Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I don't wanna go to work. Oh wait. I LIVE at work.

Lately, this whole child-rearing thing has been wearing me down. My kids are at such major "water-shed" stages in their development right now (I know, I know, when are they NOT??) and I don't want to do something "wrong" and screw them up for life. I don't want to be sitting at dinner in twenty years hearing one of them tell me all about how "my therapist says that if you just hadn't___________I'd be fine." I'm sure you know what I mean.

I feel like I should have a leg up on this parenting stuff. I practically have a degree in it. My degree is in child development (Early Childhood, if you want to get picky). So, logically, I should be able to look at my kids and see that what they are doing is "developmentally appropriate" (those were the buzz words when I was in school anyway). The thing is, kids never, ever use logic. Nor, interestingly enough, do they read those child development textbooks, dangit.

So, SugarPlum, for example, always seems to have taken a look at those books and said, "HA!! I don't think so!" and done her own thing. She didn't ever really roll over as a baby, so I thought for sure she was developmentally delayed. Except that she was sitting up at five months. And talking. I think the child came out of the womb speaking. "Mother, it was terribly crowded in there and I can't believe you didn't give me anything else to play with. And what was with all the Skittles, anyway??"

Honestly, by twelve months she was speaking fairly clearly and by eighteen months in complete sentences. "I see Elmo over there!!"

And now? It appears she has taken a look at the "nine-year-old" section and decided that, well, that is not exactly for her. She is jumping headlong into the "teen" section of the book, complete with eye rolls and such profound, dramatic, mommy-guilt inducing statements as "You don't care what I have to say! You don't even love me!!" Oh yeah, she's that good. She already has mood swings down to an art form. Heaven help us when the hormones really start to flow.

Bear is just a completely opposite child. I don't know if it is because he is a boy, or because he is the second born, or the middle child or just who he is. (I have a nature/nurture debate with myself weekly over these children of mine.) This child rolled over at five weeks of age and was crawling by five months. We finally enclosed our entire living room with one of those expandable play yard/gate things just to contain him and keep him safe.

He didn't talk much though. And having raised the future president of Toastmasters International for four years prior to his arrival, his lack of speech concerned me. Actually, he, at four and a half, still doesn't speak as clearly as I think he should and he will begin speech therapy soon, but he is much better than I had feared.

My biggest challenge with Bear, actually, is remembering that he is almost a textbook example of a four and a half year old, and every other age he has been! Sometimes it's as if he reads "What to Expect the Whatever-the-Heck-Age-They-Are-Now Years" or whatever parenting book is handy, and says "Oh! It says here that when I don't get my way, that it's normal for me to throw myself on the floor and kick and scream. Gosh, why haven't I been doing THAT up till now? What a great idea!" or maybe "Hmmmmm. Night terrors?? Those sound fun! That will be sure to freak Mommy out!"

He has also always been very emotional, wearing his feelings on his sleeve. This is wonderful when he loves you. He hugs and kisses and tells you how much he loves you. And when he is sad, it will break your heart. When he was three, I found him sitting in his room with a pitiful look on his face & asked him what was wrong. He told me, "My a sad boy, Mommy." Stick. a. knife. in. my. heart. But when he is angry....look out. My SugarBear turns into a Grizzly Bear! There is yelling and screaming and hitting and kicking and wailing and gnashing of teeth and....you get the picture. It's not pretty. But, it all falls under the umbrella of "developmentally appropriate."

It's hard to remember that when you are being pummelled by a four-year-old. And just because it is "developmentally appropriate" doesn't make it okay. Part of being a parent is teaching your children ways to manage their feelings and express them appropriately. In our house we say that it's okay to be angry, it is NOT okay to hurt people (physically or emotionally) or to break things. We all have feelings and we must be allowed to express them; otherwise people get sick. But kids must be taught HOW to express them.

I think that this is where many many parents fall down on the job. They hear phrases like "developmentally appropriate" and have one of two reactions. First, many people say that it is a bunch of BS. That kids are supposed to do what their parents tell them, end of story. That the only thing that is "appropriate" is obeying what you are told to do. And that "if I had screamed and thrown a fit like that, I'd have gotten my ass beat. And then I'd never do it again." Yeah, you're right. Kids should obey their parents. And I'll let bet that if you got a good beating that you never did whatever it was you got that beating for again. In front of your parents, anyway. But it didn't keep you from having feelings, just from expressing them. Oh, and how is your ulcer, by the way?

The second reaction parents have to "developmentally appropriate" is to abdicate all responsibility. This makes me crazy. I know that you see this all the time. The children running wild or throwing HUGE temper tantrums in restaurants, department stores, grocery stores on airplanes, in movie theaters. And if someone dares to question the behavior, the parents look at you like you are insane, shrug their shoulders and and say, "He's three! What are you going to do??"

I'll qualify this by saying that I am not talking about when you are in line at the grocery store and little Billy is screaming for a candy bar and you are ignoring it. Because it is the only thing you can do. Any attention you give to that is only going to make it worse.

I am talking about on the playground when your little monster child has pushed mine off of the rocking dinosaur because he wants to ride it now and all you say is, "Now Dylan! That was unkind!" but still let Dylan stay on the dinosaur. NOPE. That is letting Dylan get away with murder. Yes, it was "developmentally appropriate" for two-year-old Dylan to do what he did. But, now, your responsibility is to grab Dylan from the rocking dinosaur and help him learn that we wait our turn and that shoving is not okay.

See, I am really quite good with other people's children. Well, hypothetical children anyway. But when it comes to my own, I am a disaster.

In our house right now, Bug's breakfast has become a bit of a production. He wants his cereal in the Blues Clues bowl (or the Tonka bowl, or the Veggie Tales bowl...). BUT!! If it is in the Blues Clues bowl, he must have the Blues Clues spoon. And if the Blues Clues spoon is dirty, well then damn it all because breakfast is no good and now he must make everyone pay!

Other mornings the issue is that he wants, for example oatmeal...but you mustn't stir it! Have you lost your mind?? Why on earth would you ever STIR oatmeal?? Now he must go kick the dog! All because Mommy stirred the oatmeal. So then he has to have a time-out. Followed by a short discussion about why kicking is not okay. Are you beginning to see why I let SD handle breakfast most mornings? And why I am desperate for a nanny while he is gone??

A point?? Did I have a point? Oh. Yes....so. This parenting thing. Setting limits. Consequences. It is hard. And yet it is so vitally necessary. We really don't get a lot of do-overs.

But, I have a funny feeling that sometime, twenty years from now, you will hear ME say, "Yeah? Well, you can tell your therapist that I said he can shove it."

Next session: Natural and Logical Consequences! be on time or no chair for you!

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