I find myself wide awake at 2 a.m. Why? Being busy beating myself up for not being a better parent. So rather than disturbing those I know with a jarring phone call at the buttcrack of dawn, I’ve decided to channel Dr. Leigh Lee (my alter ego, a nonpracticing self-help guru-in-training).
Dr. Lee: What’s keeping you awake?
Me: I feel like an awful parent. I know I could be doing so much more for my daughter, but somehow I feel a bit overwhelmed. Dunno where to begin. Dang, this chair is uncomfortable.
Dr. Lee: Sorry about the chair. Now that you’re awake, we wouldn’t want you to get too comfy and fall asleep now, would we. So, do you think your daughter’s generally happy?
Me: Thank goodness, so far so good. But she’s only six.
Dr. Lee: What a lovely age! So what’s making you doubt your parenting?
Me: My little girl needs speech/language help. She’s a very smart girl. I know a lot of parents say that about their children (and grandparents about their grandchildren), but she really is. Anyway, I find myself blaming myself for the fact that she still needs speech/language help. Too much TV and Baby Einstein during the formative, pre-preschool years, and certainly not enough socialization with peers. Definitely not enough playdates during the preschool era. But what was I supposed to do? I was working full-time. It was hard to make time to build relationships with the stay-home moms with 3 children and equally hard to make friends with the working parents at daycare during drop-off/pick-up time. And then there were her food allergies and my deep-rooted fear that she’d accidentally be killed by a Goldfish cracker during a playdate. (She’s allergic to dairy and nuts, and at one time she was also allergic to wheat and egg as well.)
Dr. Lee: But it sounds like she’s doing fine now.
Me: She’s had some help along the way. Her teachers at school, her special ed teachers, speech pathologists from the school district, and her grandparents.
Dr. Lee: That’s great. But why don’t you add yourself to the mix.
Me: Pish. All I did was bring her into the world. And then the usual things parents are supposed to do—feed, clothe, shelter, buy toys…
Dr. Lee: Now let’s be fair. You do much more. All the little things you do—they show her how much you love her. Those little things do add up to something.
Me: I guess. I just know I should be doing more.
Dr. Lee: Now, I want you to understand. All parents at one point or another blame themselves for what they see are deficiencies in their parenting or misguided actions. What you need to remember is not to dwell on the past—the shoulda, coulda, woulda. You need to concentrate on the present—the fact that she still laughs when you say, “Hey! Hey! Hay…is for horses.” The fact that she still runs to you and gives you a bear hug when you stretch your arms out—because that’s not going to last forever.
Me: Tell me about that. A month or so ago, she told me “I hate you,” after I told her I wasn’t going to let her do something or get some toy she wanted. Boy, that was a heartbreaker.
Dr. Lee: Yes, kids grow up fast these days.
Me: Thank God she felt bad about saying that. It was hard not to laugh from the shock of it all. I just gave her a big hug and let her cry in my arms. She got over it pretty quickly. And then within a week she said she hated me again. But fortunately she hasn’t in a while. Maybe it’s because her dad’s traveling on business during the week. She wouldn’t want to alienate the only parent she can sleep with now, would she?
Dr. Lee: Now, think about all the things you can still do to help her find her way and take steps in that direction. You can work on setting up playdates. You can research on ways you can help her communicate and use her words. Find those specialists. Read to her. Spend time with her. Play and pretend with her. Act out scenarios. A little goes a long way, especially as you say, she is very smart.
Me: You’re right, Doc. Just gotta keep moving forward.
Dr. Lee: I commend you for wanting to push yourself to do more. Just remember—don’t be like those crazy parents that overschedule their kids for the sake of their own egos. Childhood is about having fun and that includes the quiet, alone-times, too. Listen to your little girl. Trust your instincts. Parenting, like medicine, is not an exact science. Different things work for different people. And nothing’s a waste. The time that she might have spent by herself has taught her to be self-reliant and to not depend on others for her happiness/entertainment. Now, she needs to learn the other skill—how to play well with others. And that’s something people continue working on even as adults, right?
Me: That makes sense. So, Doc, what’s this going to cost me?
Dr. Lee: A blog post, my dear….Just kidding. Now, go to sleep. You have your work cut out for you.