Thursday, January 16, 2014

Perfect Parents Bum Me Out


The other day, a friend and fellow mother shared an article that was written by a father of a dozen adult children, outlining how he raised fully-adjusted, well-mannered, college-educated, successful kids, and that not paying their college tuitions (even though he could have) was just one indicator of his parenting prowess.

She was frustrated after reading it, because the author’s list of parenting tactics seemed impossible for a mother at home raising two young boys while her husband worked long hours, sometimes out of town.  Are their children destined to a squandered future filled with social woes and overlooked opportunities because she doesn’t hold them to the same standards as this Super Dad?  Does she have a pair of potential criminals on her hands because they are mischievous spilling machines who show no promise of ceasing to make messes on the kitchen floor?  Is she a failure because she can’t get two children to eat the same foods, let alone twelve children?

After reading the article, part of me agreed with the author about certain things that make for ease of life with kids (sharing chores and limiting snacks, for instance), but a larger part of me was irritated with the preachy way this father presented how he (and his oft-pregnant wife) managed to produce such fine, upstanding citizens of the world.

photo courtesy of stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net

And instead of driving me to adopt his pragmatic parenting advice to avoid having to pay my own children’s college tuition, this blustery oratory on parenting perfectionism made me feel completely marginalized.  I felt as if he was implying that any efforts that fall short of his list of parental responsibilities will inevitably lead to failed parenting.

And then I got a little indignant.

We already have the Mommy Wars, where Working Mothers and At Home Mothers are at each other’s throats, both vying for the title of World’s Best Parent.  This battle has only served to separate us into identifiable and competitive groups, instead of supporting each other in the hardest job that anyone will ever bear.

Now we have a new player: Super Dad, aka Privileged Grandfather.  He chimes in from his lofty perch on the far side of child-rearing, waving at moms in the trenches covered in diaper cream, smashed peas, and Goldfish crumbs, no matter if they’re dressed in yoga pants or business casual. He waxes nostalgic about his own parenting past that is blurred in all the right places.  He lectures us about the good old days when he and his wife managed the children according to rules they came up with together, and he tells us that this is the key to raising perfect children.  I will just briefly add his admission of holding a “prosperous job” while his wife presumably stayed home.

I realize in that a large family, rules and regulations are needed to avoid chaos.  If it’s important in our family of four that everyone clean up their own mess, how much more important should it be in a houseful of 14?  If it takes me half a day to do all the laundry that my family creates in a week, how much longer would it take one person to tackle washing clothes for fourteen?  A large family needs to share the load, so to speak.  In our measly family, constant adherence to the rules is unnecessary to get the job done.  Sometimes my son leaves a dirty shirt on the floor of his room, and I put it in the hamper for him.



In a large family, certain things aren’t realistic.  If my husband and I struggle to save money in order to help our two children with college, how much more difficult would it be to save for ten more kids at any level of prosperity?  Similarly, if one of twelve children grows out of his shoes, not all twelve children should get a new pair of shoes.  In our family the situation is different.  I don’t think it means that I’m producing spoiled brats just because once in a while my children get a pair of shoes that they don’t need.

Should parents be disciplined and have patience in teaching their children basic life skills?  Sure.  It only takes me four hours to clean my house from top to bottom.  Believe me: I have the time.  But if I do it myself every week, how do my children get a chance to learn how to clean, or even that it needs to be done?  They don’t.  So we all share the task.  I think Super Dad would agree with me.  But I will mention that our shared chore time is not without arguments, and whining about who does what, and occasionally, tears.  And sometimes, cleaning just isn’t worth the emotions, and the chores are forgotten.  We’re not perfect, but we try.  I get the feeling that Super Dad would never admit that his children executed tasks with anything but perfect agreeableness, nor would he admit that he might have been inconsistent with rules or discipline once or twice.

Not much cleaning got done that day.

He forgot to mention that it takes several attempts to enforce rules in a household; his blithe mention that “boys and girls had to learn to sew” fails to specify that he or his wife probably spent hours teaching again and again the mechanics of sewing on buttons.   He fails to acknowledge that children don’t learn by being told, nor by seeing or doing something once.  It probably took several frustrating confrontations before the kids caught on that they had to do it themselves.  Then again, maybe his kids were perfect from the womb and were born with a natural tendency to thread a needle. But probably not.

