Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The death of the Perfect Parent Plan

Watching my friend help her daughter with her homework takes me back to my own days as a young parent. What an eye-opener that was! I found that my knowledge of parenting was far greater before I had a child. Something about childbirth shook the Etch-a-Sketch on which I had drawn my Perfect Parent Plan.

Yes, I had a Perfect Parent Plan. Doesn’t everyone? I didn’t take it lightly, either. I spent much of my young life observing – no, experiencing – my own parents and making copious mental notes about what I would and wouldn’t do to my children. I conferred with my friends and swapped horror stories of parenting gone awry, adding to my list of pitfalls to avoid. We all agreed that if we could just manage to not do the stupid, mean, insensitive, clueless things our parents did to us, we should be in great shape, raising perfect, happy kids, and sailing into the sunset of parental bliss.

Of course, what we didn’t know at that point is that while we may avoid the major mistakes of our parents (and they really did make some lulus), we would counter with our own original blunders. We could not predict in our teens that in our 20’s or 30’s we would be blindsided by moments of incomprehensible thickheadedness which we would stubbornly insist were the result of our progeny’s shortcomings. We would confer with the same friends we consulted a decade before and reach the same conclusions – it’s not our fault.

My daughter, now 27, is constantly editing and revising her own Perfect Parent Plan. She’s been working on it for at least as long as she could speak. I know this because she’s been telling me about it all along. Unlike some children, my beautiful girlchild was never one to suffer in silence. She made sure I knew what I was doing wrong at every turn. One of her favorite pretend games was the one about having been mysteriously separated from her real parents, the good ones, from upstate New York, and adopted by these misfits from Tennessee. On particularly bad days, she would dramatically rock back and forth, her arms folded protectively (almost psychotically) around her, chanting, “My real parents will come…my real parents will come.” Her friends’ parents fell under her scrutiny, too, and it affords me some small comfort that I was, in general, considered by herself to be somewhat less clueless than most....but not enough to brag about.

Nowadays, she’s in a serious relationship and the noises she makes about having children of her own have taken slightly more serious tones. And as I anticipate becoming a grandparent, I am resisting the urge to create a Perfect Grandparent Plan. It’s liberating to realize that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent or grandparent.. My daughter hasn’t come to that conclusion yet, and the entertainment value of the days ahead is promising. It still stings a bit when she tells me, “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother!” but not so much that I can’t smile and bide my time, sure in the knowledge that her children will eventually sting her with their own clever catch phrases. When they do, I’ll have the tea ready, speak a comforting word or two, and try hard not to gloat.


  1. Anonymous4:30 PM

    Gloating is well deserved... just gloat in silence- it'll be our secret!

  2. Anonymous9:37 PM

    Wow... It must've been very hard for you with a daughter like that. I'm sure it will bring you great pleasure to see her Perfect Parent Plan crash and burn when she has her own kids. But then again, maybe you'll get lucky and she'll decide that you were such an awful parent that she just couldn't risk your influence on her sweet little angels, and spare you from ever having to put up with the snot-nosed heathens!
    Ha! A mother can dream, right?


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