While this may come as a surprise to some, I've not been one to have a particularly high self esteem. I rarely feel I am worthy of any sort of praise, nor do I feel particularly intelligent or skilled at anything. I can do enough to get by, and in the few areas that I excel at, I tend to do a little better than people who are starting out. Despite working in education for a decade, I never felt I was a particularly good teacher, and despite writing software for over 20 years, I do not feel I am particularly amazing at it. These are just things I have done and tried to do well, failing hard and often along the way. This is to be expected, though, as I am a human fraught with failings.
Over the last few weeks my son has continued on his quest to learn about himself and the world. He's been able to "say" things like "mama" and "ba-buuu-pfffhhhh". He's learned how to sit up. He's learned that bananas are sweeter than carrots. He's learning how to crawl. Did he learn any of these things from me? I don't think so. Has he learned anything specifically from me? I don't know. It's hard to tell, really, as he's unable to comprehend my questions or construct cromulent answers that consider what was before to what is now. Asking such a question would be unfair, too, as he's just a kid unaware of the underlying question that I am really seeking to find an answer.
Ultimately, I want to know if I'm being the best parent I can be. I want to be part of my child's life, but I don't want to be an ever-present entity that stifles his independence. I want to show him the incredible richness and depth to the plethora of questions people can ask without boring him senseless by delving way deeper into a topic than he wanted to go. Is my attempts to play with him before he understands the concept of play a good thing? Is my insistence that he not play when eating food a bad thing? The boy is almost 9 months old and I've yet to discipline him for anything. Is that a good thing?
When I think about my parents and how they raised me, I ask this question of them. Did I have good parents? I think so. They did the best they could with the resources at hand. They sacrificed their own goals to raise my sisters and I. They struggled in silence when trying to pay all the bills on time while also providing all the necessities that kids take for granted. There is always food in the cupboard, clean clothes in the dresser, and electricity for the TV … right?
Even today when I think about my parents, I think they are considering what's best for me while I live on the other side of the planet from them. There are occasional calls and emails, but nothing too excessive. There is no forced expectation that I circumnavigate the globe to attend an event, nor is there even a strongly worded message saying that I should do more to keep in touch with my scores of cousins, dozens of nephews and nieces, or handful of siblings. The distance I feel from the family I grew up with is just right.
Will I be able to provide this same level of comfort to my son and any potential siblings? Will I be able to give him what he needs without becoming a nuisance or appearing disconnected?
A lot of these questions are born from the Demons of Self-Doubt who whisper endlessly in my ear about how useless and stupid I am when compared to the whole of humanity, as if one person could be "better" than 7-billion others and still appear well-rounded and normal. Yet they're hard to ignore. I would like to be a "good" parent. One who gives their kids freedom to make safe mistakes to learn from, while also being a source of encouragement and knowledge. I'd like to teach my kids the crucial skill of critical thinking in the hopes that they use it to navigate the minefield of bullshit that is adult life. I'd like to give my kids the confidence I have not had since I was 19 an innocent of the evils that drive men to do what they do.
But can I do these things? It took me decades to learn who I really am. How long will it take to learn about any new people who share parts of my DNA?
These are undoubtedly questions that many parents ask themselves.