To be fair, Super Dad never said “Everyone should parent like I did to produce perfect kids.”  At no point did he profess to be perfect, or all-knowing, or even great.  He merely presented how he did things.  But his declarations filled in the blanks, the empty spots where today’s mothers already feel lacking.  This article added to the guilt mothers already feel about not giving our kids every single benefit we can.  It makes us feel bad about our worth in a world where our worth is already under attack.

I hate that this kind of article makes mothers question our own qualifications, and forces us to compare ourselves against unattainable goals.  Parenting is hard enough without being faced with all the things I’m not doing for my children’s future well-being.  This article demoralizes parents who deal with food allergies, developmental delays, learning challenges, sensory issues, and a myriad of other things that we face today, things that weren’t common when Super Dad was in charge.

Raising flawed kids has tested my mettle, given me patience, and grown me in places I never thought I’d needed to grow.  It has humbled me like nothing else ever could.  Never again will I feel as if I am Master of the Universe after dealing with a strong-willed child who uses arguing as a preferred mode of communication or one who is firmly against eating fruit of any kind.  Raising flawed kids as a flawed parent has tested and stretched me in ways that I don’t think I would have been stretched if I had just drawn up a set of rules to enforce upon an army of offspring.  I have learned that father (and often mother) doesn’t always know best, and my children, individuals that are so like us and so unlike us in all the ways you can think, have taught me that.



My children will not be gifted a junkyard car and a how-to manual so that they learn how an engine works and to feel the accomplishment of building their own vehicle.  I will not be asking teachers to put my children into advanced placement classes in which they did not earn a spot on their own.  They will not be taken camping in order to be taught how to survive in the wild, and we did not send them across oceans to visit relatives when they were five years old. 

My children will be given room to grow, and mess up, and they will see me do the same.  They will learn how to apologize by example, and that everyone fights and is lazy once in a while.  They will learn how it feels to fail a test and deal with inconsistency.  They will learn that not everyone is meant to play sports, and that we can appreciate each other’s differences, and that you can live a rich life without being wealthy. 

They will most likely reach adulthood in an imperfect state, full of questions about things they did not learn at home.  I am not a perfect parent.  They are not perfect kids.  The truth is I’d rather have my two imperfect kids any day than Super Dad’s twelve perfect ones.  I’m sure he feels the same way.

And I’m okay with that.




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This post is a reaction to the following article.

44 comments:

  1. Oh my god Andrea, I want to hug you so hard. So very hard. For articulating all my feelings about this article that I couldn't quite voice myself. For acknowledging that each and every one of us are trying hard. For pointing out that it's okay to be imperfect.

    Now, I know you didn't write this for me specifically, but I want you to know that you spoke from my heart (if that makes any sense). So, thank you for understanding me, and all the other so very imperfect parents.

    (and for the shout outs!)

    Now, I need EVERY SINGLE PERSON to read this.

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    1. Thanks Alison. And thank you for bringing this article to my attention. Parents walk a fine line between terrific and terrible, and articles like this one only serve to narrow the line further. It is okay to be okay, and to try hard and fail once in a while.

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  2. Oh Andrea, this is so thoughtful and IMPORTANT!

    Sometimes articles like these roll off my back, sometimes I take them in and learn, and sometimes they annoy me. Most of the time it has to do with how I'm feeling and doing.

    And you're so spot on -- we are all trying hard and giving our best and *that's* what we need to notice and point out in each other.

    (Like your humor? I love the way you use that to connect with your kids. I think it adds a level of friendship and fun that are so golden -- especially as they get older. I admire this in you so very much!)

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    1. Thank you Galit! I really appreciate your feedback and acknowledging that we are trying hard, no matter what it looks like.

      I hope that my children take the best parts of what I am trying to give them, and that they still are able to flourish while living under my roof. I like to think that I am providing a home for them, not a training field.

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  3. Yesterday, at my 5 year old's gymnastics class, the other moms were talking about a mom-of-four with a pristine house. "There's a trampoline and closets with chalkboard paint upstairs. Her house looks like it's right out of Pottery Barn & she made it all herself!"

    I sank a little lower while I wrangled my two in the bleachers and watched my third on the gym floor. My house is a disaster, my kids are surely understimulated (as we speak the 2 year old is watching Daniel Tiger on the ipad while Franny's Feet plays on the TV, but she got up at 5, I need a break!), my housekeeping skills are pathetic to say the least, and I rarely go anywhere without first being splashed with Eau de Spit-up.

