A person’s father or mother.
That’s it. That’s the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary. But it comes with so much more weight doesn’t it? And the weight is contextual with every parent feeling that weight differently. Understandable, but confusing.
Yes. Confusing. In the dozen years I have been reading about what it means to be a parent – as well as wrestling with my own parental identity during this time – I’ve come to find the only place where common ground can be found regarding how a person identifies his or herself as a parent is that he or she is a child’s mother or father. Makes sense. After all that is the definition of what a parent is, but that identity is so much deeper, is it not?
For me, I’m a stay-at-home-father. This, of course comes with either preconceived notions regarding my day-to-day life, or creates more questions than answers. From most professional men who fall into standard, orthodox male identities the response to my saying I’m a stay-at-home-father is typically, “that sounds awesome,” the implication of which is “I wish my life was that easy.” Uh. Yeah. My response has become, “There’s no Shangri-la.”
From many stay-at-home moms, after determining the age of our kids I often receive a handful of rhetorical yet probing questions. “Isn’t it impossible to get your kids to do homework?” “I don’t know how I’d keep track of my kids without ‘Find My iPhone.’” The questions serve a single purpose: to see if I’m a REAL stay-at-home dad, or if I’m one of those stay-at-home dads who stays at home with the kids but still leaves the heavy lifting of child rearing up to the mother. Yup. Those men are out there: not many, but enough.
My answers, however, typically create more questions than answers. Yes, I do the heavy lifting, but, no, I don’t follow the orthodox, prescribed patterns upper middle-class families are supposed to follow to insure their children go to the best colleges and (theoretically) guarantee a comfortable life into early adulthood.
There are many reasons I did not make sure the homework of both of my boys was done in elementary school, middle-school, or even high-school, that I made sure I did not do the work on their take-home-projects regardless of how terribly they turned out, and if there was an activity they wanted to sign up for or pursue it was up to them to let me know if they needed my assistance, but that they had to put the effort in to pursue the activity on their own. Each of these little differences in how I raised the boys requires pages to define, detail, and defend (yes, defend), but through it all I made sure the refrigerator was stocked, rides were available when needed, laundry was always done, and the house was (basically) kept clean. (I must admit I am a total slacker when it comes to cleaning a house.)
Is that wat it means to be a parent? I’m confused because I feel how we identify ourselves as a parent has been comingled with the verb “to parent”, which has become so convoluted that one’s parenting style is an ideological statement regarding the requirements – the right and wrong – for raising a child.
I’m struggling to define what it is to be a parent, but is it possible in 2018 to separate one’s definition of his or herself as a parent from the act of parenting? I don’t know. I know there is what people say about what they feel about parenting and then there’s what people do. Simply search through Facebook or Twitter for references to parenting and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
What I do know is our oldest is about to head off to college, our youngest is only two years behind the oldest, and my current definition of myself as a parent is soon to come to a grinding halt as the actions I take to parent come to a rapid and grinding halt. And then what?