Role Models and Inspirational Guides
June 15, 2022
Sue Turi (she/her/hers), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer
They say parenting doesn’t come with a handbook, and just one glance across the internet proves this. Most likely, if you’ve started reading this article, it’s because you’ve joined the other side. I call it the other side, as becoming a parent for me really felt like a door had been shut on one world and brutally flung open on another.
Regardless of whether parenthood is planned or unintended, it’s an adjustment that lasts one’s lifetime with endless online resources serving only to further complicate one’s navigation of this world. No sooner are you relieved at feeling competent and in control of a situation than you are jolted out of your comfort zone by a child’s mysterious fever or sudden temper tantrum. Parenting is an emotional rollercoaster ride between moments of jubilation and pride, and periods of insecurity about oneself — often trying to look as if you have it together while feeling ineffective and lost. Frustration and loneliness as a result of this ride can be frequent visitors even when one is surrounded by family members and friends. Where once as a singleton you were engaging personally and conscientiously with the world, now you engage through the lens of your larger-than-life child and their unbridled free spirit.
Parents were, once upon a time, little children themselves, and this is often forgotten when they become parents in turn and are assigned the responsibilities of role models by society. Perhaps as children they were lucky enough to have had a big brother to look up to, a grandmother as a confidant or a school teacher as a mentor.
But there are just as many new parents who have had few or no inspirational guides to model their parenting internship on, leaving them to tread water when faced with the challenges of a rebellious child or a non-communicative teenager.
When I became a new parent, the last thing on my mind was being a role model for my child. I was focused on the now — ensuring my baby was comfortable, fed, bathed and entertained. I sometimes went without eating or sleeping in order to care for her needs. I was the role model for neglect and dishevelment, while every other parent seemed to have the solution to a satisfied, disciplined, and sleepy child all worked out. Advice, though well-intentioned, was seldom adapted to my personal circumstances.
The term role model to me suggests an act that one is supposed to perform in order to set a good example. Model similarly implies being a mold of a person and perhaps for this reason I have resisted conforming to a stereotype of what a good parental model is supposed to be. Being a role model is often associated with words such as strength, discipline, courage and responsibility, but less with words such as honesty, humility and kindness — especially towards oneself.
As a parent, I initially adopted my own mother’s view of parenthood, which meant unquestioning servitude towards my child and society. The reality was that motherhood in the 1960s meant domestic slavery: having a clean home, obedient kids and a satisfied husband who ultimately held the economic power. After many fruitless journeys through parenting self-help books, I came to realize that being a role model serves more to reassure the community of one conforming to an established moral standard than to accommodate individual families. As each family’s needs are as unique as its members, re-framing parents as inspirational or spiritual guides for their kids avoids the frequent tendency to hold parents up as unrealistic examples of perfection to be followed.
When my mother was ultimately forced to abandon her traditional role and find a job after my father abandoned her, she was left feeling empty and resentful of her diminished moral and economic status. She was ill-prepared to assume the dual role of mother and father, proving that a societal role model can be an empty shell without substance. My father eventually succumbed to alcoholism and, in turn, shattered his idealized role as symbolic and economic head of the family. If my mother had seen herself as more of an inspirational guide, she may have seen her relationship with my sister and me as one of mutual growth, rather than of servitude and discipline, and my father may have forgiven himself enough for his moral weakness to have nurtured a relationship with his daughters outside of a failed marriage.
One of the discoveries I made early on as a parent though, was that there’s no single style of parenting or role model, despite pressure from the community to conform to a singular standard. I was a hippie parent in a conservative community at the time, and my parenting style was often frowned upon for its flexibility and eccentricity. I was unwittingly living out my inner flower-child belief that relationships, even from infancy, are a fluid two-way street, as a child’s health is directly dependent on a parent’s well-being. I was in fact being an inspirational guide without ever giving myself credit for it. If only I had been able to create enough emotional and mental distance from societal expectations of what a role model was supposed to be, so that I could laugh at and feel relaxed about my personalized parenting style instead of feeling pressure to teach my kids how to tie shoelaces by a certain age and have dinner prepared at a certain time every night. If only I could have valued my personal approach to parenting more than worry about conforming to my communities’ expectations.
A quote I overheard a few years ago put it mostly into perspective for me: You don’t need to be the perfect parent, just an adequate parent.
Pearls of wisdom are cultivated by parents who acknowledge their own vulnerabilities and inner child to become inspirational guides. It’s being this inspirational guide that I’m hoping I’ve managed to transfer to my own children, to be a source of strength for when they in turn become parents themselves.
Sue Turi is a writer, illustrator and painter living in Montreal, Canada with a degree in fine arts. She began her career as a production artist for design studios and ad agencies, before deciding to devote herself purely to self-expression through writing and painting. She is currently at Concordia University majoring in creative writing and English literature.
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