Tales of a Burned Out Mom.
I think you need to---upfront---know to take this post somewhat tongue-in-cheek. My kids just went through a Simultaneous Developmental Leap, God Help Me. This always involves extreme behavior (usually Not Pleasant), boundary testing, oppositional defiance, mood swings, erratic and chaotic situations, and (the best part of all) sleep-deprivation so we're all too tired on top of it.
I always realize this is happening about a week and a half into it. I keep trying to work with them in the way that worked last week (which is breaking parenting cardinal rule #3, right?) and then am stunned when that fails. Isn't that sort of the definition of insanity?
I was on the ball with one until about two-and-a-half. Now I am 100% behind the eight ball. I just wear lots of antiperspirant and try to never let them see me sweat.
Then I try to figure out my strategy. I have a shelf of Must Have parenting technique books available to assist me with this. I have read them all, and bits and pieces are in my mind. I don't refer back to the books; I consider all the different practical tips and tricks and evaluate which might work in this case, with this kid.
I think the problem with most parenting theories is not that they are insincere or overzealous (although there are those), but that their initial premise is false:
One size fits all, all the time.
Not all children are the same, all the time. Heck even my kids aren't the same as each other, or even themselves.
But "they" say parent consistently. Are "they" crazy? There is nothing consistent in the parenting situation, except that the one thing you can count on is that it will change. This is both reassuring (such as recently with my kids' Leap Time) and maddening.
I've heard two sides to parenting-by-the-book/theory: on the one side, people say "just trust yourself, inside you know how to parent your kids," (read between the lines: ditch the experts, you don't need them) and on the other side, experts and talking heads galore more than imply that parents need to be guided.
In my opinion, they are both right, to a degree.
We can all stand to both trust ourselves and be open to other, new, and different ideas that might be useful for us.
The complication is that so often the potentially helpful theories are oppositional, contradictory, and even downright competitive with one another. They are just so sure, which is what makes them so convincing.
In short, you either can't lose (because somebody backs up your tactic) or you can't win.
I tend to take the "you can't lose" view. I also take the centrist view. And I'm an ace at the buffet: un poco de todo.
This isn't as hard as you might think. There do appear to be a few universal truisms of parenting, above and beyond take care of your kids. I've read enough theories to find threads of commonality flowing through every single one. Some of those threads I agree with---such as "love your kids"---and some I'm a little dubious about---such as "kids are totally resilient."
I've considered the theories---the contradictory points and the common points---as well as the areas I hear the most passion and debate about when it comes to raising kids. From that I have compiled the top ten ways it just isn't working out as the experts promised/threatened:
10. No spanking.
I was utterly sold on the idea that spanking is the lazy, or angry, man's way to parent. If you resort to that, you're some Blair Warner Witch wannabe or lacking in creative and solid parenting skill.
Let me tell you.
The no spanking ever thing? I don't know who this works for, but it's not me.
I have now spanked (well, swatted) my two year old. You heard me. I'm not sure she realized it happened, what with the pull-up and the way I sometimes (non-punitively) smack the bum while crooning, "Oh the love bum bum...such a cute bum bum..." to get a giggle. Or twelve.
However. I did it. And I actually know she noticed, and perceived it as different than the usual playful silliness. She turned injured and offended eyes on me. I almost felt like crap. Almost. But I got her attention. And we managed to end that problem, on the spot. Nothing else had done that. Trust me. I'd tried all day. And yes, I was doing it right.
I hope we never have to go there again. I'll do my utmost to succeed using other techniques. But if all the rest fail...
Now I have either failed (according to some theories) or finally have seen the light (according to the rest).
I prefer to think of it as another successful implementation of Parenting As the Moment Needs.
I let my kids watch TV. On days when I am really busy or simply not in the mood to be the Best. Mom. Ever. Bar. None. I let them watch a lot of TV. According to the AAP, my kids' brains should be about the consistency of sludge now, and their state ought to be vegetative. Despite my ongoing best efforts, my kids remain sharp as tacks with memories an elephant would envy. Perhaps it is limiting them to Sprout and Noggin. Maybe if I add in a wee bit of Disney and Nickelodeon...
8. I breastfed.
Hey, I realize they say "breast is best" but my kids were the sickest, most colicky, most frequent ear infections, most everything they say breastfed babies aren't. I gave up eating entirely for a month on the off-chance it was something I was ingesting, but all I did was feel really weak and lose a lot of weight. My baby still cried all. damn. day. And Oprah did not even invite me to be on her show: Mom Quits Eating For Baby's Sake.
People (okay LLL moms) said to me, "Oh think how much worse it would have been if you formula fed!" But I remain unconvinced. The truth is, I don't think my kids could have been any sicker or more colicky.
I stand by my breastfeeding, and wouldn't do it differently. Still...
However, that's not even the point. The point is that for me, breastfeeding encouraged Lazy Parenting aka Pop In the Boob to Fix All Ills.
Post-weaning, we all had to adjust to life without the boob, which required actual parenting skill.
My husband and I are still weaning.
7. We co-slept(sleep).
My kids were (and still sometimes are) the worst sleepers on the block, too. I'm sure they are very well attached, bonded, confident, and so forth. But, if I'm truthful, sometimes I wish the mi cama, su cama philsophy wasn't so firmly entrenched. Yeah yeah, I've got the power yadda yadda ya...trust me, we work at it. Once upon a time, I think I was really glad my kids felt safe and comfortable enough to come to us whenever they needed, but now some nights I just wish they made Ambien Jr.
6. Model good behavior.
Despite my absolutely impeccable manners to my children, they still have not managed to pick up the basics: please and thank you. My husband and I believed the tenet: if you model it, it will come. BAH!
