I spend a lot of time thinking about parenting. Maybe too much time. I think of it like a job I really enjoy. I watch other parents with their children. I over analyze every interaction I have with my own kids, and I talk about it endlessly with the friends who lovingly tolerate me.
Recently I've been thinking about and talking with friends and family about seasons of life, phases of childhood, and the inefficacy of punishments and rewards. Just yesterday I had a conversation with my dear sister-in-law about my nephew repeatedly throwing food on the floor. She was frustrated, understandably. We all have those times. I know I have those moments. But then I started wondering, in those moments am I frustrated with my kids, or frustrated with myself?
Here's where my thought process led me-
When I decided to be a parent (I use the word 'decided' because, although my pregnancy with Josh was unplanned, I made the choice to raise this child. Adoption is always an option.) I made a lifetime commitment. I understood, in the limited capacity I could not having been a parent before, that I would be a mother for the rest of my life. I didn't want to just cuddle him as an infant and then send him away to boarding school. I don't want to get him to 18 years and then kick him out into the world. I want to have a relationship with him his entire life. I want to watch him achieve his dreams. I want to witness him fall in love. I want to be there for him when his heart breaks. I want to dance with him at his wedding. I want to be close with his children.
This want of a lifetime relationship of love and respect is the driving force behind all my good parenting decisions. Keeping my eyes on the big picture makes it easier to get through the tough phases- the times when the kids wake up throughout the night, the times when it takes us 30 minutes to get in the car, the times when I'm picking the same toys up 40 times a day, the times everyone wants something different for dinner. I'm able to parent from a place of love and respect in those times because I've read the research which shows that punishments, rewards, and coercion in attempts to control our children do not work and deteriorate relationships.
But sometimes, oh sometimes I get so frustrated. Just today, I took the boys to a park meet-up. Getting from the playground back to the car took Bug FOR-E-VER. He wanted to ride his tricycle, stop to look at everything, get off and back on, pedal backwards a little, stop and stare into the distance, and when he was moving forward it was painstakingly slowly. I tried every trick I had to get him to go faster, but no luck. I lost patience, announced I was going to carry him and the tricycle to the car, picked him up and started jogging along. He was livid, and rightfully so. I was in the wrong. I did not have his permission to carry him or his tricycle.
Why was I in such a hurry? Absolutely no reason. We had no where to go. I wasn't hungry. I didn't need to pee. I was just done being at the park, while he wasn't. I know Bug; I've watched him be himself every day of his life and he never gets in a hurry for anything. It did not come as a surprise to me that he would want to take an hour getting down the sidewalk today. I was not frustrated with Bug, though I was directing my frustration at him; I was frustrated with myself.
I cannot control my children. I can only control myself. If I want to avoid frustration, I need to take what I know about my children and what I know about myself and prepare our environment so it is the most conducive to everyone's happiness as it can be. I cannot expect my children to do this for me. I am the parent, and so it is my responsibility.
It is my responsibility to bring something to keep myself entertained while they are at the park. I could easily have been reading a book or knitting. It is my responsibility to pack water when I know the kids are always thirsty. It is my responsibility to keep the house safe and eyes on impulsive youngsters. Most importantly, it is my responsibility to nurture the kids' growing skills as they become more independent with love, respect, and patience.
Even realizing this, I know no matter how responsible I am, our family will not avoid all conflict and frustration. Realizing this might even mean I get a little more peeved when I'm being irresponsible because I know whatever is causing my frustration may have been avoided had I taken the necessary steps. But at least I am able to acknowledge the issue is with me and my expectations, not the kids. Then I can choose to either let it go, or take action.
We all know children are messy. They need to be held. They need a lot of attention. They don't come equipped with great communication skills. They aren't born knowing how to deal with all their big feelings. They don't always sleep well. When we decide to be parents, we need to understand the lifetime commitment we're making. We need to prepare ourselves and our environment as best we can. The fewer moments we spend frustrated about things we could have avoided, the more moments we can spend enjoying the amazing people each of children are.
When we keep our eyes on the big picture, the lifelong relationship, the tough phases are relatively short.