Parenting: Tribe Needed
Taking my three little girls with me anywhere feels more like I’m wrangling wild animals than managing children who know how to behave. My children do know how to act, most of the time, but there are moments they “forget.” Like this weekend.
On Saturday, my family drove up to north Chicago to attend a friend’s wedding with plans to stop for lunch with friends beforehand. As we drove, my oldest, Gigi, melted down. Her temper bubbled then festered until it exploded. She wanted something that we refused to give her. Gigi wasn’t shy in letting us know that she expected to get what she wanted with statements like, “I’ll get sick and throw up if you don’t give it to me” or “You don’t love me. If you did, you’d let me play with it.”
My husband and I held our ground. If she had asked nicely and then let it go, we might have reconsidered at some point. Her demands made it clear to us we needed to dig in and hold firm. We would not be emotionally manipulated, much less by a six-year-old.
Once at lunch, we finally got Gigi to calm down. (Well, it took a little time but we got there.) She and her sisters ate with pretty nice manners and good behavior at the restaurant. The relief I felt was immense.
After lunch we headed for the wedding. Once there, the girls started off well during the mass. But, unfortunately, it didn’t last long. They stopped sitting still and quiet. They started to chatter and play. Instead of focusing on my friend getting married, I was too busy worrying about my children distracting other guests. I separated my two oldest, which helped, but then my two-year-old felt the need to talk. Of course, this meant that the middle one had to talk to her. All I felt was tension and judgment in that moment. I couldn’t control my kids. I failed. My husband failed. We failed together.
I was disappointed in my kids at first. Gigi and Peanut know how to behave better, but they didn’t. Then I realized, it was our fault. At no time during our day did we give our girls the chance to run and play. All day they had to sit and be quiet, a feat difficult for any child. I decided to remember that lesson for the next time.
Our drive home was uneventful. Thank goodness! The next day, though, I reminded Gigi that she was now grounded for her behavior on the drive up to Chicago. She was not happy and lashed out angrily, but came to accept her fate; one she made for herself after receiving a warning on the drive, that if she continued her temper fit she would be grounded.
I decided to share my frustrations of the day before on Facebook. It helped receiving all the support from friends who have children. Friends who understand and have been there, perhaps not in the same circumstances, but who “get it.”
A few friends and family who don’t have children chimed in as well, sharing their support and wisdom. It was in reading their comments that I realized and understood something for the first time.
I came to motherhood later in life, but when I did, I had experience with children. I taught first or second graders for six years of my life. (And for five years before that, I worked with young adults at the college level.) As a single woman, I would also add my thoughts to friends and family who posted about challenges with their children. But I found that many ignored my comments or made it clear to me that they didn’t want my perspective because I wasn’t a mom.
I’ll be honest. It pissed me off being blown off like that. I would talk to other single friends who didn’t have kids but did have experience with children. They all expressed the same frustration, the same anger at their thoughts, their wisdom being ignored. Just because we weren’t moms didn’t mean we didn’t know how to deal with children. But now I know why my friends and family ignored my words when I wasn’t a mom.
I’ll try to explain in a way that doesn’t diminish all the wonderful wisdom I get from every friend and family member who doesnt’ have a child. Because the words they share do have meaning. Their support means a hell of a lot! They are usually right, too. They aren’t giving bad advice, quite the opposite. What their words and wisdom miss though is the feeling of guilt most parents carry with them.
There are times it helps more to hear from a parent going through the same things as I am. When they do, I know I’m not alone. By not feeling alone, I don’t feel judged. As a mom, I feel guilt about how I parent every day. When I’m in a public place and my child (or children) won’t behave, I worry that I’m doing the mom thing ALL wrong. I feel eyes on my back questioning my choices. All it takes is for another parent to tell me, “Hey, you’re doing fine. Keep it up. My kids have done this too.”, for me to feel better.
You see, moms and dads are constantly judged for the decisions we make as parents. From how you will feed your children, diaper them, educate them to how you discipline them (and much more), parents, especially moms, feel constantly judged. When you are dealing with a difficult challenge with your child, what helps most is hearing from other parents who have been in the trenches. They “get it” in a way that friends without children will not, in most cases.
Now I realize that it wasn’t that my words were ignored or I lacked any wisdom. They just needed to feel support and love from others who understood, other parents.
In reading the comments from all my friends, I realize that the words that impact me most are from parents. They have become my “parenting tribe.” Through them, I don’t feel as alone or like I’m a failure. And, there are times that I need that most of all.