that father as a kid. A father that represented what I saw in reality and on TV.

I tend to describe my dad as a character. As with any person, there are multiple sides to him: some that fill you with laughter and some that fill you with disappointment.

For my siblings and me, we mostly teetered on the side of disappointment. That was our norm.

I would look at my mother and wonder why my father couldn’t be more like her. She carried the weight of two parents. That was the example she set growing up. And that was the blueprint I would later follow.

My mom’s parenting took hard work and patience, and that she was able to do these things because she was actively living in this role. I believed if my father put in the same time and dedication that he could be the same type of parent. I wanted parenting to click for him. At that time in my life, I just could not understand why it didn’t. Why was it so difficult to be a father? To be a parent?

Becoming a parent myself changed my perspective. Almost overnight, I became responsible for little people who relied on me for everything. It was scary. Regardless of the great example my mother set for me, and the support I had from my husband and family, I was terrified of the idea of failing my children. I was frightened by the responsibility that now existed in my hands. I thought to myself, “Is this how my parents felt?”

So many emotions and doubts ran through me. As a child, I didn’t understand why it was so hard for my dad, but my time as a parent made it clearer.

Parenting is not an innate ability. It does not live in all of us and magically appear the day our children are born.

Parenting is a role that requires just as much developing and adjusting as moving from childhood to adulthood. Indeed, there are books and stories of other parents’ successes and failures to use as a blueprint, but ultimately there is no one-fit-all model. My father could not be the same parent as my mother. They were two different people. They had two different sets of priorities, upbringings, and  ideas of what parenting is and means.

I used to think I could hold my father to the same standards, or expectations, as my mother or even TV dads, but I was wrong. I was wrong for setting expectations he either could not, or perhaps decided he would not, try to fulfill.

As much as I love being a parent, I am not afraid to admit that at times, parenting is perplexing. There are moments when you look into your children’s eyes and find it hard to envision life without them. There are also times when you question if you are doing all you can for them. The challenge is in encouraging yourself to keep trying to become the parent you want to be. For some, it happens while their children are young and for others it happens once they are older.

Occasionally, my father and I speak and I like to believe he is able to recognize where he went wrong in parenting. If you are afraid, or do not feel fully prepared, that is okay. It takes time getting used to parenting. We weren’t born to be parents. It’s something we have to work on everyday, and the best teachers for doing so are our children.

While it may seem like people “just get it”, more of us have to work to learn the ins-and-outs of parenthood.

It took some time for me understand that my children didn’t need a perfect parent. What they needed instead was one that took an active role in their lives. Whenever I doubt myself (and believe there are a lot of those days), I look at their smiles and think about the times they have said, “You’re the best mother in the WHOLE world,” and I know that I’m doing something right.

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