As I was texting about my frustration and embarrassment to a friend this morning whose children are younger than mine, I confessed that it seems the adage “little kids, little problems; bigger kids, bigger problems” rings true. She stuck her fingers in her proverbial ears as I read her reply: “La la la I’m going to pretend you said it gets easier. ;)”
Clearly she spends time with toddlers.
I was easily annoyed at moms with older kids when I was in the thick of the infant and toddler days. When I had a two-year-old and a baby, I would relay stories of not being able to shower, of kissing makeup goodbye, of being covered in spit-up and food, in not being able to get out of pajamas, in ____________________ (fill in the blank). I distinctly remember these moms of older kids would get these grins on their faces like they were remembering these times fondly and say, “I remember those days, and they are fleeting. Enjoy them.” And part of me wanted to punch them in the face.
Because every phase of parenting has its challenges, the one you’re in feels like plenty to navigate. Imagining that parenting gets harder is not a happy thought.
But it does. I already see it.
Currently, we’re struggling with how to help one of our kids who has hit others a few times when angered. Our children are 10, eight and five, so while our expectations of them are different based on what makes sense developmentally, ALL OF THEM are old enough to know better. When one of them hit (or bit) another child as a two-year-old, I laughed with the other mom uncomfortably while apologizing as she said, “hashtag toddler problems” with a smile on her face. One of our kids even left a bruise on another child’s face after biting him. That mom and I still laugh about it. But if one of my kids did that now, I’m not sure I’d still be friends with the victim’s mom.
I scratch my head and wonder if I’m doing something wrong. I’ve been taking a kickboxing class where I punch a bag and the kids have all sat and watched it, making me wonder if somehow them seeing me punch a bag – which is cathartic for me – is bad for them.
Perhaps nothing in life is as powerful as parenting is in its capability to push you to question everything about yourself, to overanalyze and believe nearly anything you do could come back to bite you.
I imagine the two-year-old who doesn’t like to “play” clean up and who you laugh with as you put the toys away for the 16,000th time while you shake your head turns into the teenager you have a screaming match with as you (unreasonably) threaten she will never leave the house again because her room looks like a bomb went off in a mall where a Sephora shares a wall with Charlotte Russe. And she hates YOU for it, because somehow it’s your fault you didn’t teach her to be tidy. And you wonder, “Where did I mess up?”
You probably didn’t. It’s important to remember that our children have their own God-given personalities, they will have their own struggles, and a lot of the time, it’s really not about you. We are here to guide, model, teach, comfort, love and instruct; but at the end of the day, they are their own people with unique minds. What they do reflects on us to an extent, but as they grow, they become more and more independent. And I can see how growing up causes boundary lines between them and us to be redrawn a lot. That’s going to cause strife, conflict and struggle. As they become free to make more decisions, good and bad, we can help guide them, but we simply can’t learn the tough lessons for them.
As I process how to help my child, it’s so important for me to talk to other moms who’ve already been through these ages and stages and similar difficulties. I gain so much perspective and wisdom. And I remind myself that’s what good parents do: seek wisdom, learn from my own mistakes, ask forgiveness and move forward.
My friend helped me this morning, because after exchanging funny texts, she wrote, “You’re one of the best moms I know and I’m so thankful that I get to glean knowledge from you.” We need encouragement from those around us as we struggle through the times we all want to plug our ears and say, “La la la I can’t hear you.” Facing parenting challenges with others, being vulnerable about our shortcomings and struggles and lifting each other up is how we get through the increasingly difficult problems of parenting.
And to think: I don’t even have a teenager yet.