We are absolutely obnoxious in our exaggerrated good manners: May I have some bread PLEASE?!?!?! THANK YOU for the bread!!!!
And yet, the children take the manners and respect as their due, and do not reciprocate.
Therefore, I have begun the even more obnoxious habit of PROMPTING.
5. Tell the truth.
Honesty is the best policy, they said. Be truthful and build trust with your kids, they said.
The truth? HAH! Kids frequently are completely uninterested in what we adults call The Truth.
When my daughter asked me to explain war, she didn't want to know about Cheney, Bush, Al Queda, 9-11, Sun Tzu and the art of war, etc. All she wanted to know, really, was, "Will my daddy go to war?"
I have learned to counter a question with a question (parenting cardinal rule #2).
"What did you see, honey?"
"What did you hear, honey?"
"Why do you ask, honey?"
4. I praise my children and use "good job" and "hey, nice way to..." plus "I really appreciate how you did...so nicely..."
Just in case any of this makes them utterly dependent upon external approval (BAD! VERY BAD! DO NOT SEEK OUTSIDE APPROVAL! BAD!) I mix it in with a lot of, "Hey you did that!" and "Wow, how do you feel about what you accomplished here?"
Despite drama skill that must make the Academy's teeth ache, Patience has frequently been referred to as confident. And Highly Independent.
I'm not sure that one of the people (a teacher) who said that didn't mean headstrong. But we'll take it on the nice end.
Persistence appears to be following suit.
I just try to keep it from slipping over to arrogance.
3. I use babytalk.
Yessum wittle sweetum pies I do.
We have oat-y (oatmeal), drinkies (water), milky (milk), doggie (dog), Tissy (Patience, the sister) and so forth. At some point I no longer do it, but so far it is still strong at age two with the youngest.
This is a nasty habit I began as a child with my pets. We had a cat, Petey (a girl) (don't ask), who we nicknamed Odie (really, you don't want to know) and my sister and I had Odie-talk we did to the cat. No, it never occurred to my mother to seek mental help for us. I have the sneaking suspicion, anyway, that perhaps the apples did not fall far from the tree.
I happen to know my sister carried it into motherhood, as I did.
Despite this, our children all seem quite intelligent, are very verbal and have large vocabularies which they will use against you if you give up your right to remain silent.
Along the same lines, my children (as do my sister's) all have a plethora of nicknames, most of which have little to nothing to do with the child's actual given name, but if you follow the genesis of the nickname you'll se at some point it did derive from something to do with either the child herself or her given name.
2. The children are not the center of the universe.
I can't stand "it's all about me people." Unfairly I blame their parents. I know. I stink. Sue me.
But seriously, somehow self-centered folks never learned to step outside themselves and sympathize, or empathize. It usually ends up being so disrespectful, and often unintentionally hurtful to others.
We all get to have times when we demand empathy and sympathy in the limelight. In fact, I seized one yesterday. But it should end up a balance, a give and take.
I want my kids to learn that. Sometimes it's you. Sometimes it's not.
There are times the children need full focus and attention. And there are times they don't.
I cannot abide interruption. If the children need to speak while someone else is speaking, or get attention while someone is in the middle of doing smething else, they can either (a) wait for a pause or (b) say, "Excuse me, Mom?"
I will not plan my life around my children 100%. They know my name is Mom and Julie.
I do not place my children at the absolute top of the priority list all the time, no matter what.
I consider age and stage.
I believe it is only right that the priority list remain dynamic. Priorities come and go. I don't want it to suddenly be a rude shock to my kids that they are not the only thing in the world. Sometimes...other areas of life need.
I balance my kids' needs with my own, with the family's. It's not 50/50. The truth is, the kids do mostly get to be the center of the universe, but SHHHH don't tell them that.
1. I'm the worst bad influence my kids have ever met.
I have cursed in front of them. I have lost my temper in front of them. I have lost my temper with them. I have made snotty comments within their hearing. I have displayed my very worst character traits---and trust me, those are legion---in front of my kids.
They pay me back by proving that imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery. Sometimes it is the bigget kick in the ass ever.
There is no magic mirror on the wall like your kids to show you your very best and very worst.
But even worse than all that, I'm the obnoxious older kid who teaches my kids (and hence yours) all those annoying and distressing things to say and jokes to tell. I don't even know what perversity drives me to do this. I think I'm just trying to steer them away from the macabre and poopy and into the ridiculous and absurd.
For example, today? I taught Patience, "I see Paris, I see France, I see So-and-So's underpants!" We had to practice it for about half an hour before she got it down. But she got it, and the little one did too!
Then, on the way to school, I taught her knock-knock jokes. She's very keen on jokes, but prefers to make up her own.
And tonight? We made up a series of "This cat walks into a Chik-Fil-A and orders a..." series of jokes.
See? All around, if I am really, really honest, I know I am influencing my kids, for the bad and the good, and through that, extending more of me through the world.
What a heady responsibility.
I can only hope that the chicken jokes harm no one.
Thus endeth the list.
The truth is, in general, I've developed a degree of trust in myself (at times) and in my kids (at times). I know enough to know that so far, they are fine, and enough to utterly fear the future and see how this is Just Never Going to be Easy.
At the end of the day, I think we do okay. We mostly get it right, whatever "it" is, and I'll be honest and tell you it varies. When I screw up, I say I'm sorry. They know they are loved and they have a pretty good life. Hey, so maybe, just maybe, I'm not blowing it.
copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Tags: raising children,experts advice on how to raise kids,parenting through tough times, parenting the bet you can