I am not a parent, unless you count the werewolf, which I don’t. Only because I’ve been told that real children require more from one than the capricious impulse to put hats on them and take their picture.
I’ll probably never become a parent. It’s not that I don’t like children, although technically I don’t. Only because I would never claim to love any whole group, not even animals, because f*ck snakes and bats and mosquitos. In fact, I think the blanket statement “I love children” is more indicative of a speaker’s lack of careful discernment than actual capacity for love.
I like to tell people my focus on semantics is part of my charm. Likely, it’s another reason not to have kids. (“No, little Bobby, I won’t take you to the bathroom until you ask using the definite article.”) Still, regardless of whether I personally choose to reproduce, I’m no longer twenty (despite what I claim when I answer Craigslist ads), which means the majority of my friends have kids.
People complain about parents plastering their SUVs with Honor Student stickers, losing interest in any topic of conversation that doesn’t involve food allergies or pre-school applications, flooding their friends’ Facebook feeds with pictures of Baby’s first Market Extension Merger or whatever.
My friends are guilty of none of this. Rather, each has, at some point, expressed a conviction that her struggles result from personal shortcomings, that every other parent can handle what she can’t, that because she harbors regrets or isn’t always fulfilled, she’s not a good parent. But the truth is that parenting is an endless, sometimes thankless and often exhausting struggle to balance needs and logistics, finances and emotions-- or so I observe. God-willing, I’ll never share these particular struggles. I have enough trouble finding my teeth to brush them each morning. If I had to deal with some small, inarticulate person’s sudden need to tie her own shoes as expressed by punching the dog, I’d probably never get out of bed.
But here’s some small thing I can offer: The Honest Parent Series.
Each month the Our Town Blog will highlight one Chicago parent’s thoughts on the highs and lows of child-rearing. It’s my hope to contribute to a community of less self-critical, more well, honest parents who aren’t afraid to own their parenting-styles, imperfections and all. Most participants have agreed to speak publicly, though some prefer anonymity (perhaps fearing the ire of their vicious mommy blogger peers). I’m doing my best to create a representative hodgepodge; gay, straight, single parents, “traditional” families, minority voices, stout white guys with more money than God, and maybe even a werewolf or two.
January's Honest Parent: Mandi Hinkley
Fill in the blank:
My great parenting strength: is being conscious about parenting decisions and perspectives. I try to think about things like "the kind of parent I want to be" and the values I want to instill in my kids when I respond to the everyday issues that arise.
My greatest parenting weakness: is the flip side of my strength--being too much in my head and not appreciating some of the moments as they pass.
When it comes to parenting, I would rather not admit: that I see the TV as a magical babysitter when I am exhausted.
When it comes to parenting, _________is overrated. Reading parenting books. I've read a few that I've really liked, but a lot of them are preachy, judgmental, and/or seemingly designed to make you feel like you are not doing enough.
What have you learned about yourself specifically because you became a parent?
That being a parent doesn't change the person I am. It provides new circumstances that challenge me and help me grow, but I don't feel different from the person I was before (even though the circumstances of my life are often very different).
What do you wish someone had told you before you became a parent?
To remember that child development is ongoing. In just the first three years of our twin daughters' lives, my partner, Chai, and I have gotten to different points in which we feel like we have a handle on things. And then almost instantly, something shifts--the bedtime routine that had been working so well falls apart, the right mix of nurturing and discipline suddenly has no effect, and so on. It's dawned on me just recently that I have to remember that their development will constantly shift and both to anticipate that and also not be totally dumbfounded when things that made sense no longer do.
Describe your worst moment as a parent.
