My prayer for the world…

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“Tobias” by Christopher Matthias

My child is almost three years old. They are typical in their development. They are 38 inches tall and close to 40 lbs. They love trains and cars and really big machines that are “too loud.” (Their words, not mine) They love books and will ask for my partner and I to read the same stories over and over until they can finish sentences with us. They love TV and electronics. They love running in circles and jumping in puddles and giving hugs. They love the color purple. If I were asked to describe them in a phrase, I would say that “they love.”

They are concerned about children who are crying. They (sometimes) share their candy, even without being asked. They say “I’m sorry” when they accidentally do something wrong. They are getting better at saying “please” when they want something. They call people “friends.” They are beginning to describe their emotions; and they like to play with words, wrestle, and make silly games of hide and go seek. If I were to describe how they exist in the world, I would say, “They are compassionate.”

Which is why I am so afraid that I, and this world, will break them. Being human, I can be moody, frustrated and selfish. I have inherited systems of racism, misogyny and toxic masculinity. If therapy has taught me anything it is that the unexamined life is filled with a happy ignorance, but the price paid is usually in the pain and suffering of others. I have a choice, be aware of my brokenness so I can mitigate its transmission to my child, or leave him at the mercy of society and media.

When I see my news feed filled with people who hate; who are greedy; who assault; who are the worst parts of humanity, and then see them elected into positions of authority, my instincts tell me to shelter my child to the best of my ability. And my heart breaks knowing that there is nothing I can do to stop their being broken, little by little, as they get older. Which is why my partner and I have made the decision not hide things from our child; but to try and hold everything in their life in context. There is an art to being “age appropriate” and we want to err on the side of transparency. Topics like “sex” and “god” are not off limits (regardless of our own hangups on the subjects). Feelings are encouraged, not stuffed away. There are no off limits toys, colors, or clothing as long as they are enjoyed in playful and loving ways. The only things in our house that are not tolerated without being challenged are “hate” and “supremacy” and “ignorance.”

My example to my child will not be “how to be a strong man” but “how to be a better human.” That to have power and privilege means being a servant leader. That to live simply and with happiness means giving a damn about others and not just themselves. That what matters isn’t the color of skin but the content of character. That listening is better than talking. That the greatest rule is to treat others as they would like to be treated. That if they are not part of the solution they are part of the problem.

I refuse to let the systems that have come before me break my child. They will know the definitions of evil by example: prejudice and bigotry, selfishness and narcissism. And they will know the definitions of good; love and compassion, vulnerability and empathy. If parents cannot help but put our hopes and dreams into our children, at least I can hope for peace and dream of a better future. In this way, my child is my prayer for the world made incarnate. I hope it is a joy for them and not a burden.

Sometimes I fail at being a parent, and that’s ok.

Tobias has officially put himself to sleep. Radio Paradise is playing in the background. The living room is dim with filtered light from the window shades. I think I can squeeze a blog post out before he wakes up. Let the contest begin!

Tobias is a little more than seven months old. In that time, Heather and I have received a tremendous amount of support from friends and family. Our friend Meghan organized a meal train when he was born, which for a few weeks unloaded the burden of trying to figure out what to eat. I think it was more for our own safety. In our sleep deprived states we shouldn’t have been handling sharp objects or cooking appliances anyways.

Both Heather and my parents visited. They gave us some time to go out by ourselves and remember what it was like to be adults. I knew newborns were a lot of work. I didn’t understand just how immensely time consuming they are. I admit that I was incredibly naïve as a new dad; of course a baby eats spacetime for breakfast. They’re like little black holes which consume all the chores and intentions within their event horizon, which I figure is around 50 meters or so.

We joined a PEPs (Program for Early Parent Support) group. Eight couples within our general neighborhood all with babies around the same age came together to reassure ourselves that we are NOT going crazy. I highly recommend this program for all new parents. It was crucial for me to connect with other people going through a similar immense life transition. We were able to share advise, tip, tricks, or just be able to vent our frustrations.

The most important rule was no judging. There are a lot of resources out there for new parents. Support groups, meetups, internet forums; you name it. However, I found that these resources come with hazard signs. Warning: Judgement Ahead! It makes sense that people become incredibly invested in their parenting styles. It’s hard to admit doing something wrong when it comes to my own child. Because if I do something wrong, then I’m a horrible parent, right?

However, Heather and I have noticed that even with all the immense research, resources and advice available, much of it is contradictory and only applies to what “may” work, not what “will” work. My limited observations lead me to believe that like people, babies are complex individuals. Yet people dishing out advice seem to think that their own baby and parenting style is the end all be all of what a parent “should” and “shouldn’t” do.

Our baby has tongue tie. We “should” get it fixed. (we didn’t and Toby is fine) You shouldn’t be using that carrier, you’ll ruin his legs and pelvis. (Toby’s legs and pelvis are fine) You should be feeding your baby “only” breast milk; if not then you’re a horrible parent. (we do feed Toby only breast milk, but know other people who don’t and their babies are happy and healthy) The list goes on and on. It seems that parents are sometimes the most horrible judge, jury and executioners of other parents. My opinion is it’s because we somehow believe that if we’re making “different” choices, then we’re making “wrong” choices.

I’m not saying that with babies, anything goes. Obviously there are many things a parent shouldn’t do. But it seems to me that parents deserve more compassion than judgement, more “You’re doing awesome” rather than “I know what you should do.” I know I make mistakes and bad decisions every day. Heck, before writing this blog I plopped Toby in front of the TV with a bottle and Sesame Street so I could take a quick 10 minute shower, get dressed and finish my coffee. But I did this only after we played for 2 hours and he was getting hungry and fussy. It’s all about balance and survival.

Now he is fast asleep. And he is a happy, healthy, loved little boy. Despite my mistakes. As horrible as parents can be to each other, my little boy seems to be the most capable of forgiveness. When he smiles and babbles at me, I pretend he’s saying “I know you’re doing the best you can dad. I love you.” I know I need this much more than “If you keep doing that you’re going to ruin your child.” Let’s all try to be cool to one another. We’re all in this together and we need as much support from friends, family and other parents as we can get. One thing I’ve learned is that it really does take a village because sometimes I fail at being a parent. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.