By Charlene Smith
(author of Nelson Mandela’s official biography)
Becoming a parent alerts you to all sorts of lies, most of all the ones our parents or culture taught us. Being a good parent is about trying to implement new truths.
Soon after my daughter was born I wrote about the Motherhood Myth. I’m not sure what I expected when first I saw her, perhaps a string quartet? Instead there was this tiny little red creature with the longest tongue I’ve ever seen on a person licking the air, exploring her chin and nose. I was intrigued and confused, also very tired, but certainly not in love.
That came three days later when I confessed to a visitor that although all the other babies were “lovely,” Leila was “incredibly beautiful.” When I look at pics now I see that was not true, but maternal love blinds.
However, not every woman has maternal feelings. I respect those women and men who choose not to have children, I believe that every child deserves to be born to someone or a pair who will love them and give them the best possible life they can afford (and here time is worth more than money).
When Leila was about a year old I remember sitting in the living room chatting to my friend Glenn, while his son Lee played with Leila. As the children became rowdier we spoke louder and louder, we made no attempt to curb our children, we adjusted. Afterward I wrote another piece about the Motherhood Myth and this was about the importance of fathers.
Glenn’s wife had no interest in their son, she left Glenn not long after the boy was born, taking the infant with her, but then she’d often go away for the weekend and abandon him in the commune she shared with others. At some stage someone would call Glenn and he’d fetch Lee. Glenn later married someone else, had two more children and was an exemplary father who sadly died young.
The fathers of both my children were A-grade Dreadful Fathers, they never paid maintenance, lied about why they were unreliable about access, forgot birthdays and Christmases’ but although it was clear to my children that I didn’t like their fathers, I encouraged them to have relationships with their dads. My issues were not theirs and even though both fathers actively tried to sabotage me to my children, my view was that I’d brought up these children, given them their values, they knew what was right and wrong, and hopefully had acute BS detectors.
However, what I’ve also learned is that it is hard for children to have a good BS detector with an absent dad – they always want to be loved by him and they will do much to try and create a relationship with him.
In the tricky world of divorce, especially the acrimony that flares at the end of a relationship and is whipped into an active brush fire by lawyers, one can become so consumed by one’s own ego, and, “no, I definitely did not do that” or “I never would have said that” – that we can become imbecilic nitpickers and whiners.
As parents, adulthood is not an option, the minute that sperm collides with the egg and all the Bingo signs light up, we have to grow up.
And growing up means showing up, means never bad-mouthing your ex to your kids, demands that you encourage a relationship with the spouse you once adored and now hate. Being a grown up means that you love your children even when they drive you so crazy you could weep (and sometimes do).
Adult parents are a little like good cops, we protect, we serve, we don’t expect thanks, we do it because it’s the right thing to do and the benefits are fabulous. #