Definitely Not. No. Well, Maybe. Okay, Fine: Why Parenting In Theory Is So Much Easier Than In Practice
I'm convinced parenting in theory is about eleventy billion times easier than it is in practice. After about a year into being a mother I realized that about one percent of my life as a parent would revolve around the stuff I actually read up on and prepared for as a new mom. Figuring out how to get your child to sleep past the 45 minute intruder or learning that snap pajamas are a total waste of money only mattered for the tiniest blip in the radar in this role we call "motherhood." Yet I can't tell you how many hours I spent researching the perfect first foods, the best sleep schedules or debating the merits of the Boppy vs. My Breast Friend (Turned out to be a toss-up; if you were curious.)
These days, I could care less how many snaps my toddler's shirt has or exactly how many ounces of milk he's ingesting each day. I've got bigger problems to deal with. When he turned about 12 months old, I spent about three or four months in no-man's land, not really sure what to do with my new three foot human that suddenly developed opinions and some downright terrifying ways to express his emotions in what seemed like overnight. Plus, I think there's this part of all moms that just yearns to believe that your baby-turned-toddler doesn't really understand what their doing yet: "He's a tactile learner! He's just exploring the world around him! He's learning to use his voice!"
But soon, you realized that all they were learning is that they can do whatever they want and bonus, momma cleans it all up for them.
So very quickly, I found myself turning every page of "toddler-help" books I could find and was soon swimming in options of what kind of parent I wanted to be. Will I be an attachment or tiger mom or land somewhere in between? What catch phrase will I use? Will I be the mom that says, "Do you have a happy heart?" or, "Are you choosing joy right now?" or, "Are you being kind?" Will I use time outs, removal of privileges, redirection, quiet thinking time, or a combination? Will I even use the word, "No?" or maybe go with the newly popular, "Not for..." And the kicker was that apparently I needed to make these decisions back when I conceived the kid, because, "children thrive on consistency and routine!" And I should have been using my go-to catch phrases since he was infant sucking on his toes on the changing table.
Each day, I'd find a new blog post or book to read giving me different tips on the "Eight Best Ways To Raise A Happy Toddler." And maybe I'd read, say, about discerning the difference in "childish" behavior and true "disobedience." And I'd think to myself, "Ah, ha! This is the key! The golden ticket to knowing how and when to discipline my cave man!" So I'd wake up the next morning resolved to stick to my guns and not just give in and let my toddler eat his weight in raisins just because he cried for them every time I put the hamburger in front of him - which, by the way was cut up into toddler-sized pieces, served with four different kinds of dip and a huge slice of CHEESE melted on top.
And after 15 minutes of trying: time outs/reason/ignoring/pleading/begging I'd begin to wonder if this was worth it at all or if I should have just given him the raisins and serve my pregnant-self a double decker cheeseburger in the peace that is toddler + raisins. And "No way - eat what I gave you," turns into "Whatever," faster than I'd ever want to admit.
And that's just when I'm alone. It's about 10,000 times worse when I'm with other people. The stares of strangers when your toddler screams because he's not allowed to hold all 54 stuffed bears on the end-cap at the grocery store will make you fill your cart to the brim full of bears faster than your toddler can even get up off the floor. In the moment, I try to remember my theories discipline, resolve too not give in, but my mind has been literally taken over by the blood curdling screams of my toddler and my brain doesn't say, "Okay, I think I read on page 82 that in this particular case a nice, quiet moment of reflection is what you need my son." NO. It says, "What do I have to do to make you stop as quickly as possible?"
Because, particularly in public I'm contemplating two things: 1) How volatile a reaction will I receive if I tell him "No?" Aka: Will he acquiesce to my commands without a fight? And 2) Who will see it and what will they think?
I know, I know. Those are not the right things to think about - but let's be honest here - don't most moms at least think something along those lines?
Or even worse, I feel so much pressure when I'm with another mom. Not intentional by them of course, but discipline is the WORST when you're with another parent. You just never really know what they're thinking - I worry they'll think my "language" is weird, or my tactics pathetic. That I'm being to hard on my son or I'm being too easy on him. I worry they'll think, "If she just did this..." or "If she just stopped doing that..."
And really, all they're probably thinking is, "I'm so glad it's not my kid misbehaving right now, I'd have no idea what to do if I were in her shoes." At least, that's what I'm thinking.
In the parenting books and blog posts, the experts make it sound so easy, so simple. If this, then that. If that, then this. A, B and C require X, Y and Z responses from the parent respectively.
Honestly, if parenting was that easy, there wouldn't be 10 trillion books on it.
So here's the deal. I'm learning about discipline, consequences, happy hearts and choosing joy right along with my toddler. I've never done this raising-a-child thing before and there's absolutely no reason why I have to decide in a day, a month or even a year exactly what type of parent I want to be. I want to be a good one - and that's about all I know.
I want to be firm and consistent. But I also want to give grace. I don't want to spoil him, but I also would give him the moon if I could. So putting pressure on myself to, "Always have the same response every time!" is pointless. Yes, I want my toddler to know boundaries and have a general idea of what to expect from me, but at the same time, putting a ton of pressure on myself to, "Always, always, always be intentional and consistent in discipline," just stresses me out. And sometimes? There's no harm in letting your toddler drag a bolt of brown minky fabric all over JoAnn Fabric for the day because he thinks it's a teddy bear and it keeps him from throwing a fit on the floor in front of the cutting table.
Plus, over time, I'm finding the tools I'm slowly picking up from books, blog posts and friends that have semi-tame toddlers aren't so unfamiliar to me anymore which is making discipline a whole lot easier than it was when I first began having to do it. I'm learning through trial and error the methods that work for me and my toddler the best and I've already started to find that some of the sayings and "rules" that felt so foreign and strange to me a few months ago are beginning to roll of the tongue a bit better. Which means I don't have to think about them so much in the moment, so reacting to a tantrum isn't nearly as stressful or pressure-filled as it used to be. And bonus, I'm finding my toddler is getting more used to my methods too - the first time he told me, "I cry. Time out?" I about passed out.
At least to me, it always seems like the "other mom" has it all figured out. She always seems poised, composed and methodical in her actions when her toddler misbehaves, but really - I'm willing to bet she's flying by the seat of her skinny jeans just as much as I am. We're all trying to figure this parenting thing out and as soon as we feel like we've got a handle on at least a little of it, it changes again. And I'm learning that that's an okay way to be. As long as my focus and end goal remains the same, it's okay if my methods bounce around a little on the path to get there.
Books, articles and a friend's advice can teach us a lot, but they aren't the end all be all. Parenting is definitely a whole lot easier in theory than in practice - which is why my, "Definitely not," turns into, "Maybe, okay fine," more than I'd like. But I'm learning and getting a little bit better at this parenting gig every day, throwing the strict theories out the window and just practicing in a trial-by-fire sort of way that takes the pressure off.
The other day I was with about eight other parents and my toddler was throwing a fit. After trying everything I could think of besides giving him the one thing I said he couldn't have, I just turned to them and said, "I have absolutely no idea what to do. Any ideas?"