The past two weeks, I have been reflecting a lot on the balance between my needs and those of my children. It’s an uncomfortable topic. I know, intuitively, what I need, but I find I often overwrite or question those instincts–and that “overwriting” is not always a negative thing, which presents complications. Like, I’m all for self-care, but sometimes my children really do need me more than I need to, say, get sleep. You know? It’s an impossible calculus.
This is where process-oriented thinking can prove deeply helpful. I don’t necessarily reach for this frame of mind organically; I usually have to remind myself to exercise it. I’m highly process-driven in my approach to writing, and so I try to consciously apply similar waves of thought to parenting, both in terms of broad caregiving arrangements, and in the fine-tipped ways I approach the nurture of our children:
This is not the last stage, or the final draft, or the only way this particular phase of parenting can work.
I can change.
I can do something different tomorrow.
I can adjust the dials.
This arrangement feels good right now; let’s go with it.
What works now might not be sustainable, or might not work tomorrow.
The best thing I can do is show up with good intentions and try again.
Nothing is set in stone.
I had drafted this jot list of imperatives in my notebook last week while reflecting on what it meant to think of parenting “as a process, not a place or condition.” I then paused and drove down Massachusetts Avenue to attend an ekphrastic writing workshop at The Phillips Collection. Because I had stopped mid-thought-stream, I found myself particularly sponge-like, susceptible, and so as I was taking down notes on ekphrastic poetry, I found myself translating the conversation into parenting terms. One of the other workshop participants commented that, as an illustrator (there were artists representing a range of different mediums in attendance), he constantly faces “the problem of perfection.” He wondered whether there was a parallel in the realm of poetry-writing, which seemed to him much more forgiving and fungible than his chosen medium. He noted: “If I don’t make the line straight enough, it’s visibly obvious, and so I erase it, and draw it straighter. But does that even happen in writing?” I intuitively knew what he meant: there is bad poetry, but it is much more difficult to objectively say a word or a line break in a poem “works” or “does not work” without the invocation of subjectivity. In illustration, if a line looks bent or broken and the rest of the image is strongly representational, the “error” jumps out at you. But I think that nuance is what makes writing, and parenting, so richly complex, and peculiarly fraught. In them, we navigate murky areas with no bright line rules all the time. A lot of our writings and re-writings are intuition-driven: we have a sense that we did not choose the right word, or land on the right arrangement, and so we make changes. But there is no obvious error mark.
The instructor had something fascinating to say in response. He said: “Art isn’t perfection. It’s striking while the iron is hot.”
I would have put it differently, but I dock at a nearby pier: art is process. It is imperfect drafts, it is language in motion, it is sparks and fluidity, it is “middlework.” It is by nature unfinished and undulating.
I envision something similar when it comes to parenting. It is a lot of fiddling around with the dials. It is listening and stepping back and trying something different, and listening again, and trying again. I rarely feel I have the full picture. Sometimes, I find myself in a good groove, “shucking and jiving,” as Mr. Magpie calls it. Other times, I’m completely at a loss for where to go next, or I’m repainting the same corner over and over again, trying different things.
If the analogy feels heavy-handed, I apologize. But I think the provocation that parenthood can be a process is a powerful one. It affords us grace, and new opportunities, and a growth mindset–and I so badly need those as a mother.
What do you want your process to look like?
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+Madewell makes the best denim overalls. Into this flared pair!
+Love these striped crib sheets. My son still sleeps in a toddler bed and I might have to snag him the blue and white!
+A chic white pleated trouser.
+One of my favorite fitness tops – I need it in that new stripe option!
+These striped lounge chairs would be so cute in a play room. (Under $200!)
+This jump rope would be such a cute gift for a little one.
+Chic wine caddy. Also, one of my girlfriends had me over recently and kept the white wine in one of these bottle chillers and it really, really worked. She could just sort of leave it out for us to serve ourselves and it was crisp and cold for hours.
+These $20 rain boots come in GREAT colors. Mini has owned a few pairs!
+Drawn to this strappy tank. It’s giving Gwyneth?
+These Birkenstock-like raffia slides are only $20!
+Darling book caddy for a little one.