Thoughts on parenting...
I can’t count the number of times a soon to be a new mother has asked me for advice… my typical answer?
“Keep your expectations low ….pick your battles carefully …and be grateful for every day you spend with them because they grow up fast and soon that loving little baby…then toddler…then 7 year old will suddenly transform into a teenager with an attitude and a bottomless pit for a stomach!”
What do I say when friends tell me they are thinking about having a child…?
“Adopt a dog or a puppy first …if you can’t deal with the messiness and the chaos, and perhaps losing a couch or a nice pair of shoes, you are not ready to handle a human child!”
Seriously though, being a mother has been a blessing in so many ways. Most importantly, having three strong willed, curious, and creative children has taught me the true meaning of patience…..has encouraged me to learn how to flow like the ocean, enjoy the roller coaster ride, and appreciate the good days as well as the not so good days. The challenges I have faced have taught so much more than I ever could have imagined about unconditional love, letting go of expectations, and how the powerful and profound love you have for your children can strengthen you and push you forward…even when you feel so exhausted from carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, you can barely get out of bed.
Since I have more time these days to focus on many things I would normally not have time to think about, I decided to spend some time this weekend writing down some of my thoughts on parenthood… lessons I have learned through the years…
1. Expectations are the devil incarnate! After my eldest son Clay was born, I can remember having a very idealistic view of how life would be with a new baby. Waking up on a Saturday morning, I would imagine our upcoming trip to the mall…baby in stroller…happy parents strolling through stores and perhaps finding some cool, new, retro kitchenware or baby clothes. The reality, however, was seldom close to the idealistic dream. Typically, 5-10 minutes after arriving at the mall, Clay would start crying (cries that sounded more like coyote screams to a self-conscious parent.) We would try everything to try and calm him down… feeding…pacifier…cool new toy …but, alas, more often than not, nothing worked and finally exhausted, disappointed, and worn down, we would give up and leave.
I realized early on that I needed to keep my expectations in check. Children can be unpredictable, temperamental, and chaotic at times and, while sometimes they may surprise you…. seldom do things go exactly as planned. Unfortunately, this does not change as much as one would hope as they get older. I still have expectations…. reasonable expectations… like not missing homework, helping out around the house, treating each other with respect …etc. However, if I allowed myself to freak out every time I have had to put on a hazmat suit to go clean my boys bathroom, or every time I have to remind them to clean up after themselves, I would probably be drinking a bottle of wine a day.
2. Sleepless nights never completely go away! With a new baby, you have to quickly get used to waking up every 2-4 hours for feedings, cuddling, and with newborns …checking to make sure they are still breathing. As they get older, they start sleeping through the night but that doesn’t necessarily mean you do. There are those nights when they walk into your room at 2am to tell you they feel sick and then proceed to throw up all over your bedroom floor… or the nights when they wake up screaming from a bad dream …or you wake up and hear them crying because they have thrown up, wet the bed, feel sick, or *insert typical issue here. During the tween years you get a bit of a reprieve because they learn to handle being sick or scared on their own and (hopefully) are no longer wetting the bed.
While sleeping may get a little easier as kids get older, the things that keep you up at night shift from primarily waking to care for your child to staying awake obsessing over anything and everything your brain can mysteriously conjure up at 3am. There are nights I have woken up in the middle of the night and have ended up starring at the ceiling for hours worrying about an assortment of irrational concerns …what I was going to do if I couldn’t pay the bills? …. what if my roof starts leaking everywhere and my house fills with water? …. what if one of my kids gets really sick? …what will I do if my basement becomes infested with Camel Back crickets?
Truth is, you never stop worrying about your children either… I have spent many nights unable to sleep until my 21 year old arrives home from a night out at 2-3am …once the dog starts barking and I hear him come in the house and say “Daisy shut the f&*k up!” I can finally drift off peacefully and sleep…
3. If you can’t beat them, join them! (…and by beat, I mean in the winning sense not in the beating them with a wooden spoon sense…) When I married my now ex-husband, he was huge boxing fan. At the time, there were HBO fight nights almost every weekend and every few weeks a big pay-per-view fight. I realized early-on, I had a choice. I could either complain, sulk, and try and stop him from watching fights …or I could read Joyce Carol Oats “On Boxing” and develop my own interest in the sport. I chose the later and fight nights became a frequent ritual that we both enjoyed together or with friends.
With my children, I have tried to have a similar philosophy. Let’s face it …the kids these days love the video games and spend more time plugged into a PlayStation or YouTube then they do interacting with others face to face. So, I realized that the best way for me to stay connected was to figure out a way to join them. Several nights a week we play Civilization VI together …a game that is similar to that old board game “Risk”...played on the computer, and the version with not so impressive natural disasters. I have played D&D with them as well and occasionally gone with them to see anime movies. In return, I have pushed them to develop a similar love for spending time outdoors …. mainly hiking and biking.
Not only have these connections fostered a closer relationship between myself and my children, it has also deepened their relationships with each other. Despite the differences in ages (21,17, and 14) …they are close, support each other, watch out for each other, and genuinely enjoy hanging out together. I never feel like I have to push them to talk to me …in fact when conversations start to get into that TMI territory, I have to push them to stop talking…
4. Good news is your children do learn from you! I don’t know how many times I have tried to explain an important point to my children and have received that “ok, Boomer” response in return which usually results in me forgetting my original point in my attempts to explain that I am Gen X …not a Boomer. There have been many times later, however, where I have heard one of my children explaining the same point to a friend or to each other and I realize that they were hearing what I was saying …it’s just in their nature to not want to show it. I have always pushed my children to their own opinions, make up their own minds, and keep an open mind. We spend a lot of time debating current issues and events and, even though they can be ridiculously head strong and stubborn in their opinions and like calling me a Boomer, I appreciate their curiosity, intelligence and tenacity.
5. Bad news is your children do learn from you! So…I am terrified of some bugs…like ridiculously terrified! The worst are the jumping kind and those leggy, crazy looking bugs like silver fish and centipedes that run down your walls like drops of water. Yuck…even the thought of them makes me shiver. I remember one night when I was putting my two younger children to bed and, it just so happened, a big male mosquito had (at some point) made its way into their room. My daughter saw him first and screamed bloody murder. My younger son followed suit. Next thing I knew, they were both crying and begging me to make the big scary bug go away. I felt some serious guilt that night. Remembering the many times I had run in fear from bugs in front of them. Especially remembering a night back in our old Silver Spring house, when a camel back cricket had appeared in the living room. They came running when I screamed, and we all ended up jumping up on the couch wondering what to do next. I am ashamed to admit that I was actually offering $5.00 to whoever could get rid of it. Terrible parenting moment for sure…
Yes, there are some things our kids learn from us that we wish we could take back. Fear of bugs is only the tip of the iceberg… every time my son yells at another driver who cuts him off or turns without a signal… I cringe….
Someone once said “being a parent is like jumping out of an airplane with a bunch of little people who don’t know how to open their own chutes and you have to maneuver around them and do it for them….and when you hit the ground, no matter how hard, you have to get up, brush yourself off, and make them dinner.” I think that about sums it up… As a parent I realize I do not always make the best choices and I am certainly not perfect. Realistically, no one is. However, from the moment I saw my first-born child and held him in my arms while he screamed unconsolably (red faced with fists waiving) … I knew I was in for one hell of a ride and most importantly, I knew that I loved this little being that I created, more than I could ever love myself.