For some reason, sending my kids off to kindergarten has
really spotlighted my parenting insecurities.
Knowing they would be away from me all day made me realize how many
times a day I would step in with a small correction, say or do something to
settle them when they were getting dangerously nutso, give my son a timely
“remember, don’t use your body” when I could tell he was angry and starting to
lose his cool. But now they’re on their
own, their full unedited behavior on display for the teachers to see. They might stand up on the seat while
eating. They might bust out a swear word
or talk about wine and make me look bad.
They might hit someone. They
might crack up over a poo-poo joke and not be able to stop for five
minutes. They might be completely
incapable of completing any task at 2pm because they need a snack. (Seriously, they have lunch at 11am and
don’t get home until almost 4. They
need a damn snack! It would make your
lives easier, teachers, I’m telling you.)
There’s this idea (maybe it’s only in my own head, but I
don’t think so) that if you do a good job at parenting, you will have kids who
do what they’re told, eat their vegetables, go to sleep, behave pretty well,
play appropriately with friends, and do decent in school. There’s this idea (maybe only in my own
head, but again, I don’t think so) that if you can find the right strategy, you
can fix any “problem.” So we read
parenting books, and try new discipline or reward strategies. We have marble jars or prizes or time outs
or 1-2-3 Magic or no Wii for the rest of the day or verbal praise or sticker
My sister’s pediatrician once put it this way: We are trying to “raise the shit out of” our
kids. We’re high power, smart people
who kicked ass at our jobs, and now we’re gonna kick ass at this parenting
thing. We’re not going to have the kid
who only eats chicken nuggets and applesauce.
We’re not going to have the kid who hits the other kids at school. We’re not going to have the kid who says,
“Whatever” when an adult tells them what to do. Those kids must have really bad parents. We’re not gonna have those kids.
You get the kids you get.
You can move their tendencies around a teensy weensy bit, but
basically? You get what you get and you
don’t get upset. Or maybe you do get
upset, but it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.
Having twins has shown me this so clearly. I did all of the same crap at the same
time. I had an equal number of “I don’t
feel well, let’s just watch TV all day” days with both. They went to the aquarium and the zoo and
didn’t go to the library
an equal number of times. I used pretty much the same sleep strategies (modified slightly
for each kid’s needs, but basically the same).
I exposed them the same foods.
We read the same books together.
I used the same discipline/behavioral techniques.
I got what I got.
One is practically a vegetarian; the other would eat steak
at every meal. One prefers vegetables;
the other fruits. One loves to draw and
color; the other loves to play on the Wii.
One is a “pleaser;” one doesn’t give a flying f*** what I say. One is getting “treasure tickets” for good
behavior at school every day and brings home perfect papers with all correct
answers and gold stars on top; the other has gotten almost no treasure tickets
and brings home papers with “please review at home” on them. One comes home from school and tells me all
about the day; the other makes up crap that is clearly false and mixes it in
with (possibly) true stuff so that I have no idea what really happened. (“No, honey, your teacher did not dress up
today. What really happened?”)
Honestly, I am starting to think that I have very little to
do with this process of them growing up.
I’m here to offer them unconditional love, and some structure and
boundaries. I’m here to make healthy
food and set limits. I’m here to teach
them about the world and offer opportunities.
But they are who they are.
I’ll keep pushing against the tide, because it’s not OK that
my son still hits sometimes. It’s not
OK that my daughter will cry and gag rather than try a new food, even when that
food is a peanut butter and nutella sandwich that I KNOW she would like if she
would just stop gagging in anticipatory hatred. It’s not OK that my son rolls his eyes and says, “Whatever” to me
when I tell him what to do. (It’s
f***ing hilarious, yes. But it’s not
OK.) So I will keep reading parenting
books and making up new sticker charts or reward systems so that maybe I can shift
them by a minute degree.
After years of pushing against the tide, now more often than
not, my son punches the air when he’s angry instead of hitting me or his
sister. His anger is physical. He can learn to punch a pillow. My daughter ate two bites of chili the other
night, one piece of meat and one bean, and last night tasted my Thai sweet
potato lentil stew without gagging or crying.
