Before my husband and I became parents, we spent endless hours picking apart our friends and family members for how they dealt with their kids. We smugly said things like, "Can you believe their kid did acted like that? What a brat!" and "I can't believe they don't put their kids to bed earlier," and "I would never allow my child to interrupt me all the time like they do. Why can't they teach him better?"
So confident were we that parenting would be a cake walk, that we would show everyone how it should really be done, that we jumped right in and had two kids of our own. And then, reality set in.
The fact of the matter is, parenting is hard. Really hard. For starters, there's no written manual that tells you how to do it right. At the same time, there are no shortage of opinions on the right way, the wrong way, and the upside down way to do things. And finally, every kid and every situation is different, and so trying to arrive at the exact right solution that will work for your kid is like trying to solve the expert level soduko puzzle in the Sunday paper.
I have two daughters, age three and four-and-a-half. They are 16 months apart in age, so they are very close -- not as close as twins, but close enough. The thing is, up until my oldest turned three, I thought the parenting thing was a breeze. Get the kids on a solid, set schedule - check. Get them sleeping through the night and avoid any mistakes that will have them turning up in our bedroom night after night for the next ten years - check. Wean them from the bottle at exactly one year - check. Teach them to drink from a regular cup, thus avoiding sippy's - check. Potty trained by two-years-old - check.
Those things - the cut and dried things - are the easy part of being a parent, as far as I'm concerned. It's the stuff that comes afterward, when they start thinking for themselves and talking, that's thrown me for a huge loop. Like how to find the appropriate punishment for a younger daughter who seems unfazed by all of the traditional options, like time-out. How to teach two kids, who care about nothing more than playing for as many of their awake hours as possible, to be good citizens, to take care of their things, to be polite, to take care of my things.
I spent half of the month of December trying to figure out what in the heck was wrong with my younger daughter, who suddenly was having major MAJOR temper tantrums every five minutes over things like having to wear socks, having her chair pushed in too far at the table, having to wear pants. I spent the other half of that same month trying to figure out how to deal with these out-of-control screaming fests, how to not have it affect everyone else in the house as well.
I spent January agonizing over whether to start my oldest in kindergarten next year (see my previous post). I spend every day trying to figure out how to teach my children why they need to pick up their toys and why they need to take care of their things. I spend every waking hour trying to figure out how to make my youngest daughter listen to me, wondering how much time in time out is too much. Trying to figure out why I feel like I'm the Peanuts adult after eight hours a day alone with my kids - MWHA mwha mwha MWAH mwha.
I lose my temper occasionally, overreact, say things I don't mean, make totally unreasonable punishment threats in the heat of the moment, knowing full well I will never act on them, and end up losing all credibility in the eyes of my kids when it comes to discipline.
I routinely feel guilty, ineffective, and helpless and am only occasionally encouraged by my children's moments of brilliant behavior (which is fewer and farther between nowadays, as the girls get older and have learned exactly what grand playmates they really are for each other, no matter the place, no matter the time).
The last four years have been a major reality check. Kids are, well, kids. They aren't adults, and I constantly have to remind myself of this fact. While I'm learning to embrace their unique approach to life, it's hard to accept that it doesn't fit neatly into my well-organized adult life.
There is no real reasoning with a three-year-old. You may THINK you've gotten somewhere with them, and then they skip off to play, write on your car windows with crayons, open your nail polish and spill it all over your bathroom floor. They don't understand the concept of money - how can they understand the value of taking care of things? They don't understand the concept of time - why should they rush out the door just because YOU'RE late when they can dawdle instead?
I can only hope that my currently kid-less friends may read this post and cut me a break the next time they spend a few hours with me and my kids. And hold of on the criticism until we're well out the door. Because some day, most of them will have kids, too and then they'll see - parenting is HARD!