Friday, June 21, 2013

A Day In The Life Of A Parent

It's 8:30 pm and both of my kids are asleep. I've got a glass of wine, I'm sitting by the fire and I'm laughing with my parents and brother, but, I'm not happy.

No, it's not like I need anything else and I'm really not taking the on time bedtime for granted, but it that this early bedtime came at the cost of a very fun, late night yesterday, no nap today, a day filled of fishing and swim lessons, sun and Uncle-Nephew bonding. It came with an out of line (and out of control) three year old, an upset Pop Pop, an irate mother and a room full of family members who heard me at my worst: they heard me yell at my son (and not the loud shrieking yell; the low, slow, quiet, finger pointing, stern yell). It came with evil glares, a firm placement in time out and a mother with her face in her son's face as she smooshed his cheeks and told him that he will never act like this again.

As I cover up my boys and walk down stairs I feel ashamed. Not that my boys whined a lot today. Not because they threw fits, not because they were clingy, but because I have the fear (and knowledge) that my children are brats. I've got a three year old who demands things, from food to cars. I've got a three year old who yells "NO" in a tantrum-esque tone when I ask him to come downstairs or to "come here".  I've got a three year old who has weighed the consequences and has decided that there is no threat I can make to get him to eat anything or do anything. I've got a three year old who fights me EVERY time I ask him to pee and will refuse to poop on the potty so he poops in his pants.

I have a 17 month old who says, "Gimme dat" or "I want it" as he shrieks and points at an object, even though he's perfectly able to say a four or  five word sentence to get what he wants. I've got a 17 month old who takes toys from his brother, then runs away laughing just because he can. I've got a 17 month old who doesn't do anything you ask of him, even when it's for his own safety, like "sit down" or "hold on to the railing". Instead, he looks at me, smiles at me and gives me a look like, you won't do anything about it and then does whatever he's about to do.

Most of the time I'm consistent, but it's hard being away from Eric to put in the 200% that these kids need to stay on task. It's true, I've been laying off of them a little bit and letting some things slide.  They always have to say please, but I'll negotiate just to end the battle (bad, I know). I don't always put them in time out because honestly, it's SO MUCH WORK (bad again) especially since it's like a tractor beam: if one kid goes to time out, even if they are angry at one another, the other kid, not in time out runs over and tries to play with the one in time out and I have to keep them separated for three minutes which is WAY HARDER THAN IT SOUNDS through laughing and chasing.  For some reason, those damn kids turn into slippery little octopuses and I just can't catch them long enough to make the time out effective. I'm running low on sleep so the sleeping-with-me battle is basically over since both boys have realized that I'm just too exhausted and can't fight with them for more than two hours. Less if the fight starts later in the evening (bad once more). While I've started to ignore and interrupt their fits, I still try to calm them down when other people are around because I don't want to bug the other people. I've let the three year old wear pull ups because it's less work for me to clean up and I know he's not going to poop on the potty anyway. I've still pushed for the peeing on the potty but I've given up and hardly push the poop issue (bad, bad, bad).

At this point you're thinking one of two things:  ONE: Dang, she's got horrible kids and she's a bad mom. Or, TWO. She's over reacting, they are at the testing age! All kids do it.  I guess you could also be thinking that I'm not doing it right, or not pressuring them hard enough, or just taking the easy route and you could still be right.

But I'm stuck where I feel like I'm trapped and I can't see my way out of the whiny, "momma up", "I want snacks" tunnel.  I know that all kids are searching for their independence and they all push right to the line just to see if that line has moved, the problem is: I just expect so much more from my kids. I know they can be better, I know they have been better, I just don't know how to make them better.

I know it's my fault for letting things slip a little bit while I do the parenting thing without Eric.  My parents are excellent at making sure that they stick to the rules and enforce good, nice behavior (so I'm not totally alone, but some days it feels like I am).

