I’m a verb parent. Most of us born after 1965 are. We’re not just “parents,” we “parent.” Noun parents remember their years of parenting with nostalgia; they did nothing wrong. Verb parents remember their last hour of parenting and think they did everything wrong. Born of noun parents, who knew nothing of my grades, feelings, dreams, tortures, or bottom-feeder role in the social hierarchy, I did what everyone was doing at the time. I procreated.
In keeping with society’s expectation to “parent,” I breastfed, because cracked, bleeding nipples, droopy boobs, and mastitis were small prices to pay for ensuring my babies got the best of mother nature’s nutrients and antibodies. I lasted eight weeks before turning to a life of crime, choosing the bottle when I could no longer stand the fevers, pain, sleep deprivation, around-the-clock mustard-yellow diaper blowouts, and the strict, 24×7 regiment of a milk cow.
I read a thousand books to each of my three sons before he was five. Technically, it was the same book, Goodnight Moon, a thousand times, but the parenting still counts. I registered my kids for preschool two years before they met the age requirement. And I started making comparisons to other moms, especially the Joneses, around the time my boys were two years old.
To parent meant holding myself to the highest expectations, and that’s when the façade started to crumble. I shopped at Marshall’s, not Baby Gap. I didn’t realize my oldest son was doomed for life if he didn’t come to Kindergarten sporting brand-name clothes and the hottest, most expensive Gameboy, later iPhone, later car. I wasn’t aware five-year-olds could be divided into gifted and not, nor did I know the label stuck with them through college. I definitely didn’t know babies could ace their Apgar tests.
After twenty years of labor, I discovered the truth: I’m a verb parent in an adverb parent world. Adverbs modify verbs. See examples below:
Adverb parents frequently post their children’s accomplishments on Facebook, proof of genetic superiority and excellence in parenting. Adverb parents aren’t just involved, they’re proactive: organizing play dates with the popular first-graders; paying $3,000 annually for their son to play on a Select t-ball team; writing code letters to ensure their offspring are assigned the best elementary school teachers—“James needs a teacher adept in experiential learning, who will leverage his strong math and verbal skills, encourage his leadership capabilities, and challenge him to work effectively in teams when performing complex, heuristic projects.”
Being a verb parent in an adverb parent world placed my kids at a disadvantage. They sat on the bench. They got bullied. They spent a lot of time not knowing the answer. But they also learned to get up after they had fallen. When they hit a brick wall, they figured out a way around it. They continue to act with integrity.
Every parent wants her child to succeed; the difference is in what success looks like. And though I spent two decades doubting myself, I learned the most valuable parenting lesson from the great Stephen King: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”