A Decade of Parenting Lessons

Parenting Tips, Parenting Advice, Free Parenting Advice, Parents

This summer, our oldest daughter, Ava, turned 10. That means I’ve officially been a parent for ten years.

With a decade of parenting lessons under my belt, I now qualify as a parenting expert. At least in my own mind.
Some lessons I’ve learned the hard way, like how it’s not a good idea to give your kid silly putty before she goes to bed.
Others, I’ve learned the very, very hard way, such as there is no way to protect my daughters from experiencing pain or sadness or disappointment, no matter how much I try.
In honor of our daughter’s 10th birthday, here are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned about being a parent so far:

1.  Screaming at your kids to get them to stop screaming is counterproductive

Go figure. Every few weeks I test this one just to be sure it’s true. Trust me, it is.

2.  Parenting is like watching your heart walk around outside your body

Watching those four long legs (two per kid) walk into their first day of school last week broke my heart. Thankfully my heart healed quickly and was soon jumping for joy.

3.  Stop trying to be the perfect parent

I tried for too long to be a perfect mom, regularly raising the bar of perfection to keep me on my toes. What did I get in return? A healthy dose of resentment and martyrdom. Brilliant strategy, no?

Now I strive to be authentic with my kids, to show them the real me. Am I too real? We won’t know for a few more years when the therapy bills start pouring in. Our kids’ future therapy appointments will go like this:

Our Kid:  Feelings, feelings, feelings, that’s all my mom cared about when I was growing up. She didn’t hide any of her feelings, and she encouraged me to express all of mine!

Therapist:  How did her obsession with feelings make you feel?

Our Kid:  Torqued and cranked. Why couldn’t she have pretended she didn’t have any feelings? Like normal parents. Would that have been too much to ask?

4.  If you think you’re in control, think again

I want my kids to express all their feelings, needs and wants and feel safe doing so, but I’d prefer it to be on my timeframe.  Preferably when I’m rested, fed and have finished using the bathroom by myself. Is that wrong?

Unfortunately, my kids couldn’t care less about my agenda, preferring to express their beautiful (aka loud) feelings as we’re trying to get to school on time or on the rare occasions my husband and I are both feeling amorous. They are giving that way.

5.  White lies don’t count if they keep your kids safe (or make your life more convenient)*

For years we’ve warned our kids about the imaginary snapping turtles that live in the pond behind my in-law’s home. Our girls never went near the pond without an adult, and we didn’t have to watch them every second they played in the backyard. A twofer – safe and convenient!

*Caveat:  I assumed our ten year old had figured out the truth by now, but this summer, after fishing on the pond with her uncle, she expressed relief at not catching a snapping turtle. Really? I can only imagine that future therapy session.

6.  Make peace with your kids’ disgusting habits (and await the positive power of peer pressure)

I spent months trying to curb my oldest’s nose picking habit when she was four or five years old. I tried to trust she would grow out of it, but mostly I tried to convince her it was a disgusting habit. She kept picking. By age six or seven, she’d stopped on her own, likely because her school friends teased her mercilessly.

I rarely notice when my youngest daughter picks her nose. She prefers to pick at home in the privacy of her bedroom (and to leave her boogers on her bedpost). I may have to wait a little longer for peer pressure to do its magic this time. At least until we start allowing sleepovers.

7.  Accept the things you cannot change (aka put down the whip you use to self flagellate) 

Our daughters are five years apart in age. I’m a different parent now than I was ten or even five years ago. Which one of my kids got the better parent? How badly did I screw up my first kid? Why hadn’t I learned to relax and trust way back when? Why am I even asking these questions? Our daughters “get what they get and they don’t get upset.”  (At least until they have a therapist on their own payroll.)

8.  Make peace with the “H” word

I don’t freak when my kids tell me they hate me. I try to remember that hate and love are kissing cousins. And I hate them too at times. Yet my love for my daughters is more intense and real than any other I’ve had in my life, even the love I had for my husband early on in our relationship. Lucky for him, I’ve also learned to hate him too at times.

9.   Look in the mirror

Our kids reflect our best and worst qualities. Both of our daughters are loving, kind and responsible. They’re creative and dramatic, bright and persistent. They’re also impatient, stubborn, opinionated and dictatorial. From their dad’s side.

10.  Stock up on support & self-care

I get by with a little help from my friends. And when I say “a little” I mean the daily, near constant, sanity-providing support I get from my peeps, spiritual groups and overpriced therapist. I credit them with the rare glimpses of sanity I string together. They remind me to put the oxygen mask on myself first and make time for myself and dates with my husband a priority.

