By: Shannon Ralph
As parents, we all strive to be perfect. We try to be cognizant of the values we instill in our children. We try to be flawless in the activities and experiences we provide for our children. We try to be immaculate in the ways in which we educate our children about the world. Gay, lesbian, straight, black, white, single, married…we all have the same goal. To raise our children to adulthood, nurturing them along the way. Teaching them to be good people. To this end, we try with all of our might to be the best examples we can be: the best parents, employees, housekeepers, children, sisters, brothers, teachers, chauffeurs. As parents, we try to be everything to everyone. Unfortunately, as human beings, we often fall short of the mark. For any new parents (or parents-to-be) out there reading this blog, I thought I would write a bit about the ways in which I have completely crashed and burned as a parent. Since I most certainly cannot be held up as a shining example of parenting perfection, let me serve as a somber warning to parents everywhere. Perhaps you newbies can glean a tiny bit of wisdom from my regrettable mistakes. And veteran parents, feel free to smile knowingly and commiserate. I know you feel my pain.
Mistake #1: I allowed my children into my bed. Do not give in to that maternal (or paternal) urge to cuddle your children. Do not allow them to get to you with those sad, sleepy eyes. Do not do it. You will regret it. In a moment of weakness and utter fatigue, I allowed Sophie to go to bed with me one night. I have to admit that I enjoyed snuggling up to her freshly-bathed, sweet-smelling little body. She sucked me in. However, that was months and months ago (maybe a year, even?). She has yet to sleep an entire night in her own bed since. I put her to bed in her own bed every night, but she inevitably ends up in mine. Her “freshly-bathed, sweet-smelling” little body has transformed into a weapon aimed at destroying any and all chance I have of a good night’s sleep. I now find myself waking several times a night to bony little knees in my crotch, the distinct and agonizing sensation of a pointy little elbow jabbing me in the base of the skull, hot dragon breath in my face, and a head full of dishwater blonde hair up my nostrils Yes, I realize that I made this bed and now I am forced to sleep in it. Heed my advice. Learn from my mistake. March those kids right back to their own beds in their own bedrooms.
Mistake #2: I allowed my children to eat ketchup. Though certainly not a huge, life-altering mistake, this is a mistake nonetheless. I cannot stand ketchup. The smell of it truly nauseates me. Since introducing my children to ketchup in a moment of weakness and fatigue (a recurring theme here), they want it constantly. It’s kiddie crack. Sophie will eat it with a spoon. Then I have to wash that mess off of her face, gagging the entire time. Do not do it. It’s a vile, sugary concoction that provides no nutritional value and serves no purpose other than to make smelly messes.
Mistake #3: I made a separate meal for Lucas. Bad, bad, bad, bad, BAD idea. Do not ever make your child a separate meal when he turns up his nose at the nutritious and delicious food you have lovingly prepared for dinner. Trust me, you will only be creating a monster. As proof of this fact, I now am the proud owner of an eight-year-old who will only eat grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs. No vegetables. Very few fruits. None of the childhood staples you would expect—pizza, mac & cheese, peanut butter & jelly, spaghetti (or pasta of any variety). Nope. Only hot dogs and grilled cheese. If you ignore all of my other advice, please heed this warning. Do not do it!
Mistake #4: I bought my son Legos. Legos sound pretty darn great in theory. A construction toy. Perfect for practicing eye/hand coordination. The quintessential imagination-building toy. Yeah…not so much. Legos sound great until they are strewn across every inch of your house. They sound great until you suck them up in your vacuum cleaner. They sound great until you step on your six hundred and ninety seventh Lego—hiding inconspicuously in the deepest recesses of your shag carpet—with your bare foot. The searing pain of a tiny Lego implanting itself into the tender skin on the bottom of your foot is like no pain you will ever feel. You will curse. You will rant and rave like a deranged person. There will be a litany of words flowing from your mouth that would make Mel Gibson blush. Trust me. Save yourself the mortification of your beloved little Sally or Timmy repeating your tirade of four-letter words at your next dinner party. Just forgo the Legos altogether.
Mistake #5: I decided to be a parent who reasons with my children. First and foremost, you cannot reason with a four-year-old. Try as you might, you will NOT be successful. There is no reason or logic behind a four-year-old’s arguments. They are totally nonsensical. Do not try to understand them. Rather, lay down the law and stand by what you say. You will save yourself hours upon hours of wrenching, frustrating, mind-numbing debates that you are destined to lose. If that does not work, bribery is an effective alternative.
Mistake #6: I mastered the use of the empty threat. Okay, let’s give our children a little credit. They may be young. They may appear innocent. They may be inexperienced in the ways of the world. However, they can spot an empty threat a mile away. They know that you will not follow through. So try to make your threats reasonable and sustainable. If you threaten to never let your child step foot in Target again in his entire lifetime because of the tantrum he threw in front of the gathering masses the last time you were there, he will call you on it. Trust me. There will come a day when you are out with your child and you will HAVE to take him with you to Target. You will be out of milk. Or cat food. Or tampons. Or Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey. Or some other absolutely necessary commodity. Your child will remember. Your child will look at you smugly as he steps across Target’s threshold—and he will smile. You will know that you have lost. Save yourself the humiliation. Do not make threats you can’t back up.
