parenting

[OPINION] Today, I stop worrying about being a bad parent

Liberty Notarte-Balanquit
[OPINION] Today, I stop worrying about being a bad parent

Illustration by Guia Abogado

'[L]et's teach [our kids] how to talk about how they feel and think; let's make them feel comfortable about starting a conversation with us — even if it is difficult.'

There’s not a single day, in the past eight years, that I didn’t think of how bad I am as a parent.

I learn about parenting the hard way, because I have to learn with my children being on the receiving end of trial-and-error, too much attention, too few words, “mad” non-verbals, coldness, a bad temper, and vulnerabilities that are too visible.

Some days I find it hard to forgive myself. Bulan once caught me reading an article on good parenting and then and there told me that I didn’t need to learn more because, “You’re already a good mom that yells sometimes.”

I used to be frustrated when I see other moms so calmly building a Montessori-inspired corner in their home, or making a healthy meal plan, or organizing a series of skills training for their young ones. Why can’t I do that, I’d asked myself a million times.

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Eventually, I had to unlearn things. My family’s routines are not in books and articles or in family vlogs, and yet we get by.

Here’s the routine now: I get up, feed the kids, work, talk to the kids, be silly with them (if I still have the energy), sleep, repeat. Do the kids paint and draw? Only if they want to. Do they read books? Only if they want to. Do they play with each other? Only if they want to. Do they eat their greens? Until they say they can’t finish them all. My children listen to me, but it’s not always without questions.

I wonder if I could be damaging them for giving them too much freedom.

I now see Bulan developing an interest in drawing — practicing it, looking for materials, asking if she could have the materials she needs for her new hobby. At eight years old, she is now capable of creating her own routine, and what a relief to realize that I didn’t have to force it.

Today I must stop wondering if this is enough.

As for me and Bulan, there’s a routine that I hadn’t noticed we were able to consistently do since she started talking — the bedtime routine. I’m not talking about bath time, playtime, brushing time, and the typical steps to sending a child to bed. I am talking about conversations that are naturally prompted by Bulan’s reflections on our day.

Once my feet are tucked under her slender feet, she would comment on what a day it has been. Sometimes she would say, “Hindi tayo nag-away today. That’s good.” Sometimes she would say, “Nagalit ka sa akin kanina.” Sometimes she just says, “Sorry. I hope tomorrow is a good day.” And by “good” she means a day without us fighting. In these moments the structured daily routines that I design for them become irrelevant.

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My child doesn’t always remember the routines, or how fun the activities were, or how great her outputs were. But she definitely remembers how I’ve been the entire day. And her criticisms always point to my temper.

If there’s anything that we should be teaching our children at a very young age, it’s not the routines or the skills that we all think could lead to their success. Before anything else, let’s teach them how to talk about how they feel and think; let’s make them feel comfortable about starting a conversation with us — even if it is difficult.

The conversations that I have with my Bulan are so far the best way through which I can process my behavior as a mother. It taught me to be aware of my responses to their needs or tantrums. Bulan has acquired what I would call polite rhetoric, in which she is able to tell me what I did wrong without being rude. She would start her criticism with, “I don’t mean to offend you but…” or “Huwag ka sanang magalit pero…” and these phrases cushion the blow. These phrases help me deal with my temper better. They help me respond better.

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I always feared that Bulan would be emotionally distant when she grows up. But now that I am seeing how she deals with my parenting mistakes, I feel so lucky to have a little girl who can talk about her hurt — especially the ones that I cause. I’m thankful that she is brave enough to complain and to ask questions, to politely say “I’m sad,” “I’m still mad,” and “Sometimes, I’m afraid of you.” It’s these difficult conversations I need to get close enough to so that I can no longer dismiss the guilt. At this moment, when there’s nothing else to do but listen, I am calm enough to be the mother that I always wanted to be. – Rappler.com

Liberty Notarte-Balanquit has been a member of the Department of Humanities, UP Los Baños since 2011. Part of her meditation is writing personal essays and poetry about motherhood and the fear that comes with it.

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