On Friday morning, I was over at church helping Donna set up for Saturday's bazaar. We were putting price tags on Christmas ornaments and hand-crafted notecards when I asked Donna how Marcy, her three-year-old adopted daughter, was doing. She seems like a happy, gregarious little girl, so I assumed the answer would be "great!"
And in some ways it was. Marcy is happy and healthy and well-adjusted. Donna's concerns were more with her parenting abilities. Marcy is an extrovert, loves to be with other people, loves to be the center of attention. Donna is quiet and low key. Her son, Mark, who is six, is at the stage where he needs to be taken here and there for his various activities, and, as do a lot of second-born children, Marcy spends a good deal of time in the car while her brother is being dropped off and picked up, dropped off and picked up.
The conversation evolved into one of free-floating parental guilt. Donna wishes she had more time and energy to spend with Marcy; I wish we lived in a neighborhood that had more kids for the boys to play with. Donna wishes Mark had a brother to play with; I wish Will had been born a year earlier so that he and Jack might get along better.
We both felt vaguely guilty that we don't want more children (and since I'm 45, I really, really don't want more children--I mean, it's late, I'm tired). But when you're cranky people to begin with (and frankly I was surprised that Donna characterized herself that way; she doesn't seem all that cranky to me, but sometimes it takes your family to bring out the worst in you) and highly irritable, it seems unfair to impose yourself on more than two children at a time.
It was, to be honest, an enjoyable discussion. Maybe because we felt guilty about many of the same things, and maybe because our parenting personalities are similar--cranky, irritable, not really enamored of toddlers in any significant way, prone to boredom when playing board games--we didn't feel any urge to be annoyingly supportive of one another--"Oh, I'm sure the children don't notice how irritated you get!"--but instead just affirmed that yes, we are flawed as parents, yes, we wish were better parents, yes, we suppose saying "At least we don't beat them" is setting the bar awfully low.
I left the church feeling refreshed. As it turns out, confession is good for what ails you--as is any conversation about how we really live and think and feel, which you don't always get at church, but should. And on Saturday, the church doors opened at nine, and people from all over town streamed in, women mostly, most of whom probably feel guilty and inadequate about their own parenting skills. I wish they could have been there Friday. It would have been good for their soul.