It turns out that parenting is actually kind of hard.
I’m sure to most people that will sound suspiciously like an irritating truism, but for me, it’s not. Parenting was one of the one things I felt like I could pretty consistently and overall, pretty effortlessly. As far as being a wife, I’ve a lot of room for improvement. As far as being a daughter and daughter-in-law, those roles take a lot of conscious effort for me. But after a certain point and with a certain amount of help, being a mom felt pretty seamless.
That is, until last week.
Zoe wasn’t much fussier than usual. She was cutting a lot of new teeth, but with toddlers there is always some ailment or the other that we use to excuse their behavior. I had just finished reading the Baby Whisperer book for toddlers– Gospel when it comes to child-rearing, as far as I’m concerned.
For some reason, in spite all of then attention, time, energy and love I had poured into Zoe (or perhaps because of it, she still had developed certain issues that were becoming more of a problem.
Get this: it turns out you can pay too much attention to your child.
When I read that, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Here I was, in all my good intention, trying not to repeat the pattern of generations and ignore my kid and her needs. And here I was, making the opposite mistake. Sometimes raising kids seems so unfairly complicated that I become convinced that it’s next to impossible to do properly.
As a result of me paying too much attention to Zoe, she had really terrible separation anxiety and every nap was a terrifying ordeal for her. She didn’t know how to play on her own. She became so impatient that she started fussing almost incessantly. Most kids her age (a year and a half) throw temper tantrums at the drop of a hat out of frustration at not being able to communicate their needs. Not so with Zoe. She’s well-versed in sign language and overall pretty inventive at making her needs known. And yet, anytime my attention was not solely focused on her, it was grounds for loud whining.
I’ve had to slowly wean Zoe off of my constant attention and teach her how to be okay by herself– not an easy thing at this stage. I think it’s infinitely easier to simply love a kid as opposed to loving them AND simultaneously teaching them the lessons that they need to know.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Get what you need. For me that was setting up play dates for this week so that I didn’t have to be alone for too long. It’s a lot easier to ease her into independence if she has friends around to play with. And I stay sane when I see my friends. Never could have stayed sane without the loving support of my husband who was such a champ that he watched the Lizzie McGuire Movie with me last night– an old standby on those tough days.
My un-religious husband even suggested that I ask a friend for a blessing. We’re giving him the husband-of-the-year award for that suggestion. The blessing helped immensely, taught me what I needed to learn, and gave me the strength to move forward. It’s hard not to have your heart warmed when you learn that you have friends willing to come over at 11 at night just to offer you that kind of support.
2. If you are angry at your child (or anyone for that matter), you’re screwed. I’ve known this for a long time, but I keep learning it on deeper levels. BOY is it exhausting to be angry at a toddler the whole day. I don’t know how people do it. It’s always tempting to think, “Well, I wouldn’t be angry if he/she would just ___.” For me it was “stop whining.”
Let me just spoil the ending for you and tell you that it’s never true. If my daughter isn’t whining, I’ll still have to teach her how to communicate her needs. If she doesn’t have separation anxiety, I’d need to teach her how to set limits for herself when exploring. There is always some obstacle in every relationship. They’re not meant to be easy. They’re meant to be rewarding, and when we can care about our children regardless of how inconvenient they are, man, it is indescribably rewarding.
For the solution to #2, see #1.
Beyond that, the way that we regard our children is a choice. Often people ask me what to do when they’re already angry at their kids. At that point, I don’t know what to tell you. Damage control, basically. Do what you can. Get through the day. Survive.
But in the long-term, parenthood is an extraordinary privilege. We’ve been entrusted to raise and nurture these tender spirits, to teach them everything from how to tie their shoes to how to resolve conflict to how to butter toast. They depend on us to become functional, happy, and responsible adults. What an honor to have charge of such pure, innocent beings. All of Zoe’s annoying behaviors, I pretty much taught her by screwing up, whether or not I was aware of it at the time. Nothing is her fault. She’s one and a half, after all. How much can we really blame such a small, helpless child?
I’ve made the decision that apart from being a wife, being a mother is the most sacred calling I have in this life and when I wake up every morning with that commitment at the front of my mind, I am utterly delighted to see the toothy grin that wakes me up altogether too early.
What do you do when you’re angry? Restart. Get not angry. Do whatever that takes. Because when we’re happy to be with our kids, everything runs more smoothly.