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It Takes a Village - And Then Some

Words and Image by Dorothy Greco

I am a limited woman. The older I get, the more I realize this profound truth. Those closest to me experience these limitations most frequently and most profoundly. That would be my husband and three sons.

These limitations impact my youngest son the most profoundly because the two of us score diametrically opposite on any and every personality profile. He likes loud. I constantly ask him to turn down the volume when watching sporting events with him. Our idea of reasonable bed-time varies by about three hours. Even as a baby, he never wanted to go to sleep unless he was with one of us. He loves to joke and inclines his humor towards sarcasm which I feel is the devil’s vernacular. My idea of a great beach day would include nuts and veggies for lunch, a book, and the opportunity to read said book with the ocean lapping at my lower extremities. His would include playing both Frisbee and soccer, fishing, lots of fried food, ice cream, and constant dialogue. I like clean. See photo for Matt’s preference. We. Are. Different.

It’s not only Matthew who feels the loss of having limited parents. Despite the reality that all three boys excel athletically, you won’t find us playing basketball on the weekends. Chronic health issues have reduced my ability to mix it up with them and my husband’s layups resemble something between a pirouette and a seizure. Christopher’s hands, which move deftly up and down the keyboard, fumble when grasping a club or ball. He has never, and will never, coach any of his sons’ teams.

Early on in our parenting, the accuser whispered “failure” in our ears on a regular basis. We were naive enough to believe this lie. We both were acutely aware of our limitations and feared that these limitations would forever scar them. After twenty years of parenting, my perspective has changed. I now understand that limitations are a blessing.

First, they constantly pull us down from the pedestals we create for ourselves. When I can’t help my son with his algebra or even remember the difference between the subjunctive and preterite tense in Spanish, when I can’t help him weld two pieces of metal together, I become acutely aware that God is the only perfect parent.

Second, these limitations provide our sons with the opportunity to receive from other adults. For example, my best friend is an architect and her husband is a plumbing teacher and mystic. During our twenty-year friendship, my sons have learned how to approach solving problems mathematically and practically–a skill set we sorely lack. The woodworker whom we recently met inspired Gian so profoundly that he is begging to figure out how he might “visit” them for a few weeks. And because God both loves Matt and knows his needs, He has placed wonderful men and women in our life who both appreciate Matthew’s humor and his exuberant nature.

For our limitations to shift from the minus to the plus column, we must willingly and honestly admit our needs. Shame sits smack in the middle of this paradigm shift and attempts to prevent us from going forward. We parents seldom discuss our failures which can lead all of us to conclude, “I’m the only one who struggles.” The truth is, we all have bad parenting days–and seasons. Health issues, job loss, difficult patches in our marriages, all conspire to thin us out, sometimes so drastically that we simply have nothing to give.

Years ago, when the boys were little and my husband was working three jobs, I remember feeling afraid that if I had to go through the day alone with these three little people, I might actually harm them. When I could not shake this feeling, I called my neighbor and asked if she could come over for an hour or two so that I could have a break. Yes, it was humiliating but I remembered hearing at a parenting seminar that the main difference between a parent who abuses and one who doesn’t is that the latter knows when to walk out of the room.

Though it might seem counter-intuitive, this willingness to acknowledge our limitations and ask for help is part of what makes us good parents. When I resist this truth, it hurts everyone. I get cranky and unpleasant. I even bark sometimes which causes the entire house, dog included, to cringe. So next time you sense yourself fraying around the edges or fumbling to teach your daughter how to hem her skirt, pick up the phone. Send a text. I can guarantee you that the friend on the other end will actually be grateful that you did. And so will your children.

Since graduating from Boston University in 1983, Dorothy has worked as a photographer, journalist, home-schooling mom, and pastor. A rather eclectic combination which actually reflects the diversity of her soul. You can connect with Dorothy's words and images at www.dorothygreco.com.