Tonight I told Henrik that if he didn't say "please" the first time, he wouldn't get what he asked for, no matter what. I told him that if he ever talked back (or talked sassy) to me, Pop Pop, Mimi, Pal or Gam again that he'd go straight to his room for time out. I told him if he didn't do what I asked him to do the first time I asked, he'd go to time out. I told him that he could no longer fight me on routine things like brushing teeth, brushing hair, taking a bath, going potty or getting dressed. If he did that, he'd go to time out until he was ready to do those things. I told him that if he didn't eat his food then he couldn't have any snacks or milk until the next meal, no matter what. And if he did it at dinner, he'd just have to sit at the table and wouldn't be able to be excused until everyone was done. I told him that I'd take away cars, movies and trips, camp and classes if he was mean to me or threw tantrums. I told him that I was the boss and he had to do what I said, because I'm the mom and he's the kid. Wow, right? He's only three.

Do I mean these things? Yeah, I do. Will I enforce them? I'll really try, I have to try-- for the boys and for me.

The Terrible Twos for Henrik were nothing, The Thunderous Threes are turning out to be horrid. And Theodor is clearly going to have the Terrible Twos, in fact, he's starting early. For weeks I've felt like I'm constantly being challenged on every little thing, even by the baby! No one listens any more and no one cares. In fact, I'm "always cross" according to Hank.

So, who or what is at fault here? Are my kids really brats? Am I too lazy? Right away I'm going to blame the boys for being smart and stubborn, but I'm at fault too. I'm the one who has tolerated an inconsistent punishment pattern, and I'm the one who is sometimes too tired to care. But that has to change. We all have to change. Today was an eye opener for me. Not because I think I'm the best mom in the world. Not because I believed that my children were perfect, but because I saw that there was a flaw in my parenting which caused my boys to quickly find the loophole and to jump on an opportunity. While I really enjoy having fun with my kids, I have to make sure that I'm not just their friend. I have to make sure that they know I'm their mom and I'm the one who is in charge. They have to respect me for that. That respect may not come until they are parents, but it will come, I'm raising adults and they will raise our future, so I'll have to be better.

I realized today, while I gave myself a time out locked in the bathroom, that my kids aren't bad. I believe that there is a reason for all kind of behavior and if they are acting out it's likely because there's something wrong. Maybe the miss their dad. Maybe they are tired because we did too much the day before. Maybe it's because I've enrolled them in too many activities for the week. Maybe it's because I'm tired. Whatever the reason, I know that my kids are still kids, they are three and one. They are still trying to figure out who they are and why things happen, what consequences are and what rewards are. They are trying to figure out how to gain more power and how to gain trust. They are trying to cross over the line and walk the line and I have to make sure that they get to test that line. As a parent, I have to let my kids make mistakes. I have to let them work things out on their own and I have to let them throw fits because they don't have a better way to express their feelings. But I don't have to accept whines and fits.

Tomorrow is a new day. There will be a new crisis, there will be new tears, new problems and new issues. But I'll start the day knowing that I have to let the boys know what I expect, and while it may be hard for them at first, they will be able to learn the value of using their words, how to make choices and what the consequences are. Actually, we'll all learn those things. 

As I sit in my bed and finish writing this entry, I'm still not thrilled at the way our day ended as a family, but I am happy with the fact that I've got a plan for tomorrow. I'm happy that at the end of the day I can sneak into their rooms and fall in love all over again as I give them one last kiss. I'm happy that I have two wonderfully smart boys who want to challenge me and won't just take "no" or "because" as an acceptable answer. I am happy that I have a great support system in my parents to help me raise these boys for a few more weeks. I'm happy that I can sit back and admit my flaws and figure out a way to be better. As I finish that glass of wine I can be confident that if I work hard and give the boys 300% of my energy, that I can make some pretty great kids. And I can be comfortable knowing that through the tantrums, whines, tears and fits that I already have some pretty good kids and today was just another day in the life of a parent.

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