Before I had kids, I knew nothing about raising kids. There is no book that truly helps a person understand how to gracefully, and stresslessly, succeed at being a parent. Parenthood is experiential learning at its best. We experiment, reflect, and try again. And again. And again. Some days are better than others. What I am writing is no shock to anyone, anywhere. As parents, we provide children with support and guidance, we share stories that are the foundation for morals, we act as role models, we set rules and boundaries. We reward for jobs well done and offer repercussions for bad choices. We comfort and cradle and lift up. We love. We forgive. We do this day after day, year after year. And nobody ever told us how to. We just do it, some days better than others.
Another fact we all know is that our children are not us. They are their very own people, with their own personalities, strengths, and quirks, who make their own decisions. They are people. Young people, with brains that are not yet developed as fully as an adult, which means that their actions and emotions are in progress. They are learning to manage their emotions and understand the concept of time, what is and what isn't an emergency,how to tolerate discomfort and not scream when tired or hungry or scared or frustrated. Oh, and they are learning to use a toilet, and say their name, and put on their own pants, and feed themselves, and walk and read, and do math, and tie their shoes, and play fair, and be a good friend, and zip their coats. That's a lot to learn. Today, I tried nothing new and had to learn nothing new to have a pretty good day.
Think about that. Think about a day that you had to test your limits and grow in new ways and do something outside of your comfort zone. How did you feel? How did you act? Were you a cool as a cucumber? Nice to everyone? Smiling and placid and caring and helpful? Hell, what about a day that you didn't stretch and develop as an individual but you just didn't get lot of sleep, or coffee, or you were really hungry. Was that your best day? Probably not.
What I am getting at is that our kids have a lot on their plates, and in their brains, and they act like jerks all of the time because of it. We can do our best to help them follow the rules but the fact of the matter is, developmentally they are not adults. They just aren't, and it's been well over a century since we all agreed on this.
So, I am confused. If we all agree that nobody can learn parenting outside of trial and error, and kids are emotionally un-regulated young human beings, who get frustrated trying to figure out a million things at once, why do we expect kids to be perfect all of the time and why do we expect their parents to be, also?
Caroline is the queen of tantrums. Over the last seven years, she has perfected them. Wailing, stomping, flailing, gyrating, screaming, and screeching is her performance art. I've read ALL the books on tantrums and have tried many techniques in an effort to eliminate this horrible behavior from our life. Including (my favorite advice) "avoiding anything that causes a tantrum", you know, like saying no, saying maybe, saying later, or saying just a minute. Or going outside, or staying inside, or letting the ketchup touch the hot dog, or being one second too late opening the juice box, or picking out a pink shirt instead of a blue shirt, or giving her the blonde mermaid bath toy instead of the brunette. Or telling her it is Monday and a school day instead of Saturday, or telling her it's time to go inside after playing outside for 3 hours straight, or putting her socks on all wrong, or asking her to put on her seat belt, or laughing.
You get my point. This is tiring. I want the tantrums to go away. Do you think I enjoy her throwing herself on the floor in the grocery store because they don't have the jelly donut I promised her if she was a good girl and let mommy shop? Do you think I'm proud when I have to throw her over my shoulder and sweat my way to the car as she screams at the top of her lungs? Do you think I am ok when she acts like an ass and embarrasses me in public? Do you think me "allowing" my kid to act out is a sign of my defiance against all parents, and all of society? Do you think I wish her tantrums would go away forever? You bet ya. Do you think I am mortified? Uh huh. Do you think I go home and cry and feel like the worst parent ever? Yep. Do you think I try, over and over again, different ways to elminate the behavior, losing sleep over it at night, replaying the event in my head? Oui. Do you think I notice the people around me, staring, scoffing, or making little comments under their breath? Mmmhmm. Do you think I'll never forget when a family member once told me, "your kids are very cute but poorly behaved"? Yes.
I used to think that I was the only parent who felt this way. For a time, I was so focused on caring for a baby and managing a tantruming child, that I thought I was the only one with a kid who didn't act like a doll. In my head, all the other babies seemed quieter. All the toddlers seemed so compliant. I thought all the other kids ate their veggies and stopped doing what they were doing when their parents told them to. I was sure that all other children went to bed on command, never splashed in the bath tub, and never stuck their tongues out and called their moms a poopy head.
Then, one day, I stepped out of my personal pity party and looked around. Lots of kids were acting like a-holes. Everywhere. All of the time. On the playground, a boy pushed his sister on the ground. Another kid threw sand. At the grocery store, a baby screamed and her sister dropped a bottle of pickles on the floor and it broke. At the museum, a girl called another girl a stupid poopy head. Another kid kept running when her mom said to stop. A dad tossed his tantruming toddler over his shoulder and hussled to the exit. Parents! We are in this together! We are all doing our best and our kids are often acting their worst. It is only behind closed doors, and sometimes only for fleeting moments, that our children act like the angels they really are, and remind us why they are the greatest gift and purest joy in the whole wide world. On a really bad day that may be when they are in bed, asleep.
I ask you, my fellow parents, when you are out and about with your child, and it happens to be that one rare day that little Suzy is acting like a princess, you stop judging that other parent whose child is trantuming so hard she is throwing up on the sidewalk. Stop snickering at the dad of little Johnny, while Johnny is jumping on a bag of chips at the check-out. Stop snubbing the neighbors because their kids eat more mac 'n' cheese than broccoli, or assume that your friend isn't a very good mom because her kid has worn her "lucky" socks for 5 days in a row because she has yet to lay down the law and say no to stinky lucky socks, for fear of a major melt-down that she is too tired to face.
As a society, we are judging one another all of the time: our appearance, the jobs we have, the cars we drive, the size of our homes, our choice of life partner, or lack of life partner, our religion, our political beliefs. Can't we just leave parenting alone and all agree that it is hard and we're all going to make some decisions that are good, and some that are not as good? Can we agree not to assume that someone is a bad parent because their kid is behaving badly? I'm not saying not to speak up if you see a child being harmed or in danger of being hurt. I'm just asking that you put your catty hat away when you see a kid acting up in public because you know you've been there and you know how humiliating that moment is for all parents. We teach our kids to be kinder. Let's really be their role models, parents, let's start by being kinder to one another.