I am not a parenting expert. In fact, I am hardly a novice.
I have to say, I am extremely suspicious of anyone who claims to have the key to unlocking the secrets of producing the world’s perfect children (complete with perfectly styled hair, spotless clothes, and halos, of course).
In my mere 3 years of being an actual parent, I would have to say that I actually now know less about child-rearing than I thought I did before my children happily shattered every dream I had about the ease with which I would raise them.
It took a few healthy doses of humility to get me to the point of admitting my cluelessness; I spent my first few months as the “perfect” new parent, looking down my nose at other parenting styles (you know, the new-age or simply archaic practices from the parents who will enviably produce the trouble-making kids that my simply angelic children will have to endure at school every day. Those parents. You and I are not in these categories, of course).
After enough mishaps and public tantrums that leave the entire room looking at you the exact same way you looked at all those other parents who just couldn’t control their kids, it hits you: YOU DON’T KNOW SQUAT.
Each child is unique, bringing into the world his or her own set of needs and gifts, and each caregiver is different, bringing to the table his or her own set of gifts and weaknesses. You add in all of the variables and suddenly your simple formula for parenting success…well, let’s face it, I was never really good at math anyway.
Shortly after I figured out that “I know nothing” is the only thing I’ll ever know, I started making mental contributions to my kids’ “Therapy Fund”. I would make imaginary deposits every time my temper was too short or my patience much too thin. I would even make an occasional contribution on days when I was questioning whether or not our lifestyle choices would leave our children feeling too different.
Then I decided that it would be way more fun to have an actual Therapy Fund. (Especially as I imagined how fun it would be to pop ten bucks in the therapy jar to diffuse a moment of teenage hormonal rage when my kids declare their hatred for me at about 500 decibels. “Oh, tell it to your therapist!” I might say to myself.)
To be fair, the creation of this jar wasn’t JUST for kicks and giggles; I created it in part because I sincerely believe that this is one of the gifts that I can give my children, and not just because they will be actually receiving this money one day (they will probably need someone who will help them work through all of the baggage they have obtained, courtesy of the wacky parents who raised them as UU vegetarians in a fairly conservative small town).
But I think the best gift of the Therapy Fund is that each deposit is a physical representation to me and my children that I recognize that I am, by no means, super-human. I have real shortcomings that may leave a real void in their lives. I don’t know all of the answers and I never will (although not for lack of trying). This simple, silly little jar reminds me that it is okay that my kids may need to turn to someone other than me to help them over one of life’s hurdles, and that I am totally allowed to have a bad day or two (and that I might even be able to forgive myself for that one day).
It also oddly helps me strive to be the best parent I can be (I am not made of money, ya know). The less I have to put in that jar, the better.
Some time, I may even just throw in a couple of bucks just… because. Even the parents who have written the books on parenting need help too.