Monday, August 19

A Tale of Parenting Gone Wrong

This one has been in my head for a while now.
And so, while the boy is at grandma's and the girl recovers from a bout of who-knows-what and your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine, I can do this.
Let's start at the end, which went something like this:
(crying crying crying)
"Why don't you ever listen to me??!! I'm trying to help you!"
"You are so stubborn! Why are you so stubborn??!!"
"I will never buy you new shoes again! These are going back to the store! I will give these to a child who knows how to appreciate gifts!"
(crying crying crying)
An hour later, life the morning has been tainted by tears, yelling, threats, things getting thrown about, and one very unhappy boy and two utterly frustrated flustered guilt-ridden parents were left wondering where it all went wrong.
All this because of a new pair of shoes. I bought them for the boy as one of a gaggle of birthday presents to mark five years.
I was in love with the shoes. I was excited to buy them and I was excited to give them. They were uncharacteristically cheap which only heightened my enthusiasm and filled me with a sense of pride.
Alon has inherited my love of shoes. He gets equally excited at the prospect of new ones and gets a real kick out of showing them off.
At his old kindergarten, parents, friends, teachers, and passersby were treated to a "Look, I have new shoes!" long after the shoes could be considered "new" (see glue, paint, food particles and other such decorations).
But, folks, we know this isn't about the shoes.
This is a tale about how we, the parents, get lost sometimes on the parenting road, forget that there are tiny humans traveling with us, and in doing so we spew ourselves and our co-travelers with the wrath of bad parenting.
It happens.
Mistake Number One: The Timing.
I can't remember now if the shoes were presented on the evening before or the morning of this all took place. Either way, I should have foreseen the desire to wear them to summer camp. I should have known the request would be made, adamantly.
And so, it was at this juncture that I took my first wrong turn, whereby my own excitement for the new pair of shoes overshadowed my better judgement. For had I looked over at my fellow little traveler and taken the time to consider the inevitable consequences of giving the shoes at that precise moment, I would have been blinded by the flashing red lights surrounding the impending mistake. Also, as Alon has inherited both his parents' non-existent ability to delay gratification, well, again, I should have known.

But, as it went, the boy woke up, dressed, and asked to wear his new shoes to summer camp. Horrified at the prospect (see glue, paint, food particles, and other such decorations) I tried to explain that it would be a shame if the new shoes were to get dirty, as summer camp is known to dirty up children, and that we should hold on to them and perhaps he can wear them to his upcoming birthday celebration.
"No! I want to wear them today. I want to show my teacher my new shoes. They won't get dirty, I promise, Mom."
Mistake Number Two: Ignoring the Universe When It Screams "Surrender, Surrender!".
I tried to reason. I tried to explain. I tried to appease. I tried to coerce, gently, then not so gently. I tried the empty threats that all parents try knowing full well that the words coming out of their mouths will never, ever, be backed up by an analogous action.

The dad tried too.
It didn't work.
Mistake Number Three: Letting It All Go to Hell
Ok. So we didn't surrender when we should have.
By this point, the understanding that, in actuality, these were now his shoes and he could choose to do with them whatever he pleased (within reason, of course - we do have, er, boundaries in this house) was there.
But herein lies one of the most difficult struggles I find myself facing in child rearing: consistency in exercising parental authority vs. recognizing and respecting your kid's voice and independence. In other words, where does the line get drawn, how often can you erase it and at what cost?
We're told to be clear. To be coherent and simple and straightforward in our speech. Don't send mixed messages. Be consistent.
However, if you're engaged in a discourse, which at its outset your own stance is perfectly clear to you and you are completely sure of its truth, but somewhere along the line you begin to waver, and your child's stance becomes no less true than your own, what then?
Do you retreat and put your parental authority (ha!) at risk? Do you continue to assert your position in the name of consistency? Or do you let go of your own desire as to the outcome of the discourse and admit that your kid has a right to assert his position as well, and that part of your parental duty is respecting said position?
Alas, wrong turn again. Though in my heart I knew by then that I was fighting a losing battle, and for what, really, I did not retreat. Upset, frustrated, confused, I let it all go to hell. We let it all go to hell.
Which brings us to
Mistake Number Four: (Failing to) Choose Your Battles.
Five years in, I have to remind myself of this one daily. Daily, people.
Don't parent without it.
You see, these kids make messes out of us. We hold on when we should let go. We let go when we should be desperately holding on. We confuse our wants with their needs. We forget they're not babies anymore while expecting them to act their age already. We don't always listen and we often talk way way way too much. Sometimes our very best really sucks.
As with all our parenting debacles, my guilt is eventually assuaged by the hope that recognizing our mistakes will help us to tread wiser next time.
Time will tell.

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