I was recently talking to a friend about the challenges of parenthood – how very hard it is to find that balance between boundaries and indulgence. We concluded that the perfect equation was equal parts rules, structure, love, and acceptance. If we keep the leash too tight, requiring our children to strive towards perfectionism under a watchful eye, they feel suffocated and often rebel. And if we completely let go, they can be confused by their role, having access to too much power and decision making, which often creates entitlement and a lack of the ability to take responsibility. The parental mission statement that best summarizes what I strive for is a sense of calm, filled with love, where boundaries are understood and expected to be lived within. In the safe space that is our home, the goal is to foster an environment where my children are not afraid to try, fail, and express their emotions rationally – in the wins and losses. Easy right? Oh, if it only were.
My thoughts on parenting were stirred by how I felt after reading An Abbreviated Life, by Ariel Leve. I have never before read a book that so openly and honestly expresses the toughest parts of the mother-daughter dynamic. Leve’s relationship is an extreme version of what can go wrong when a parent lives within a surreal realm of narcissism. Leve’s mother, poet, novelist, and documentary filmmaker Sandra Hochman, was well known in the 70s. Leve grew up with her mother after her parent’s divorce, and was raised in an apartment where Gloria Steinem and Andy Worhol were regular visitors. To the outside eye her mother’s lifestyle looked outrageously interesting, but when seen through the eyes of her young impressionable daughter it leaves the reader cringing in concern. The chaos was fascinating, but also terrifying. The relationship was intimate, but also suffocating. This book is a beautiful reminder of just how important good parenting is. Leve proves we all have the ability to survive our childhoods, but undoubtedly the scars shape who we become.