by Dr. Robyn Silverman
My children are supposed to be perfect, right? They are supposed to be quiet, polite, perfectly behaved little angels who fall in line like lemmings and do everything I ask on the first request. I should be able to handle every problem (not that there should be any) with the greatest of ease. I’m supposed to know everything, do it all, and never break a sweat, or heaven-forbid, lose my cool. After all, I’m a child development expert. I have the paper to prove it.
Ha! I can hear the echo of my children laughing in my ear as my toddler jumps naked on the couch and my almost one year old takes a bath in the dog’s bowl…yup, again. Who’s climbing on the mantel? Who’s feeding the dog from the table? Who’s refusing to brush her teeth? Doesn’t want to go to bed? For a walk? To the potty? And whining. Oh, the whining. Yes! It happens at my house too.
I guess I’m supposed to keep up this façade forever. But that’s not all that helpful, right? Because the idea that we are all in this together—this thing called parenthood—somehow levels the playing field. It’s comforting. I might have a lot of books on the subject, I may have even written books, articles, and blog entries providing hundred of tips and statistics, but the fact remains; sometimes, in real life, I don’t get it right on the first try. Or the second. And it’s OK. Well usually, anyway. I try not to beat myself up too much about it.
Parenthood has brought me just shy of insanity at times and made me delve so deep into myself that my love, without warning, can feel raw and gut-wrenching, elating and freeing all at once. But it has taught me, in just over 2 years, that there is more to life than I ever imagined. And…I still have a lot to learn.
Given the hand-on, real life experience my family provides, I actually find it to be one of the best “schools” I’ve ever been through. There are lessons. There are practicums. Oh, there are tests. Pop quizzes happen daily. And no, I still don’t like them.
I have learned:
You don’t have to get it right on the first try to be a good parent: The love is in the trying. It’s in the admission of mistakes. It’s in the permission to make a second attempt…or a third…or the twentieth.
It’s OK to lose your cool sometimes: We are not made of plastic. Patience can be compromised. We are living, breathing, feeling people who respond when someone carelessly tosses all the throw pillows on the floor, climbs onto the window sill, and is 1 moment away from exclaiming “Yook out bewoah!” and jumping off. Or perhaps that’s just me.
You can simultaneously be totally annoyed, hysterical, tickled, and completely in love with a child: My almost one year old son likes to look me right in the eye, drop balls of sweet potato, avocado and wheat bread from the table for the dog, and then grin flirtatiously at me. My 2 year old daughter runs around opening every drawer in my kitchen, steals a piece of kibble to nosh on from the dog’s dish, and knowing I’m getting annoyed, says, godfather style (with full-out gestures) “Come here, Mama. I give you big hug” while I have 3 burners going on the stove and something in the oven. You can try to stay angry but I find it impossible to keep myself from cracking a smile.
You say things you’d never thought you’d say/do: I used to cringe when I’d hear parents say to their children; “Let me smell your tushie.” Here I am now. Infant tushie-smeller. Bodily fluids have become, at once, a source of conversation and no big deal. I hear myself say things like “bath water is not for drinking,” and “did you just stick yucky something up your nose/in your ear/in your mouth?” almost daily.
The most frustrating characteristics in a toddler are the ones you covet in a teen: Sometimes I just gnash my teeth and roll my eyes. Occasionally, my daughter talks back. She often does what she wants. She takes daily risks that make my toes curl. I just keep telling myself it’s the training ground for assertiveness, leadership, and courageous chance-taking in adolescence. Maybe I’m delusional but it’s the perspective that works for me.
Tomorrow is always a new day: There are days when I review my reactions, their behavior, and the combination of the two and I don’t feel all that proud. I’ve chosen not to bash myself—but rather, learn from the situation and note; “that wasn’t the way…let’s try something else next time.” Because there typically is a next time. Kids are not perfect. Neither are parents. Would we really want to be? It’s an imperfect match that often just seems to work in the long run. So I put my head down on my pillow at night, say thank you for these amazing children in my life, solute what went right, and forgive myself for what went wrong. My daughter’s words come into my head; “I try again?” Yes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned to laugh. Laugh hard. It is the most beautiful, positive, unifying release that makes everything feel better. It makes me remember how powerful and amazing my children are– and how grateful I am for them. It doesn’t mean that the kids won’t drive us nuts again. They probably will. It’s just part of what they do.
So today, I wish you laughter. Patience. Perspective.
No doubt I’ll need it too.