Mistake #7: I let the kids watch Saturday morning cartoons. We do not have cable at our house, so we do not get the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, or the Cartoon Network. As a result, my kids do not have 24-hour cartoon access. We typically will watch some PBS cartoons in the afternoon, but that is about it during the week. However, on Saturday mornings, we let the kids watch cartoons. Lucas has become extremely attached to his Saturday morning cartoons. Why is this a problem, you ask? Because Saturday morning cartoons last until noon. This means, unless we want to have a mutiny on our hands, we cannot do anything on a Saturday until the afternoon. Any suggestion of a Saturday morning activity, even on a beautiful summer day—the lake, the pool, the park—is immediately met with whines, cries, and all-out riots. And they aren’t the classic cartoons we remember anyway. Underdog and Captain Caveman have been replaced with creepy-looking dragons and battling robots. Remember the cute little Smurfs? And Scooby-Doo? Remember how Velma rocked your world? (Okay…maybe that was just me.) They have all been replaced with cartoons chock-full of stupid potty humor and fart jokes. Do yourself a favor. Just skip Saturday morning cartoons altogether.
Mistake #8: I bought my children nice clothes. Give it up. By the time your children are old enough to talk, they will have their own ideas about what they want to wear. Try as you might to get them to wear the adorable little matching frocks you paid way too much for at Gymboree, they will refuse. Your son will insist on wearing the old faded hand-me-down Lightning McQueen t-shirt with the hole in the elbow that he got from his cousin. Every. Single. Day. Your daughter will insist that her pink tutu, last year’s green sundress that is too short, and her red plaid tights from Christmas go together. She will think she is beautiful and will not understand your insistence that she change clothes before leaving the house. Just give it up. Save your money and your sanity and let the kids dress themselves. Familiarize yourself with your local Goodwill store and stock up $2 fashions circa 1984. It is simply not a battle worth fighting. Besides, other parents will understand that you did not dress your child in that hideous ensemble.
Mistake #9: I tried to treat all of my children the same. In theory, this sounds reasonable. It would seem that a mother should be fair and treat all of her children the same. However, fairness has no place in parenting. What worked with your oldest child may not always work (actually, will probably never work) with your youngest child. For example, Lucas has always been able to function just fine with a later bedtime and I have no problem letting him stay up late occasionally to have special “mommy” time with me. That will not work, however, with Sophie. If Sophie does not get at least a full 10 hours of sleep a night, she is a complete and total beast the next day. Therefore, she is never allowed to stay up late with mommy. In the same manner, I have to be firm with Sophie when she misbehaves. When she is angry or upset, she does not respond to gentle reassurances and hugs and kisses. She explodes with anger that is not easily confined. Her tantrums require a firm voice and swift consequences. Otherwise, we will be at it for hours. Lucas and Nicholas, on the other hand, are much more sensitive. If I speak sternly with them, they get extremely upset. They take it personally and cry as if their little hearts have been broken. When they are upset, they respond better to reassurances, hugs, kisses, and explanations. Different kids…different technique. There is no cookie-cutter approach to your kids. They like to keep you teetering off balance and on your toes.
Mistake #10: I assumed I would be the same person post-children as I was pre-children. Ahhh…such naivete! Nothing—and I repeat NOTHING—is the same post-children as it was pre-children. If you are the one who gave birth to your children, your body will forever be altered. I have a lovely little paunch with a zig-zagging c-section scar that hangs over my underwear now. I have never really been a thin person, but that’s definitely (and alarmingly) new. In addition, the common cold and its accompanying coughing fits take on a whole new unpleasant dimension when coupled with a bladder that survived seven months of two infants bouncing around on it. And where the hell did all of this gray hair come from?! Even if you were not the one who physically gave birth to your children, your life will be forever changed, as well. You will find that you are totally out of the loop on politics and current events, but you could write a dissertation on the finer points of potty training. You will find that the only movies you see anymore are made by Disney or Pixar. Your childless friends will shake their heads and look at you with pity in their eyes when you comment on the nuanced performance given by that guy from Cheers who is in every single Pixar film. You will finally get to go on a date night with your partner and love of your life, only to find that you have to struggle to come up with things to talk about that do not revolve around the children. One day you will find yourself in mixed company discussing the finer points of poop consistency. You will stop yourself and think, Who the hell is this person?!? What have I become? Yep, what indeed!
You are a parent now. For better or worse, this is your fate in life. You may as well enjoy it because those little urchins living in your house are nonrefundable. You own them free and clear. They are yours to keep for many years to come. Your only available course of action—with the exception of raging alcoholism—is to kick back, relax, and enjoy the ride. It will seem like your mistakes outnumber your triumphs most days, but in the end, you will know that you did the best you could. And I guarantee that your children will love you unabashedly and unconditionally, despite your flaws.
Because—luckily for all of us hopelessly flawed parents—that’s what children do.