My real "worst" moment is not very specific: one of those times when my reaction was based in my own frustration or preoccupation rather than the facts and needs of the moment. More tangibly, I had an unimpressive moment in the first few months of the girls' lives. Because the sleep cycles of our twins were not in sync, at least one person in our house was up 24 hours a day for most of the first half of 2010. Chai and I switched back and forth between assigning ourselves a child per night, trading off wake-ups regardless of the child, and taking 4-hour solo shifts. During one of the solo shifts, I had a baby in each arm, both wailing for somewhere around a half-hour. I didn't want to wake up Chai because she was exhausted and had the added requirement of pumping milk every few hours. But nothing I could think to do was working, and I was losing it. There was something about the pierce of those unconsolable cries that was more than my sleep-deprived self could handle. Instead of asking her for help, I sat down in our living room chair, still with the girls in each arm, and just screamed. I felt better after. And also scared the shit out of Chai. Sorry, babe.
How often do you compare yourself to what you think other parents are doing--or what you "should" be doing?
Regularly. It's not as much about what other people are or aren’t doing, but more what I expect of myself -- deep patience, actions consistently based in kindness and love, wisdom through challenging times -- in short, not being impacted by sleep deprivation, non-child-related stress, personal imperfections and struggles, or any other element inherent to being human.
Is there one thing you give yourself a pass on?
If I feel like I handled a situation poorly but really was trying my best at the time, I can live with the consequences (and hopefully handle the situation better the next time). I'm working on giving myself a break if I know I was trying my best to respond well.
How many hours out of each day do you feel like you’re being a good parent?
Sometimes all day, sometimes none, sometimes anywhere in between. Feeling like a good parent seems to take the same course as feeling like a good person--it has a lot to do with whether I feel centered, how hard I'm being on myself. The older I get, the better I feel about myself, but I am very much a work in progress, as a person and a parent.
How has having kid/s affected your sex life?
Our sex life is still good and fun and constantly evolving, but it's definitely a matter of making it a priority in a way that it wasn't when we were less busy and generally less tired. If we didn't see it as an important part of our relationship and ourselves, we probably would have sex rarely if ever.
How have you grown as a person since becoming a parent?
In every way imaginable. While I don't see becoming a parent as inherently changing the person I am, it absolutely has pushed me to grow. There are tangible ways--like learning how to be insanely more efficient with my time and energy--and less tangible ways--like taking more seriously that what I model in my life directly impacts the development of two little people. They deserve a parent who pushes herself outside of her comfort zone and believes that her life is meant for great things.
Do you really feel like you are doing the best you can? Could you do better? How? What keeps you from doing better?
I actually do feel that I'm doing the best I can--with the understanding that I can do better and should try to. The thing about parenting--and I think some people would probably disagree with me--is that it doesn't change who you are. It adds perspective and depth, no doubt, and it is a beautiful life experience that I wouldn't trade, but we will continue to struggle as we did before we had kids--we will be prevented from doing our very best as parents for many, if not all, of the same reasons we are prevented from doing our very best as people--fears, baggage, circumstances that keep us from going where we want to go (whether real or imagined), etc. That continues for me as a parent, and I continue every day to try to improve as a parent in the same way I try to improve as a person. The effort is flawed but sincere.
If you could do it over again what would you do differently?
It is kind of insane, but I can't think of anything. (I assume I would if I spent more time pondering the question.) I think that bleeds into some of the other questions; I've tried my best so I don’t have any regrets. Feel free to track me down when my kids are older than three years old for an update.
Based on what you see in your child right now, what is your worst fear about him/her as an adult?
Fear is too strong a word, but as much as humanly possible, I want to teach my daughters how to feel comfortable and confident in their own skin. They are unique and vibrant and beautiful, and I don't want them to [think] they are supposed to conform and become something different than they are.
What would you have done last year if you didn’t have children?
What’s your most brutally honest parenting advice?
This advice was given to me and I’ve considered it often: You can only have one #1 in your life--that can be your family, your career, your extracurricular activities, etc.--but you can only have one. All things that are not #1 will suffer for not being your #1. Admit to yourself what is your #1 and acknowledge the cause-and-effect realities that are inherent to your choice. Any delusion of having more than one #1 will have its own effects.
Would you want to be raised by you?
All things considered, yes, because I think (hope) I would feel comfortable to be who I am and would feel loved no matter what.
Mandi practices law in Chicago where she lives with her partner, Chai and their twin daughters.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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