This piece could probably be a book, but fortunately, I have limited myself to 30 minutes. I don’t recommend being a parent to any and everyone; however, when it comes to self-knowledge and exploration, parenting is likely one of the best teachers. Of course, this is only if we have an interest in learning and willingness to take the time to reflect.
As a parent, watching a tiny being from creation (or arrival on your doorstep) as it grows and develops is awe-inspiring. Intimate knowledge of tiny beings is simply amazing. The spark of intellectual curiosity, human curiosity, the innate desire and ability to learn is fantastic.
On the flipside, parenting most definitely has awesome moments that fall more in the category of AWFUL than AWESOME. The number of levels at which parenting can go wrong is impressive and ever expanding. When you have one kid, you start to think that maybe you have it figured out. And then you have a second kid and you start to doubt yourself. By the third or fourth kid, the only thing that remains constant is that you love your kids more than anything. And that candy is more efficient than money when it comes to bribes.
Parenting is not for perfectionists. Or control freaks. In my experience, somewhere around two years of age, a parent learns that you can’t actually make/force/convince another human to do anything. On one hand, parents actually learn this sometime in the few hours to weeks after a baby is brought home, but it really sinks in, when the small human begins to recognize that he or she is independent of mom and dad. And in fact to some extent in control of her own destiny.
I recall distinctly the first time I really learned this lesson. Winston was about two years old and had recently been participating in what I called “nap strikes.” One afternoon as I tried to convince him to sleep, I slowly grew more and more agitated. He remained blissfully uninterested in sleeping. Finally, I lashed out (literally) and slapped his little round bottom. He was shocked. I was shocked. He still didn’t sleep. I closed his door and left him alone for some quiet time. I never again tried to force him to sleep.
Corporal punishment and punishment in general, exist because as humans, we have a desire to force our will on other humans. There is a difference though between punishment and discipline. Discipline is not punishment. Discipline is a strategy that gives people, small and large, a structure and an understanding in which to operate. Writing for 30 days straight takes discipline, as does learning to tie one’s shoes or pass a spelling test. A huge part of parenting revolves around imparting discipline to our children.
Kids thrive on consistency, expectations, and discipline. Successful children get a balance of self-autonomy and loving discipline. One of the hardest parts of parenting (for me) is maintaining discipline and expectations in my own life. And there are still the days in which I wish I could just ask my mom or my dad to fill in. Of course, this is even harder with most of a continent and the Atlantic ocean between me and my parents.
I have found that the times I get the most frustrated with my kids (well the 2-year-old and the 9-year-old) is when I myself have actually failed the discipline game. Sure, my kids may not be responding the way I would like them to at THIS.MOMENT.IN.TIME. But what led up to this moment? What could I have done differently? Generally, it was my own lack of preparation or planning or follow-through. This is a realization as a parent that sucks.
Theoretically, at age 2, my daughter should be able to soothe herself, but she doesn’t. Putting her to bed is like crossing an adorable little kitten with a jack-in-the-box and banshee. Short of locking her in a kennel, which would not be appropriate, I have been faced with two choices. The first, which we tried a bit last week, was just letting her stay up, in hopes that she would get tired and fall asleep. In the end, we had a sobbing mess on our hands, who still wouldn’t sleep.
Our little 2-year-old does have sleep problems, but she also has eczema and a food allergy (or two). My consistency and discipline come into play here, because I have been putting off making follow-up appointments with our dermatologist and the food allergist. I just want her eczema to go away. And I don’t want her to be allergic to anything besides peanuts (this is her only known allergy). Allergies are inconvenient. Of course, kids who don’t sleep and wake up crying at 2 AM are also inconvenient. But the reality is when she takes an antihistamine, her itching and her eczema are significantly reduced.
The Gift of Imperfection, as Brene Brown, titled one of her books speaks to this… Certainly, the world works better when we are efficient, but we can’t control the world any more than we can control a 2-year-old. And sometimes, we just have to throw in the towel and go for the imperfect solution. On Monday, I bit the bullet and took her to the doctor. We have a new prescription for an antihistamine and orders to see the allergist. The pediatrician is certain she has another undiagnosed food allergy. Allergies are imperfect, but what can I do?
What I can do, is give her medication to soothe her little body and I can lay with her at bedtime to soothe her little mind. And so, for the last few nights, I have found myself laying down with our future Madame President for nearly an hour before she falls asleep. This solution is imperfect. It is not ideal for getting dishes done, taking care of my older son or taking care of myself. And yet, last night for the first time in a while, I had a child who slept the entire night through. And for the last four nights, she has eventually gone to sleep quietly without melting down or crying so hard her voice cracks.
Laying down beside her and rocking her like an infant is time-consuming. Last night it took more than an hour. Tonight it took 57 minutes (yes, I was timing.) Her little brother fell asleep during the first 11 minutes. And her big brother ALSO fell asleep on the couch waiting for me. It is an imperfect solution, but in the end, it is a solution.
My hope is that with consistency, in a few days or a week, she will relearn that she goes to bed when her baby brother goes to bed. And that sleeping in her bed is actually a nice, comfy thing to look forward to…wish me (and us) luck. In the meantime, I well cherish her hugs and snuggles and the smell of her small head under my chin, because someday she’ll be big. And then my problem will be waking her up…not getting her to sleep!