    It is very hard to feel competent in a pintrest world. Not only are we comparing ourselves at playdates & extracurriculars, but online as well. It's exhausting. I find comfort in posts like these. The posts that tell me we are all in this together. We are all just doing our best and really, that's enough. I really needed to read this today. Thank you.

    (I'm going to get more coffee)

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    1. I have never been interested in a Pinterest-worthy lifestyle. My home isn't pristine nor filled with stimulating activities. But we laugh and yell and enjoy life instead of comparing ourselves to lofty ideals. I often think that if you love your kids and take care of their basic needs, you're a good parent. If you start out at the top, where else is there to go?

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  4. This is the first that I have heard of this man's article. I went back and read it and then came and read yours again. As Alison said, you responded exactly the way I would have wanted to.
    I would like to read his wife's perspective on all of this (particularly about being pregnant or with a new baby and all the little kids in a tent in the woods for several days). Or his kids' perspectives. Maybe they would read the same. Maybe not.
    In the end, I suppose all that matters is that, just like him, I'm happy with my kids and the way they've turned out thus far. It sounds like you are, too. (And we didn't even have to buy a dozen junkyard cars to get there. I'm sorry. Did that sound cynical?)

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    1. I thought about the camping trip, too. What fun for the mom, stuck in the wilderness with a bunch of babies. I'm not a camper, and neither is my husband. Sometimes we joke that our kids really got the short end of the stick with us - we're just not outdoorsy people.

      But you're right - obviously all turned out fine for this family. They are all cut from the same cloth, after all. And you know what else? I'm not sorry that I'm not.

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  5. That article pissed me off! SO sanctimonious...and in honesty, I know that my reaction came from a place of defensiveness, since I couldn't pull that off with three kids, never mind 12. Did you see the part where it said that his wife was either pregnant or had just had a baby for FIFTEEN YEARS?? Dear God. I agree with Shannon..I want to see his wife's perspective on this. Especially since she was likely the one actually, you know, HOME with the 12 kids while he went to work all day. Crud, there I go, being defensive again. He had some good points about self-reliance and learning life skills and cooperating, but I have a hard time believing that things went quite as smoothly as portrayed. Also curious how the older kids felt about being surrogate parents to the younger ones.

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    1. I don't disagree with the good things that he taught, either, and like you, I have a hard time believing that there were absolutely "no exceptions" ever. Maybe I'm wrong - maybe he really was that strict.

      But yeah - let's be realistic. How does he know that his wife didn't let the kids slack off all the time? The other side of the story could be a very well-kept conspiracy. ;)

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  6. I admired how perfectly they did everything, but I was also laughing to myself because it was all just so . . . perfect.

    Hm. No computer games from 6-8. Could I ever prevail? Let me ask the nanny if she can arrange to make that happen.

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    1. When you're through with the nanny, please ask her if she could pick my son up from school on Tuesdays and Thursdays because I'll be helping my daughter with her schoolwork during that exact time every single day.

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  7. Yes, exactly what Alison said. Everyone needs to read this.
    Perfect is never better than real.

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    1. Thank you, Kerstin! I have always strived (striven? strove?) to be REAL. I genuinely don't understand why one would only want to shine the best part of everything they've done, because that only serves to alienate yourself from the people around you, and set yourself up for them to look forward to your fall. There's worth in seeing the parts that don't shine as bright.

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  8. Oh Andrea. This is even more amazing than I thought it would be when I asked you to blog about it. I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes happy that I know you and that you shared your words with us.

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    1. Thank you so much, Jennifer. That this response would move you to tears means so, so much to me. I am so happy to be your friend. xoxo

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  9. This is so lovely and honest.

    I think that after parents are out of parenting little ones, they have convenient amnesia about what it was actually like. So for someone whose children are all grown now to try to talk about it- you KNOW that the perspective will be a bit skewed. My youngest is 5 now and honestly, I know even in the past few years, I've forgotten just how hard it is to be in those baby stages.

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    1. Thank you so much, Shell!

      I am with you on this point. It's hard to look at parents with young children and gloss over the hard parts and say that it really isn't so bad. I stop myself from downplaying the difficulty of things like potty training and eating and sleeping issues, because I don't have to deal with them anymore. But when you're in the thick of parenting, you really don't want a veteran parent to tell you all the things that you're doing wrong. You want to be encouraged and for someone to say, "I know it's tough," not "I did everything you're not doing and now my kids are perfect!"

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  10. Andrea, this is spot on...SPOT ON.

    I think everyone--EVERYONE--needs to read this. Really.

