Friday, September 5, 2008

A Much Needed Change of Perspective

{Here's My Boy in a full-fledged tantrum, complete with spitting, dirt-throwing and leaf-pulling}

Sometimes I wonder if I'm just a wimp. I worry that I'm not very well suited for the challenges of motherhood. Before I was a mom, I thought I had all the answers.

My child would sleep through the night regularly from an early age. My child would not throw tantrums in public...ever. My child would do what he was asked...the first time. My child would be able to sit quietly through church, or politely at any restaurant. And how was I going to accomplish all these things? OK, so I admit I didn't really have a solid plan in place. I just assumed that since these things were important to me, he'd want to do them...and I'd be able to teach him adequately. And I admit that I didn't really expect all these things to happen all the time. But I also didn't expect The Boy to give me a run for my money the way he has, either.

Now here's my reality:

  • My child still doesn't sleep through the night regularly. In fact, he doesn't sleep much at all.
  • My child is the champion of all tantrum-throwers.
  • My child enjoys running away from me in public.
  • My child is completely unable to sit still. Ever. Forget about church, restaurants, or any other public setting in which one would enjoy any amount of dignity. Not going to happen.
  • My child enjoys doing exactly the opposite of what I say.
  • My child is very strong-willed and fiercely determined.

Now it's apparent to me that I know nothing at all. Forget all of my parenting theories of the past. The only way I make it through each day is flying by the seat of my pants, utilizing plenty of bribery, and drinking a lot of diet coke. Please don't get me wrong--I adore My Boy. He's not a monster. He's really sweet and kind and affectionate. But he is really intense on top of that. And even though I complain (a lot), I wouldn't change a thing about him.

In recent months I've received the numerous comments from strangers, and not-so-strangers regarding The Boy's behavior:

"My kids never acted like that."
"He just doesn't respect your authority."
"Time out isn't going to work with him."
"Just rationalize with him."
And my all-time favorite: "Just make him do it."

As much as I detest unsolicited advice from complete strangers, it does make me think. We (meaning myself, my sister, and my brother) and a lot of other kids I knew growing up weren't like this as children. Maybe my parents just got lucky. Maybe they knew something I don't. But I genuinely think that kids are different today than they were a generation or more ago.

In a recent conversation with a new friend who is wise beyond her years, we compared notes on certain children we know. In watching My Boy busy at play, she told me that he reminds her of two of her children. (She has seven). And several of her grandchildren.

She listened as I complained about My Boy's erratic sleep habits, which have never been "normal." Or even similar to other children his age. (I'm totally not exaggerating...he used to wake up at 4:30 every morning, among other sleep-related issues). She understood what I was talking about when I mentioned the astounding intensity this wonderful child can display. She knew what I was talking about when I described the fierce determination and willful spirit he possesses. (And I don't mean "fierce" in a Project Runway type of way).

I've always told myself that these qualities are going to make him a very successful adult someday. My new friend changed my perspective that day. She said, "He's just a BIG personality in a little body. Eventually his body will catch up with his spirit. You could change him if you wanted, but that would break his spirit. His strong spirit is such a gift." A few weeks later, she gave me this book, which has been very uplifting so far. It talks about how kids are so much different these days because the world they're growing up in is such a complicated place. Their strong little spirits were saved for this time because they're tough enough to handle the challenges they will face.

Just hearing this has made dealing with sleep deprivation and public humiliation so much easier. So I guess when it comes down to it, I don't need to change My Boy; I just need to change how I look at things. And if you're still with me, thanks for letting me vent. I promise I will not fill all the "pages" of my blog with lengthy diatribes, but thanks for letting me share something I learned about My Boy, about myself, and about life.


Ange said...

Hi cute girl-

I love this diatribe- It allows me to reflect upon my own assumptions about motherhood and my abilities. I know my education has helped me some, however, raising my kiddos has been more challenging as they become more determined in their autonomy. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Well written. Well intended. And well felt.

This post is a quintessential example of parenthood ideology vs. childhood reality. You summed it up nicely. And you also captured all of the stress and anxiety that comes along with it, stuck it in a little bottle, translated it into words, and let us feel it, too.

Great post.

Also, I think you make a very very important point at the end: maybe parents can change their reality just by changing their ideology. Maybe?