Honestly, I'm just now getting to the point where I don't immediately disregard any book or article with the word "parenting" in the title. Writing on parenting has always failed me and in reading it, I have felt like a failure.
In fact, one of the first hard things I remember saying out loud to someone after Collin was born was when I admitted to my friend Sarah that I didn't even feel like a parent. I felt like a caretaker. It was early in this journey. There was very little of the cooing and playing and baby wearing I had imagined. It was mostly g-tube feeds and managing meds and timing seizures and putting out lots and lots of proverbial fires. I loved Collin deeply and tended him fiercely, but many, many times I asked myself: Am I a parent?
What makes a parent? Certainly not simply bringing a child into the world. Some people have children biologically without parenting them and others beautifully parent children who have come into their lives via some other path.
Is parenting making sure a child's needs are met? That they are safe and clothed and fed? Yes, but that is an incomplete picture. It leaves out the mental, emotional, and spiritual component. To be a parent is more than just a logistical endeavor.
So maybe parenting is the rearing of a child. My pal Webster says that to rear a child is to bring to him or her to maturity or self-sufficiency, usually through nurturing care. This is getting closer to the heart of the matter, but what does it mean when the child you're parenting can't communicate with you? When he faces challenges not touched on in any parenting book? How do you parent a child whose childhood looks unlike anything you're familiar with and for whom self-sufficiency isn't a possibility, much less a goal?
As in so many recent cases, the answer that resonated with me came from Shauna Niequist. In "Alameda", an essay from the lovely Bittersweet, Shauna writes:
A large part of parenting comes down to observing your actual little person, and shuffling through acres of advice to select the piece that meets your little one's need just perfectly. It all comes down to close observation, willingness to take advice, ability to try something new when all the old things have stopped working.
I gasped when I read that passage. I reread it to make sure I hadn't imagined it. That's me, I dared to whisper in my head. I do that. She wasn't writing about disability or rare disease. She was just writing about plain old parenting and it fully applied to me. It was a revelation.
I am a parent. I am parenting a son. And in honor of that truth, I plan to take Bluegrass Redhead's Science of Parenting series and think through how it applies to me. How it applies to all of us for whom the parenting experience has been a tangle of medical, developmental, and existential questions. Stay tuned.