It was a great party. I’m mingling with strangers asking them how they knew the guest of honour. It was easy. All I had to do was be quiet and let them talk.
I was having a very enjoyable time until…
The conversation turned to parenting. Initially it was easy to listen. I’m a parent and the speaker just happened to be the second best looking person in the room.
But then this one person put it to me that only natural parents are the best parents.
I was taken aback. I didn’t really respond. I side stepped and said that all parenting is challenging. Then I side stepped again and changed the subject. Then ended the conversation and spoke to someone else. Thinking back it really wasn’t much of a response at all.
Since then however that idea that only natural parents are the best has recurred. The last time it recurred it was refuted by my children (see Mothers Day is for Everyone). Not by me. Otherwise I’ve tried to ignore it. Until the latest recurrence. Then I got what being a parent really is.
We’re sitting at a table and my friend looks out the window. She sees a child crying and instantly is involved. I look and see that he has just fallen over. His mother quickly picks him up. I look again and his mother has enfolded him in her arms. I said he’ll be comforted in a minute. And he was.
And then a family walks in. Two adults and a small child. They’re meeting friends. The child jumps up and laughs as each adult leans down and gives him a high-five. Again my friend is enjoying herself. As am I. Until…
The conversation turns to parenting.
But it’s different this time. My friend reveals that she had been a step mother. Listening to her story, I sense here is someone who became a parent through circumstance and thoroughly embraced and enjoyed it. Listening to what my friend says encapsulates exactly what I did and how I felt and acted as a parent. Listening to what she says completely challenges the view of the woman I met at the party. I hope they never meet. On second thought they should meet. It would be an interesting conversation.
But the question remains unanswered. Is physically having a child the only prerequisite to being a good parent?
In no way am I denigrating the physical bond between mother and child. I have friends and relatives who have lost children through miscarriage and early death. The pain is absolutely indescribable and always unforgettable. Even as a parent I can offer no empathy just mere sympathy.
But if the woman at the party is right, then there are quite a few groups of people who would be excluded from being a good parent.
The first and most extensive would be men. The ineligibility of men as parents is happily embraced by mainstream advertising : dumb inept father and smart adept mother. That ineptitude is being refuted by the all too rare stories of men who are successful sole parents or stay at home parents. Obviously they neither identify with nor are discouraged by that stereotype.
Then there are foster parents. Whilst working as a trainer for a government department I remember reading a newsletter praising a pair of long-time foster parents. These people had looked after children in all kinds of hardship for over thirty years. Not only were they ineligible but they didn’t retain the children. Yet they were certainly parents and recognised as such.
Next are adoptive parents. I can recall conversing with a woman who was adopting her second children from overseas. To adopt even in this country is a difficult process yet to adopt again from overseas was well-nigh impossible. Even after the first child she still did not know what to expect. But she was going to be a parent though ineligible.
And finally step parents. Much like my friend and my ex-partner and even me, the strong natural bond just doesn’t exist. Consequently, there’s that initial sense of I’m not really a parent. In that place it’s easy to walk away or not get involved. Yet there is a child that needs love and help and that supersedes anything else. And you either embrace it or you don’t.
The next time I see my friend, the conversation again turns to parenting. I tell her the Mothers Day is for Everyone story. She gets it.
And in telling the story I finally get it. The best parents are those who choose freely to be a parent and embrace it wholeheartedly.