None of this parenting stuff would work without support. And babysitters.

What are some of the best parenting lessons you’ve learned? Although I’m now a certified parenting expert, I’m entering the tween years, so cough up the good stuff in the comments. 

Nine Clues that I’m Angry (Or Will Be Soon)

Anger. It’s an emotion at least as American as Fourth of July parades, cookouts and flag burnings. While some people are attuned to the twitches in their bodies that alert them to angry feelings, I need more concrete notifications. As a public service to my loved ones, I offer the following clues that Mr. Hyde is on the loose and should be avoided at all costs.

  1. Anyone other than me is whining.
  2. I’m rushing. And no one else is.
  3. My eyes are open. Moments earlier they were closed and enjoying a sexy dream starring me and Jason Bateman, but now a certain little person’s stuffed lamb fell off her bed and MUST be rescued immediately as evidenced by the screams emanating from her bedroom.
  4. The playroom that took two hours to clean and organize stayed neat for seven minutes instead of the usual 22.
  5. My shopping cart contains five pints of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby instead of the usual one. You know, for my husband.
  6. I need toilet paper stat and there’s none in the bathroom and no one home to blame.
  7. I can’t find the sales receipt for the oh so cute, oh so slightly expensive sandals I bought that fit at Macy’s but pinch like a horny Italian the minute I wear them outside.
  8. The tone of my voice is calm yet tight as I form the words, “Fine. Go. Have fun,” when my husband is invited to yet another last-minute sporting event.
  9. Our kitchen floor is clean. (The only time our kitchen floor gets washed is when I’m angry, so if you visit us and our floor is spotless, you’ll know my mood going in.)

Each of my nine “tells” belongs in the category of “sweating the small stuff.” They also guarantee that I will a) lose my shit within moments or b) act as if everything is fine, but silently seethe, shooting daggers at anyone within ten yards, including the lovely woman at the dentist’s office who didn’t say thank you when my five year old held the door open for her or the kind gentleman at the grocery store who advised me to “smile” as we passed each other. (Should any of my readers have access to the surveillance videos at either of these fine establishments, please note that I regret resorting to stealth middle finger salutes in both cases. I know. I know. Speaking up would have been classier, but the bird can be strangely satisfying.)

While I do save some of my anger for the serious social injustices in the world, mostly I’m angry when I don’t speak up for myself or don’t let others know what I want and need. And when I’m extra surly, mostly what I need is a hug, especially when I’m too stubborn or too far gone to ask for one.

Anger (640x483)

I’m participating in Yeah Write’s 31 Days to a Better Blog program. We started yesterday, but it’s not too late to join in! Today’s assignment is to write a List Post. And, yes, I’m open to feedback!

Yesterday’s assignment was to write an “elevator speech” to describe your blog. Check out what I came up with and let me know your thoughts. Thanks!

I’ll Be the One Screaming: Around the Bonfire

I am one of those people. The type who on the outside looks pulled together, in control, on top of things in life. And sometimes, I am. Mostly on Tuesdays. The rest of the time, my calm exterior hides a riot of emotions ranging from anxiety to joy, with buckets full of anger sandwiched in between.

Although I’ve shared about anger in posts like Anger Looks Good on Me and Making Room for Chaos, I’m taking a leap of faith today and guest posting at Gigi Ross’s Kludgy Mom about how we’re navigating anger in our family. My post, Screaming With My Daughters, is part of Gigi’s weekly “Around the Bonfire” series, and I’m honored to be there.

If you don’t know Gigi Ross and her insightful, hilarious blog, Kludgy Mom, you’re missing out. And we all know how much I you hate to miss out. So check out Gigi’s site and join us today (Wednesday) from 12Noon to 1 pm (Central) for a live Bonfire Chat  to discuss anger – yours, mine and ours – and how we’re teaching our kids to express this complicated emotion. Hope to see you there!*

*That’s a lie. I’m terrified to do this webchat and secretly hope no one shows up or my computer crashes. But then I’ll be sad and angry. So either way, it should be a good time!

Around-the-bonfire

Making Room For Chaos

I’m having one of those days. An agitated, pissy, every shade of bad mood kind of day where each whine from my kids rubs against my insides like a potato over a box grater. A day where every question feels like an intrusion; every request a resentment in the making. My insides feel messy and chaotic, and I’m convinced my skin is sewn on wrong.

For those of you following along at home, these visceral emotions translate into angry, lonely, hurt and sad on a standard feelings chart. I’m also feeling a smidgen of jealousy. Just for fun. Actually, the smidgen is a big win for me. Usually, I like my jealousy in big heaping tablespoons.

