Never…and No, I won’t

“Well, acknowledging your ‘issues’ is 3/4ths of the way there,” a good friend recently said over a very nice margarita and nachos supreme.  And I kind of wanted to ask – if I’m at 75%, is that good enough or do I have to actually try to go for 100%….ie, do I have to work on improving myself?

I was explaining to my friend the difficulties that I sometimes have with Micah as he continually tries to test the limits I set.  I joked that I had just picked up another book, this one called “Try and Make Me,” and it described us perfectly in the first 5 pages.  It also suggested rather firmly that the fault of all power struggles lies solely in me, the adult.  Yes….I roll my eyes, I know.

So, I am starting to feel a little confident that I have found a book that understands my problem, and on Thursday as we are all getting ready for school/work/day care, Micah is throwing a ball at the chandelier (right after being reprimanded and having the first ball removed from his hands).  I turn to my sister and say “he’s baiting me.  Yep, that’s what the book says – he’s baiting me.”  “So,” she replies, “what does it say to do about it?”  I shake my head, “no clue, haven’t gotten there yet, but he’s baiting me!”

Then this morning, the woman working at the community center where Micah plays basketball offers that her life was completely changed around by the “1-2-3 Magic” system by Thomas Phalen.  Good, I think, another book for me to read….

A few months ago, I joked with a co-worker that the only “literature” I read now is parenting books.  He surprised me when he said, “you know, I really admire that.  I mean, if I want to become an expert at something, I read about it.  I would imagine that if you want to become good at parenting, it’s good to read about it.”  I actually had never thought about that.  Somehow I expected parenting to be as easy and natural as babysitting – feed them, rock them, play with them, viola! – return them to the parents!

But no….not that easy.  Now I feed and rock and play and worry about whether their school/day care is right for them?  Whether Seth’s hair will grow back quickly as he has no bangs after that haircut yesterday?  Whether they will grow up to be independent, ethical, hard-working young men?  Whether they will stay as beautiful (ahem, handsome) as they are now.  So, now I read books:

Wild Things, the Art of Raising Boys – loved it

Love and Logic – couldn’t really get into it

The Explosive Child – described Micah and our difficulty perfectly, but the solution – not so helpful

The Help – great book

The Irresistible Henry House – thought I’d love it, never finished it

Goodnight Moon – a classic

The Very Cranky Bear – my favorite

Here’s what it boils down to.  My issues.  There are two parts of my personality that I struggle with – my need for control and the desire to be right.  Those two qualities are deep-seated and highly ingrained features of me.  And I’ve come far because of them (elementary education degree, developmental psychology doctorate, pediatrician – driven by my ability to control my learning and my need to be right).  However, these two qualities are at the root of much of my parenting difficulties.

Guess what?  You can’t actually control a child – they are their own unique human beings with their own will (and, not surprisingly, their own desire for control!).  My job is to help shape that will, but I can’t control it.  And when it comes to parenting, I am not nearly as right as I sure would like to be and that frustrates me.  So when Micah and I are escalating into one of our classic power struggles, it is actually me grappling with my own self and nature and refusing to give in or be perceived as being “wrong.”  Heavy stuff.

So….this is where I am right now – at 75% – and halfway through one book with two more in my Amazon cart….and I am open to suggestions.

————————- A  brief update to last week’s post ———————–

I called the caseworker supervisor on Monday to say that the visit almost never took place as the mother’s name was not on the list again.  He said, “Well, that’s her responsibility to make sure she’s on the list.”  I replied, “She didn’t even know a visit was happening that day.”  To this, he became quite agitated – saying that the mother’s lawyer had thrown a dramatic fit at the court hearing a week prior that CYF was ignoring the mother’s rights and treating her poorly and that the mother was so upset about not having a visit.  And now we’re all wondering how much of this craziness is being driven by the lawyer….rather than the mother….and is the lawyer even talking to the birthmother.  Who needs fiction?  Life is crazy enough!  So birthmother will be released in about two weeks and we’ll see what happens next.

Don’t forget to laugh!

As you might be able to tell by now, I like to think about parenting.  And one of my recent thoughts is how to inspire other parents who might be going through similar things.  It helps to know someone out there has also completely lost it over the kid splashing water outside of the bathtub.  I mean, what’s the big deal really?  It’s a bathroom.  Everything about a bathroom screams “get me wet, I can handle it!”  And yet, when my boys sit in the tub thrashing about or squirting streams of water droplets into the air, I have some mini-volcanic eruption about water hitting the water-proof tile floor (though I save my level 8.5 Richter Scale explosions for when they slide down the back of the tub sending a Tsunami reverberating back and over the edge…again….onto a water-proof floor!). My head shakes wondering why this “mess” is so offensive to me.

Today I was contemplating this in light of what a friend recently posted as her favorite “rules” of parenting (thanks AskDoctorG): “1. Love, 2. Limit, and 3. Let them be.”