She still gives me the evil eye when she sees something unfamiliar on her
plate. She still claims to hate new foods
almost before they hit her tongue, but she tastes them. And mostly doesn’t gag or cry. And so I push against the tide, working my
ass off, for these tiny shifts.
I’ll keep pushing.
I’ll encourage my rather solitary, easily overstimulated son to make
friends, and I’ll be thrilled when he comes home and tells me he held hands
with another boy who is now his best buddy.
I don’t have to do much behavioral modification with my daughter right
now other than the food thing. Did I
mention, she’s a pleaser? But when
she’s 12 and 13, I suspect I’ll be doing a lot of tide-pushing against her
tendency to please when the people she cares about impressing are her friends
and (I’m gonna anxiety-puke just thinking about it) boys.
In the scheme of things, I have really easy kids. I lucked out on the kid lottery, and I know
it. Yeah, when they’re in the same
room, they don’t sleep until midnight.
They fight. They would rather
screw around than sit down and eat.
Whatever. Normal crap. The stuff I am dealing with is nail biting,
talking back, sibling rivalry, leaving their toys all over the house. Booo-ring.
When I was dealing with my kid hitting other kids at school, when I was
dealing with a preschool teacher implying that maybe my kid had Asperger’s
I busted out a lot more behavioral wing-dings to deal with those things. It didn’t work awesome until developmental
changes happened in their own time, but I had to feel like I was trying
everything I knew how to try.
I’m not sure it made any difference. But at least I felt like I was doing
everything I could.
I watch parents deal with more challenging kids, kids who
are not as easy as mine. I watch them
push against the tide, and when that doesn’t work, I watch them try to build
bulwarks and levees made out of sheer will.
I watch them try to plug leak after leak, until the number of leaks
exceeds their emotional resources. They
have to. I would do the same. When your kid is having a problem, you have
to do everything you can. Because what if
that next parenting book, or that next strategy, or that next specialist is the
one that can help your kid?
But I want to tell them this: You didn’t give your kid this problem. Your kid is not struggling because you don't read enough
parenting books, or because you aren't consistent in your discipline strategy
or because you let them watch too much TV or eat too many Cheez-its. You’re not getting notes home from the
teacher because you’re a bad parent.
You got the kid you got. And
your job is just harder. You’re working
harder than I am, harder than lots of parents, and maybe people think you’re
not doing a good job, but that’s because they don’t know shit about how hard
your job is.
It’s like the person on The Voice who tries to sing a
Whitney Houston song. It’s easy to get
all judgey when you can’t sing worth a damn and don’t really know
anything. But other singers know which
songs are hard to sing. Parents of
tricky kids, you got dealt a Whitney Houston song. Sing your heart out. But
cut yourself some slack. Worrying about
your kids is one of the worst feelings in the world. But you know what’s worse?
Guilt. Let it go. Parent as well and as mindfully as you can,
do whatever you can to help your kid.
And then let it go.
Some kids are never going to make friends easily. Some kids are never going to like sushi or
strong flavors. Some kids are never
going to make the honor roll. Some kids
are never going to sit still with their hands folded and listen to the
teacher. Some kids are going to be just a
little bit tone deaf. Some kids are
going to struggle with temper, or with impulsivity, or with reading, or with
handwriting (stupid D’Nealian).
Obviously, there are kids and families with much more
challenging problems than these. But
without even bringing up special needs, just your average “typical” kids… they
are who they are, and it seems to me that you just can’t change it that
much. While they’re children, society
wants them to sit quietly and be friendly and write neatly. Kids who can do that will have an easier
time in school, and their parents might feel like rock stars. Until they have a second kid who doesn’t do
those things, no matter what they try.
All of these kids, the easy ones and the tricky ones, will
grow up. And handwriting and sitting
still will matter less, and there will be ways to make friends who share their
interests rather than just share their classroom. And strong family connection and love will matter more than coloring
in the lines. And they will find their
own way, and become more than you ever could have imagined.
So love them, and yes, push against the tide. Try to help them strengthen the areas that
are a struggle for them. Do everything you can
for your kid, because you love them and you can’t not. Do everything you can so that you will know
you did everything you could. And then
That’s some pretty good advice. I should really try to take it too. Letting go, not my strong suit.
Never was. Nothing anyone really could
have done about it.