Not Parenting Means Never Having to Say No
My parents scrimped and saved every penny they had to send Corina and me to private school, first through twelfth grades. To this day, I still get the occasional odd look when I tell people where I went to high school, as there was a certain aura about most Xavier girls, and I don’t really have it because I was neither a legacy student, nor did I receive a BMW for my 16th birthday. I hated almost every minute of the exclusive, all-girls Catholic school – the cliques and sense of not fitting in at all – but I stuck it out. My sister lasted through her freshman year before she begged reprieve and was allowed to transfer to North High, just four blocks from the house where we grew up. It pained my mother to see her switch, though, because she was no longer able to say, “My daughters go to Xavier.” Losing that “S” on the end – and having just one daughter go to Xavier – didn’t carry quite the same heft when it came to bragging rights.
Having only attended public school at the university level, my knowledge of it comes only from the stories I’ve heard from others – and Hollywood. I imagine my experience would have been different, still. With all this talk about education these days, as teachers in Colorado and my home state of Arizona are on strike, it occurred to me to wonder what I would have done, had I been parenting Eric. Arizona has ranked somewhere near 49th in education for the last 20 years or so – but who knows where I’d have been living, had I chosen to parent Eric, so I cannot really factor that into my hypothetical decision.
The point is that I didn’t have to make that decision. Or any others. Things like circumcision – which, as I mentioned in a prior post, I had no idea was my decision to make at the time of Eric’s birth. Or vaccination. Yep – I’m one of those people who seriously questions all things related to allopathic (traditional Western) medicine, vaccines included. Twenty-three years ago, it wasn’t the great controversy it is today, but I’m pretty sure my sister did not have Samantha vaccinated.
Big things and small, parents must make decisions about them. I never had to say no to sugary foods or Disneyland or a cell phone before the age of reason. I never had to decide about pets – most likely the answer would have been yes, whether it was a gerbil or a pet monkey, because we were just always animal people. Whether to join Boy Scouts or have sleep-overs or watch this movie or that one. I lost count of the times I would rent movies, only to come home and have Corina ask, “Is it something Sam can watch?” I wasn’t parenting, so it never occurred to me to check the ratings of the films I brought home – I just got what I liked. She also put the kibosh on a couple of books Samantha had to read in school, Roald Dahl’s Witches being the one I best remember. Goodreads describes it as a “children’s dark fantasy novel,” which is probably accurate. But they were reading it when Sam was in fourth grade, and my sister thought it was way too scary for her at the time. So she said no – and Samantha had to deal with the fallout from that, in terms of being teased by her classmates.
I didn’t have to teach Eric right from wrong. I didn’t have to explain why I stopped going to church when he was about 10. I didn’t have to decide between healthy food and convenience because I was too tired to cook on a given night. I never had to tell him there was a limit to the number of after-school activities he could take part in, or that I didn’t care for a particular friend – or that friend’s parents. I never had to say no – or yes – to anything.
I heard a while ago that one way to get past procrastination is to switch from viewing them as things we “have to” do to viewing them as things we “get to” do. For example, it changes things considerably to view it as, “I get to make some phone calls to clients this afternoon,” rather than groaning, “I have to make a bunch of client calls today.” The word get implies that the activity is a privilege, while have to makes it feel and sound like a chore. I was deliberate in my use of “have to” versus “get to” in the preceding paragraphs, because in the contemplation that stemmed from those thoughts about the education decision I never made, it occurred to me that I never made any of the rest of those choices, either – because I never had to. When I placed Eric with Kathy and Bruce, I relinquished both the right and the responsibility for making all of those decisions.
And for a moment, it felt like the biggest cop out ever. I took the easy road, rather than the complicated one where I’d have to make hard decisions, sacrifice my personal desires at times, and give a significant amount of my time, effort, and energy to this little person who needed it more than I did. I’m not ashamed of that choice – just aware in a way that I’ve never been before how much work and effort my son’s parents put in, in my stead. And grateful that they were able and willing to do such a phenomenal job of it all.
Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.