    I gave it a standing O, and my students thought I was insane getting all applause-ish to my computer.

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    1. Thanks so much, Katie! I so wish someone had gotten that on video. xoxo

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  11. Great post, Andrea! We already have too much guilt, doubt and insecurity.

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    1. Yes! I never need someone trying to compete with me as World's Best. I always put myself in the loser's bracket, which is defeating. Where are the posts that say "Parenting is the hardest thing ever, let's encourage and boost each other up"? That is the best thing we can do for our kids in the long run, I think.

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  12. Yes! We are all trying our best. My goal in life is not perfection - so I accept that I will never be the perfect mother. I love our flaws - flaws make us interesting and help us grow and make us human. I will take the flaws over being a Super Parent any day.

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    1. Thank you Kim! I am with you on the flaws part - if I had perfection to to aspire to every day, I'd be exhausted. I like learning and trying and broadening my repertoire of parenting skills.

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  13. Oh, perfection is so overrated. On an at least weekly basis I use something that I learned during my unregulated and imperfect childhood. It's a life, not a graded color-by-number and stay inside the lines test. Great post, beautiful life.

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    1. Thank you so much, Amanda! You're so right - life is messy; let's see what we can do with it. I'm more inspired by these stories than hearing someone tick off all the things that make their lives so wonderful.

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  14. I LOVE LOVE LOVE your post!!! Did I mention, I LOVE this post? I want to scream it with you. KUDOS! First time reader & I will be back! ~Amber~

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    1. THANK YOU SO MUCH, AMBER! I love screaming online. I'm so excited to have you here! Thanks for your encouragement and enthusiasm about this post. I hope I can keep your interest with my regular, day-to-day shenanigans. :)

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  15. I can't tell you how glad I am that I clicked here for one more post read before I go to bed after a very draining, very emotional, very trying day in the Mommy trenches. And I have one kid. One. Let's leave it at Kidzilla had a very rough day today and we are all going to bed early because we need to. The chores aren't finished, my grades aren't finished for tomorrow, and there are nine things we were supposed to do tonight that did not happen. So yeah, your words about it being OK to not be perfect are spot on for me today. And on that note, I am going to bed. Tomorrow is another day.

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    1. There is always tomorrow - I hang onto that truth with a vise-like grip some days. I'm glad that this was here for you to read today. It's good to know that most of us are sharing the difficulties of parenting in the face of so many "aim high" posts that only serve to knock us down. Love to you! xoxo

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  16. You definitely spoke to me on this post. That article made me cringe big time. I struggle with having even a remotely close to presentable home while homeschooling our kids and having both of us working from home. I do try to be a solid parent, but feel like I fail at it many times a day. That article made me feel like I was nothing more than a failure all the way around.
    I definitely could NOT handle 12 kids. My hat goes off to this woman for having that many and standing behind her husbands obviously intense parenting strategies. I can only imagine what he expects from his wife.
    I'm glad I checked out your blog post too.

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    1. Thanks so much, Crystal! Your comment about what that husband expects from his wife made me shudder a little. :)

      I tend to see parenting accomplishments from a daily perspective. I can only guess the amount that you accomplish with work, school, and keeping the home fires lit each day, and that is no small feat, whether there are crumbs on the floor or not.

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  17. Like you I agreed with a few of the author's points. Chores and teachable moments and all that. I don't do EVERYTHING for my kids, but I actually WANT to be able to help them pay for college. I am STILL paying for college for myself. I don't want my children to be in the same boat. I don't. Perhaps I'll research alternative payment options (maybe even FOR them) but I know they'll be better prepared both financially and just overall. I didn't like his sanctimonious tone, his you too can have great children if you do these things. Every child is different, even children raised the same way by the same people. Expectations are necessary, limits are necessary, but so is openness and assistance and I don't like the way it sounds to say oh yes I have money I could help you with but I won't give it to you BECAUSE I'M TEACHING YOU.

    So thank you for this thoughtful response. It captures just how I feel and then some.

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    1. Thanks, Arnebya! I wanted to like this article, and to pull out some valuable tips that I could insert into my own life. I just found myself thinking "well, I'll never do that, so I won't even try," and that pissed me off more than I was inspired by his good ideas.

      Like you, I want to teach and give to my kids what I wasn't taught or given, and I don't think that's bad parenting. I did not agree with the article's implication that avoiding paying for college and weddings is the apex of good parenting. I do think there's a way to share what you have with your children without them learning that they're entitled, and to know that sometimes you get things because people love you and want to take care of you.

