June's Honest Parents: Rachel A. Walsh and Joshua G. Urquhart
My great parenting strength:
Rachel: I’m not afraid of making the difficult decisions no matter how unpopular/unpleasant.
Josh: Empathy. There’s this idea that kids are completely illogical or irrational. They’re not. They act perfectly logical or rational given their worldview – it’s just that this worldview is often skewed by their developing brains and their general life inexperience. So when one kid has a meltdown because his brother is taking too long with a shared toy, he really is experiencing a traumatic event (to him). I try to parent with this in mind. It’s not to say that you should ignore that behavior or shouldn’t correct it. But you need to do so with the understanding that your kid really is feeling what he’s feeling.
My greatest parenting weakness:
Josh: My freakish ability to zone out and to ignore my kids. When I’m immersed in a book or surfing the web or a game on TV, I just don’t hear them. Literally. I could be wearing noise-canceling headphones.
What have you learned about yourself specifically because you became a parent?
Rachel: After we discovered that our hoped-for-baby #2 was actually babies #2 & 3, our lives drastically changed. We’ve never been able to rely on family assistance since our families live in various parts of the country. I realized that I had a wealth of untapped strength that I needed to use in order to continue to juggle my career with my role as a wife and mother. I discovered that I was really physically tough and tackled the insanely difficult task of growing multiple children – who had a combined birth weight of 13lbs, 6oz. – while caring for an active 3 year old, maintaining a career and a marriage. I also became smarter – not more intelligent – but craftier. To manage this kind of lifestyle requires a resourcefulness and street-smart attitude that I thought I had, but never really had to use it until I became this parent.
Josh: How much I hate poop.
What do you wish someone had told you before you became a parent?
Rachel: How wonderful silence is and to cherish it, because once the kiddos arrive, it disappears…for good.
Josh: How much poop you have to deal with.
How often do you compare yourself to what you think other parents are doing--or what you "should" be doing?
Rachel: I often question what I “should” be doing. As a pre-tenure woman in academia, the question becomes one of why do I have children at all, let alone three? And how in the world could I imagine researching abroad, publishing, dedicating the requisite time to my research, teaching and service needed to further my career? Well, the facts are that I am a working woman in academia who happens to have three small children. I can’t change these. What I can do is work with my particular situation and do the best I can. True balance is rarely attainable. And I’m o.k. with that. Sometimes you need to prioritize and to let one particular aspect of your life take a back-seat to another. So, while I may compare myself with others, I always remember that parenting is not one-size-fits-all. Our style works for us. I doubt it would work for others. Yes, it is hectic, messy and exhausting. But it is also fulfilling, enriching and stimulating.
Josh: Rarely if ever. I guess I leave that to Rachel. Sorry.
Describe your worst moment as a parent.
Josh: I don’t know about worst, but I can tell you the most frightening. When Penny was about three, we were crossing the street to go to a restaurant. We crossed the traffic lanes, so I let her hand go for her to run up on the sidewalk. There was a lane of parallel parked cars, and she ran between an SUV and another car. Right when she was behind it, the SUV started to back up; it clearly couldn’t see her. There was only a foot or two between it and the car behind it. My life – or maybe her life – flashed before my eyes. I started screaming. Fortunately the driver heard me and slammed his brakes, but still. Terrifying.
Is there one thing you give yourself a pass on?
Rachel: I give myself a pass on asking for and allowing myself to be o.k. with relying on help. It may seem simple and cliché, but it took me a good long while to realize that it was not feasibly possible to do it all myself. I don’t feel like less of a mom because we have a “second mother,” our babysitter. I only hope that I can instill in my kids that in addition to individual achievement, being successful requires collaboration, collectivity and the willingness to fully trust in others.
Josh: Our kids could eat healthier. Because of our schedules, it’s frequently a frozen pizza or fish sticks and tots, with some canned beans or corn. I do feel a little guilty about that from time to time. But you know what? They get fed at an appropriate time, and they’re generally pretty healthy.
