So the monkey and I have been “off” for a few days. Every issue has been an argument, every request a struggle. This has resulted in fits and frustration, tears and tantrums. I won’t bore you with the details, and I don’t really need any advice or criticism about it–it’s a phase, I know it’ll pass, but in the meantime, it’s torturous. Of course, I’ve checked that something was not horribly horribly wrong, and by all accounts, I’m fairly certain I’ve ruled out anything major…I think it is just a matter of resisting structure, and avoiding conflict with other kids.
But since life is full of conflict and structure, I have started trying to implement that into our down time. The trick, I think, is to make it fun so it doesn’t SEEM like structure. So when I told her yesterday it was “project time,” she asked if we could glue macaroni noodles to paper.
Dang. I didn’t have any macaroni noodles, because no one in the whole house eats macaroni. But what I DID have was a big ol’ bag of kid-beads that a friend had given us. Sometimes, I give her a project to do and I go do something productive, like clean the kitchen, or sweep the floor. But this time, considering all the struggles we’ve been having, I thought it was important to do this project WITH her.
So it’s super easy: doodle something on some paper, and glue some random beads to it. Or macaroni. Or beans. Or Q-tips. Or leaves. Or cereal. Or grass. Or whatever random things you have around the house. It really doesn’t matter, because that part’s not at ALL important. The important thing is that I spend some time WITH her. Since she often goes into a project with an idea already of what she wants to do, she requested we turn them into ornaments, so each one has a little loop for a string to go through.
And it’s things like this that don’t take a lot of effort to do that really help me on the rough days. I don’t care what I made. I don’t care what it looks like. The fact that we did it together is what’s important. Spending actual time with her. Stopping to take a few pictures, but mostly listening to her and her ideas, and having fun WITH her instead of just giving her busy work to do. Instead of just tossing an ipad at her. Instead of just turning on the TV…
I am the mother of a strong-willed girl. Because of our collaborations, people sometimes applaud my mom-skills…but I’ll tell you a secret every mom should freely admit without fear: I don’t really know what I’m doing. I just do what feels right, even if it’s not my favorite option. I talk it over with my husband, and we figure out something that works. And you know what I’ve learned? NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING. And the very most important thing (especially when you’re a new mom) is to keep in mind that what works for my kid won’t always work for yours.
I’ve had lots of people give me parenting advice, and after it fails me, I get the feeling that they think I’ve “done it wrong.” And then I feel like I’ve done it wrong. But I’ve learned over time, that there is no “wrong.” You just try and try again, and hope that you stumble along something that works before you pull out all your hair. You can’t fault someone for trying, and you can’t give them the squinchy eye if what works for you didn’t work for them. Give them a pat on the back for their struggle, and help them come up with another idea…or at least offer them a spot on your couch, a sympathetic ear, or a playdate.
Sometimes, you look around and it seems like everyone else is doing this whole parenting thing better than you. I promise you, they’re not. I know I’m not. We’re just doing the best we can over here. That smiling, happy family photo? Of course that family is posting it–they’re SO blown away that they actually have a SINGLE documented moment that looks like a magazine photo!! (I like to picture those magazine people first thing in the morning after very little sleep, with tangled hair, and bags under their eyes. And maybe a headcold, too…not to be spiteful, but because you KNOW they have to have those days).
(For a bit of a giggle, by the way, I love looking at “It’s Like They Know Us” on Facebook, where they take stock photos of “perfect” families, comment on them, and hilarity ensues. PS: If you’re going on there, you’ve got to read the comments people write for each photo; they’re just as funny).
Parenting is rough stuff. It’s not always that smiling happy, ethereal moment that gets captured in photos of people happily tossing their well-behaved, angelic toddler in the air as they smile adoringly at them. It’s not always the wonderfully monastic and artistic mom, lovingly and patiently doing art projects with her compliant and easygoing daughter. Maybe you think it’s like that for me. Maybe you think it’s like that for other people. Maybe it makes you feel like you’re not doing the best you can. If it inspires you to be a better parent, great! If it makes you feel like all your efforts are for naught because you’ll never be magazine-perfect Martha Stewart Betty Crocker parents, that’s not good. Because I can bet you it’s not like that all the time for those people. Parenting is some messy stuff, full of snot and tears and crying and frustration (and that’s just ME).
So we’re struggling a bit this week. And in case you feel like you’re the only one struggling, I promise you, you’re not alone. Maybe you worry you’re screwing them all up. Or that you’re making the wrong decisions. Or that your kid will grow up and become a jerk and it’s all your fault. I worry that ALL. THE. TIME. But as my mom told me, “the fact that you’re worrying about it means you’re doing alright.”
So good luck, grownups. Stay strong. You’re doing the best you can. And so are we. (And maybe she’ll realize that when she’s in her 30s….)