1.  I sure do love my boys….though sometimes I show a little “less” love in the midst of discussing whether or not Micah will get dressed for daycare this morning (of course you will).  And sometimes I have to remind myself that part of how I show them love is in the small touches, so I tousle their hair (which is universally disliked by kids) and I pat their legs (which is typically greeted with an “ouch”), and give them “lovings” as Micah has coined it.  But sometimes I realize the true depth of my love when someone challenges my kid, like the woman who honked at Micah as he tried to steer his bike off a path at the playground this weekend – and the fiery dragon of protectiveness unleashed itself within me and roared at the open window about honking at a kid and being patient with a kid, and ….and….and….heart thumping emotional energy of love encircled my child as a shield. This reaction is not always rational, but it sure is powerful love.

2. Limits – ah, the splashing in the tub.  I do have very clear limits on “hurting another,” but I don’t know why I decide to “limit” other behaviors. Of course, it’s not always the “bad” things that I limit – sometimes it’s the good as well.  Sometimes it’s telling Micah that he’s had enough screen time.  Sometimes it’s saying no to a third or fourth “treat” even though you want to give in and make them happy (meanwhile, I fly past all normal limits of portion size for ice cream…on a routine basis).  And sometimes, as a friend and I discussed today, it’s even limiting the activities we do with our kids.  Just because they are old enough to do something (zipline, white-water rafting, waterpark slides) does not mean that we need to expose them to everything at once.  It is okay to have a completely unscheduled weekend….at least I think so…and we’ll have to try it some time.

3. And I definitely let the boys “be” if they’re being quiet…unless they are being too quiet…and every parent knows when that threshold is crossed!

But I decided today that I would add a 4th “rule” and that is: Laugh!  A statistic flashed by me recently that said a child laughs 400 times a day and an adult only 15.  This is sad indeed.  Clearly something has gone wrong – I need to laugh more.  And I need to remember to laugh more at the boys and with the boys.  So, when my sister decided to let 2-year-old Stephen run around naked for a few minutes after a bath yesterday to dry out his swimsuit-chaffed legs and said “it’s no problem as long as he doesn’t have to go potty,” guess what word Stephen heard in that sentence?  And guess who sprung out of range when he commenced to spraying the carpet.  Naturally, one day it will be a good idea to limit the location of his urination, but yesterday it was a good idea just to laugh.

“Good Mommy” vs. “Bad Mommy”

You know it’s bad news when the daycare center calls you within 2 hours of dropping off the kids.  It’s pink-eye.  Oh, is that why the eye was fused shut last night when I tried to roll Micah over at midnight….and then again this morning?  Well, it didn’t look pink to me!.

So, it was an unexpected day off of work with the eldest son.  We went to the doctor’s office and walked out with a couple prescriptions. I told Micah that we could get some popcorn and an Icee at Target when we got his medications filled.  He turned to me with sparkling eyes (one red, of course) and said “you’re a good Mommy.”

I smiled – the promise of a treat makes me a good Mommy in his eyes.  And we did have a nice afternoon.  I bought him his first pair of cleats for flag-football.  I treated him to an Icee and pizza.  And, since it was his “special day” as he soon designated it, we wandered around the pet store for awhile too.

I thought about how Micah calls me the “good Mommy” when I’m treating him – or providing that “special day” for him when he gets to have a say about what we do (“let’s go to the playground”…. “let’s play basketball”….).  But more often, I am the “bad Mommy” – the one who enforces the rules.  The one who tells him to stop yelling in the house and to settle down.  The one who makes him return to the bathroom over and over to brush his teeth or wash his hands.  The one who demands that he uses “please” and “thank you” in his conversations, and now we are working on “excuse me.”

The “good” and the “bad” depend greatly on one’s perspective, of course.  I’ve been thinking about this in the nation’s educational system as well.  I recently heard a news report about the “dumbing down” of our education all the way through college. Teachers are becoming more concerned with teaching to the tests than with actually teaching the students.  College professors who seek tenure only reach that goal if they receive good evaluations from students.  So, they begin to water down their expectations so that the students like them and give them higher satisfaction ratings on evaluations.  This is great in the short-term – the students are happy and the professors get promoted. But this type of “good” teaching gets us nowhere in the long-run.  Now we are graduating generations of students who have less knowledge than previously – and definitely less independent critical thinking skills.  We are graduating students who have not been asked to work hard, who are not held responsible, and who feel entitled to an easy life.

So, it seems to me – if I am actually going to be a “good Mommy” in teaching my boys – a large percentage of the time, I will actually be a “bad Mommy” and will maintain that high level of expectation so that one day they will be strong, determined, independent, and thoughtful adults.  And I will be so proud of them.  So watch out boys – tomorrow it’s “bad” Mommy all over again.