How has having kid/s affected your sex life?
Rachel: Our particular situation is unique and we fully acknowledge that there are no more children on our horizon. Nope. Never. And we’ve successfully survived the first 3 years with twins. It appears we’re well on our way to beating the shocking divorce rate of parents of multiples. This coupled with the joyous knowledge that diapers are a thing of the past makes me feel liberated and invigorated. Us-time has become a fun priority. Though, we’re still working out the timing and privacy logistics….
Josh: You mean with Rachel? Kidding!
How have you grown as a person since becoming a parent?
Rachel: Physically: well, I am larger and dealing with all that growing big twins does to you….really, stomach muscles don’t grow back together?!? Emotionally: I’m more confident, proud and easy-going. An amazing tip after we discovered Things 1 & 2 – Don’t try to think about more than six months in advance.
Josh: Having a daughter has really made be view a lot of gender- or sex-based social dynamics a lot differently (and hopefully better).
What quality in yourself do you fear is most likely to lead to failure as a parent?
Josh: What is it that Chris Rock said? If you keep your son off the pipe and your daughter off the pole, you’re doing pretty well? In any event, one thing that I’ve come to appreciate, especially as I get older, is how unmotivated I am to do anything when I’m tired. I guess that I’d be worried that this will only get worse with age, and that I’ll miss opportunities to do fun stuff with my kids.
Fill in the blank:
When it comes to parenting, I would rather not admit that I__________
Rachel: I cannot stand mommy playgroups. I’d rather take my kid(s) out for a personalized exploration adventure.
Josh: Sometimes view playing with the kids as a chore.
When it comes to parenting, _________ is overrated.
Rachel: Parenting books. Again parenting is not one-size-fits-all. Don’t take the books seriously. Take the advice that speaks to your particular situation. Leave the rest.
Josh: Children’s TV shows. They’re brain rot. Adults can’t stand them. And kids like them far less than you’d think. At least mine do.
Based on what you see in your child right now, what is your worst fear about him/her as an adult?
Rachel: My biggest fear for all of them is that they will inevitably encounter a mean girl or nasty boy and that this will impact their self-esteem. No matter how much we bolster them, it seems like there is always someone out there ready to tear them down. I can only hope that they’ll come to me for cuddles when that happens.
Josh: I think it’s pretty typical for children to drift away from their parents as they become teenagers and then young adults. Sometimes the kids come back, at least emotionally-speaking; sometimes they don’t. I guess I’m worried that one or more of our kids will fall in the latter category. I’d hate to invest so much time and energy in the kids, only to have them become virtual strangers at the end of it.
What would you have done last year if you didn’t have children?
Rachel: The same things – just differently. Last summer we went to London, Rome, Venice and Torino. If the kids weren’t there, we would have had leisurely dinners lasting hours instead of the circus that ensues when dining out with 3 small kids in a foreign country. We still would have come to Chicago for my fellowship and Josh’s clerkship. My guess is that we would have lived in a different neighborhood, since we wouldn’t need to think about great schools. We would also have slept in a lot more and probably have been less grouchy in general.
How do you think you're doing in comparison to your parents?
Rachel: That’s difficult, right? My parents lived in a completely different historical, geographical and cultural reality. I cannot possibly compare myself to my late-stay-at-home-mother, who raised three children in rural western New York in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80s. What I can say is that the core values she instilled in me at a very early age are the same values that I presently am working on instilling in my children.
What’s your most brutally honest parenting advice?
Rachel: You simply cannot control the small stuff. So often we obsess about controlling everything – from germs to childproofing to acquiring the best stuff for our kids. None of that matters in the long run. Dirt is good. Catching little Susie’s cold from sucking on her germy water bottle is good. But what you can control is working with your kids on becoming good, kind and curious citizens of society.
Would you want to be raised by you?
Josh: No. I’d want my hypothetical parents to be much wealthier than we are.