Frequently I get this vague sense that I am not qualified for the parent job. Its like I submitted my resume to be a parent, citing previous people I've babysat for as references, and my application for the job was accepted. Three times. Except when I started on the job I only pretended to know what I was doing and somehow no one has noticed yet that I'm blundering through each work day like an imbecile.
Its not that I'm completely incompetent (most days anyway). Even if it is just PB&Js all day, I can manage to feed my kids, to keep them at least partially clothed, and for the most part keep them safe. And its not like we just exist- I even manage to fit in an occasional planned craft, fun outings, and family games. I know how to do that.
Its the actual shaping of future adults that is hard...future adults that are currently pint-sized but already have their own agenda, drama, strong emotions, and preferences.
Growing up I was a compliant child- but I sort of thought maybe good parenting made me compliant. I just assumed if I met a kid who wasn't behaving well, say, in the supermarket, that perhaps the parents could have tried a little harder. Maybe I thought that there was just a formula- input discipline A + B and child will respond like C.
Did anyone tell YOU when you signed up for the parenting job that there is no formula? That really should be on the application. And if you think you have figured out a formula for child A (which won't last), it won't work on child B and C.
The result is that I spend most of my days careening back and forth between different parenting strategies and approaches, largely based on my emotions of the day.
Some days I wake up and think, "These kids are totally undisciplined...I can't take it anymore." That's when the Marine Sargeant in me comes out. I find a shirt on the floor and yell, "Who put this shirt here!!?? Where do we put our shirts? Do you know that bugs make homes under shirts on the floor??! Why aren't you listening? If you don't pick up this shirt by the time I count to three....!!"
Other days I worry that they are just kids and I am squelching their fun- or perhaps what is more likely, I run out of energy to enforce my Marine rules consistently. Those days I say, "Oh, go ahead and jump off the top of the couch precariously because you have to be...gymnasts, was it? Yes, yes, a gymnast has to do what a gymnast has to do. Don't let me stand in your way with safety and reason."
And while I'm trying to instill good qualities in them like responsibility, charity, kindness- I'm also trying to combat the vices I see (which unfortunately often resemble my own) such as anger, whining and the pervasive entitled drama.
But do I fight anger with anger? No, that doesn't seem to be working. What do you do when you send a child to timeout and they don't go? That wasn't supposed to be a thing. What do you do when you've already taken away TV and the candy and that just made things worse?
And how to combat the incessant whine, whine, whiiiiiiiining that grates on my nerves? I can try to ignore it...or would a couple snarky comments or unreasonably harsh ultimatums work? Maybe I'll turn it into a game and out-whine her...I'm fairly confident I can win, since she doesn't have kids.
And where do I even start with this active baby??
What do I do when everything in me wants to show my kids that I'm bigger and stronger so they should listen? I know parenting doesn't work that way, but it doesn't always seem to work when I am gentle and patient either. Maybe I've again returned to the mistaken idea that if I do all the "right" things as a parent, my kids will be docile, harmless little angels that don't kick or talk back or complain. Ever.
Why does parenting sometimes feel more like survival than the idealistic pictures I had of constant cuddles and giggles and ice cream that only makes a mess in a cute way?
And I know that if you are struggling with a job you should keep training yourself, reading books and putting in some extra prep time at the end of the day. But the hours for this job were a little fuzzy on the application... turns out even if you "clock out" you are always at least "on call". Some days when I just can't handle it all, I view bedtime as a chance to reset..for the love of doughnuts, to RESET. I can't read up on the latest parenting advice during my reset time. Pu-lease.
Bottom line- I know I don't always do this parent thing well. From what I hear, some seasons (or days) will just be harder than others. But I'm also constantly reminded that there is so much joy and fun in this age that my kids are at, and that before I know it I'll be missing it all.
'Missing the battle of wills with my son? Missing the finely tuned whining of my daughter? Missing chasing my baby like a maniac through the library?'
I guess one day I will. And hopefully that helps me to treat today more like a gift than something to survive...to remember why I'd never quit the parent job even if it gets overwhelming- because the rewards are so much greater than I let on, than I even realize. And even as I lament that there is no formula for "perfect" kids, I am grateful that their love for me is not formulaic either- it is messy and sweet and completely genuine. And I wouldn't trade it for all the peace and clean and quiet in the world.