Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Motherhood and More: Parenting by the book*

In a fit of desperation and exhaustion that only comes with attempting to force my stubborn daughter to do something she didn't want to do, I bought a parenting book.

Now, I’m not normally one for self-help-type things.  In the past I looked down on that sort of thing, preferring to believe that I could fix anything that was wrong with determination and my own brand of stubbornness. 

And then I became a parent.  And lo it was hard.  And then I became a parent again and lo it was even harder.

I've attempted for years to will myself into having complete parental control.  Because that’s how I thought I was supposed to parent.  I thought children were always supposed to obey and listen and never throw tantrums.  And I do exaggerate, but when you’re in the midst of trying to separate warring children, or trying to dress a child who refuses to stop standing on her head long enough to put a shirt on, it’s hard not to focus on what you feel you've done wrong.

So I bought a book.  It’s called “Kids Are Worth It!: Giving Your Child The Gift Of Inner Discipline.”  I learned about it from another blogger who mentioned that it was responsible for keeping her from dropping her kids off at the edge of a forest and running away.

It sounded promising because, yes, I too sometimes want to drop my own precious angels off to fend for themselves after they have refused once again to eat the dinner I've cooked for them, turning their noses up and calling it ‘yuck.’

So far the book has focused on treating your children like you’d want to be treated.  Now, this may be common sense to most parents, but to me it was a revelation.  Of course.  Of course I should be treating them with respect.  I shouldn't try to force my will on them at all because, well, it isn't going to work anyway. 

I can guide them, sure.  I can show by example.  But I cannot make them do anything.  Any time I've tried to force my daughter to get in her car seat it has ended in yelling and frustration.  But if I step back a bit and calm myself down, the entire situation will diffuse. 

So that’s what I've been trying to do.  I’m trying to treat my children not like they are my property and so must do what I say, whenever I say.  I’m trying to talk to them.  To have conversations and discuss why I want them to do a certain thing.  Because no one wants to be told what to do all the time.  No one wants an inflexible tyrant standing over their shoulder.

And I know it’s not going to work all the time.  I know that we will still butt heads and there will be instances where I need to be more forceful.  But I want to give them the tools to decide for themselves the right thing to do.

I admittedly never thought parenting would be as hard as it has been.  I thought it would be easy and that I would always know what to do.  But I don’t.  Most of the time I try to do what feels right but sometimes I’m at a loss.  I don’t know if I’m parenting right, I don’t know if I’m making the right decisions.  And sometimes my kids get in the way of me being the type of parent I want to be.  When that happens I have to - I need to - step back, reevaluate and change course. 

So I bought a book.  It has helped me to focus on how I parent and how I treat my kids, how I talk to my kids and how I talk about them. 

And maybe parenting doesn't come with a complete handbook and maybe it’s never going to be as easy as I thought.  But I can still teach myself to be better.

*This column originally published in The News-Enterprise on May 28, 2014.

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