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  18. WOW Andrea, everyone really need to read this! What's that saying about my parental skill being a single mom? Sigh. I barely read that type of articles because I know I will get so worked up and that's the last thing I need. Thank you so much for writing this!

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    1. Thank you, Maureen! I didn't think about it, but that article really alienated single parents. I would have stayed away from it if I were a single mom, too. I happen to think that his ideals are unattainable for most of us, single or not. Thanks for your perspective!

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  19. I stumbled on this article and your answer through Alison and Lady Jennie.
    Although I agree with the man up to a certain point (Chores? Yes, of course! Learning how to be independent and stuff, sure!) I must admit the reaction I had was a huge case of the 'oh yeah, Rrrrreeeeaaalllyyyy....'
    I therefore agree with you a 100%, flaws make us human and humans are nowhere near perfect. Perfect is boring.

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    1. Yeah, I had a case of mild eye rolling after reading a couple of times. Although he did say there were things they as parents that they did wrong, I hardly expect that follow up anytime soon. :)

      Bring your flaws here anytime! I share mine quite regularly. :)

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  20. Though it irked me in a few places a little bit, I actually liked reading that article and others like it. I don't participate in wars of any kind, but I got the sense that someone had asked him to write about his experiences as a dad of 12 and well, looking back, maybe he is wearing his rose colored glasses. I sure as heck hope I do when looking back on my days a parent with kids in the house. What irked me is the assumption that if you do these certain things all of your kids will go to college and pay for it and find the love of their life and get married. I think there are very few families where, even with disciplined parenting, all the kids excel at everything.

    Now, I think there are major differences in raising 12 kids to my 3 or even someone's 4 or 5. I have noticed that in families with more kids the older kids do seem to take on a more active role in helping the family and being a leader to their smaller siblings.

    I too would have appreciated the admission of some flaws from this gentleman. When someone presents a near perfect story, it doesn't make sense. Flaws are very human and to me, make a story more believable.

    I liked some ideas though. I am pretty handy and have always wanted to learn cars and I really don't want my kids driving. So, getting them a junker and having them rebuild it and then getting is tested out by a professional seems like a fab idea to me. It has to take a long time, right?

    Great article!

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    1. Thank you for the great insight, Brittany! The absence of any flaws is what bothered me the most about this article. He did mention there were some, but I will believe it when I read it. :)

      I know that in large families, there is a luxury of having lots of helpers around to share the tasks that frustrate parents of less children, due to boredom or fatigue (reading Olivia five or six times in a row every night for a week comes to mind). Many parents with small families can see that this article doesn't really apply to them, but all parents want to see their kids succeed in life, whatever that looks like. I didn't like the implication that since I don't parent like this then am destined to have to pay for college, a negative burden. I simply don't see it that way.

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  21. Like Galit, sometimes things like this don't bother me, and I take them wit ha grain of salt and hope that all the author intended to do was illustrate something that he surely gets asked a lot: "How did you do it?" But his tone was a little haughty. And I thought some of it was a tad extreme. The car, for instance. And it just so happened I was having a very challenging parenting day on the day I read this, so I wanted to kick him in the nuts.

    As for the camping, he did say that since his wife was pregnant of nursing for fifteen years (OMG), she was often home with the very little ones.

    Andrea, this is a great reaction piece. We can't compare ourselves to people who seem to have all the answers. Emphasis on the SEEM. I'd really like to read a counter article where he lists the mistakes he made (because he did admit there were plenty of mistakes).

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    1. Thank you, Leigh Ann! I am waiting for that "other side" piece to his article too. :)

      I try to put myself in his shoes. If I had twelve children who all paid for college themselves and are successful in life, I'd be crowing from the rooftops, too. But for every success that I'd share, I'd also share one failure. That would make it so much more relatable and honest and inspiring to others.

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  22. This is brilliant and well stated and so spot on. I'm exhausted - utterly exhausted - by all the people in the world who propose to tell me how to raise my children. All I can do every day are the things I know to be right, with the love I know I have, and then let the the pieces fall where they may, so to speak. It's enough. Every day it's enough. It has to be.

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    1. I love your response, MJ. I've often said "It is enough" - and sometimes it seems like others think that I'm okay being average. Enough is knowing your limits; enough is knowing that you are not in total control of a situation, a person, a child. Enough is what we all have, if we are able to forget about having it all. Thank you for your perspective!

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