Photo courtesy of www.thisnext.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.thisnext.com

We’re big on identifying and expressing feelings in our family. Although my husband and I aren’t aligned on every parenting issue, we both value and are committed to teaching our kids that all feelings are welcome in our home.

But just because we say we value feelings doesn’t mean we know what the f**k to do with them when they show up uninvited and without a hostess gift. Did I mention how much I’m hating being a parent today?

As someone who pushed all my feelings down deep into the dimples of my thighs for much of my life, learning to express my emotions while teaching our kids to express theirs is a big, messy experiment, similar to mixing Pepsi with Mentos. Feelings mean chaos, even and especially the happy ones, and I don’t do chaos easily, even after nine years as a parent. And more than five times that as a human.

I would prefer emotions expressed on my timetable.  When it’s convenient for me and I’m feeling loving and receptive, bring ‘em on. I’ll love myself and my kids through the hardest ones.

Other times, I want to fix and manage and get through those feelings in record time. Ok, kids, double time now, get those pesky emotions under control. Tick tock.

There’s a scene in the fabulous Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, which resonates with me on many levels. The characters sing a tongue-in-cheek song about the value of pushing down unwieldy emotions, pretending they don’t exist and choosing not to feel anything painful. The catchy, upbeat lyrics to the song, “Turn It Off,” go like this:

“When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head, don’t feel those feelings, hold them in instead. Turn it off, like a light switch, just go click … What’s so hard about that?”

If only that worked.

Teaching my kids to express their feelings responsibly means looking at and accepting my own. And today may not be a convenient day for me. I don’t want to deal with other people’s emotions today. I don’t want to listen to screaming unless it’s my own. I want to be the only one who gets to be angry and pissy and pouty. Is that too much to ask?

Unfortunately, when I don’t express my own anger, my kids act it out sideways. This morning, as my own pissiness peaked, Rhys (4) hit Ava (9) on the leg with a glittery magic wand.

Although I reminded Rhys that we don’t hit other people and helped her hit pillows instead, I was aware that I wanted to whack someone with that wand too. On the head.

Maybe I should thank Rhys for expressing my frustration for me. Or not.

Instead I need some self-care and some time with the punching bag in our basement. Mostly, I need a hug. When I’m feeling this out of sorts, my instinct is to push everyone away, to prove to myself that my feelings are toxic and hateful. But in reality, I’m human and every cell in my body is screaming for connection and love. And that’s the hardest lesson of all.

Please Don’t Talk to Me While You’re Squeezing My Breasts

No, I don’t mean my husband. (This isn’t that kind of post. And you heard enough about our sex life recently to satisfy my exhibitionist tendencies for a few more weeks.)

Yes, I do mean you, Ms. Mammogram Technologist!

I’ve been learning to use my voice and speak up for myself in all kinds of situations. Except the other day in the mammogram screening room where I encountered my nemesis, Chatty Cathy.

From the moment I walked into the screening room, I knew I was in trouble. Chatty Cathy greeted me with a big smile and a warm hello and proceeded to explain every last detail of what was about to happen to my girls. Then she explained again – in excruciating detail – while her cold, deft hands prodded and maneuvered my breasts in to a machine that compressed them beyond recognition.

I’ve found out that I get dizzy and hyperventilate while having my breasts fondled by strange women and large machinery. My skin turns a lovely shade of avacado before my baby browns roll up into my head. I do not faint. Instead I use my superpowers to ignore the feelings of panic roiling through my body; my only goal to survive the screening before I die on the floor.

I tell myself there are two kinds of people in the world regarding medical procedures:

1)      Those who are comforted and reassured by having every detail of what is going to happen to them explained

2)      Those who prefer to be kept in the dark, told what to do and left alone to panic in peace and quiet

I propose hospitals provide a preference checklist with the 25 other forms required before any medical procedure. I envision something like this:

Please Select One:  I prefer my medical technician to be:

a)      Outgoing, Warm and Friendly:  takes her/his time to guide me lovingly through each step

b)      Quiet, Gentle and Quick:  gets me in and out of procedure quickly with a minimum of explanation

c)       Reminiscent of a Stepford Wife on Crack:  uber helpful and willing to delineate every detail of the procedure multiple times with a frantic vocal delivery

Don’t get me wrong, my deranged dedicated technologist was simply doing her job. An incredibly important and difficult job. I imagine many women love her repetitive assurance that she knows her way around a breast or two.

I happen to prefer hyperventilating in silence. Give me an overview and the bare minimum of information I need to disassociate in peace while you’re squeezing the bejesus out of my breasts.

Perhaps I should thank her. I haven’t been felt up with so much exuberance by anyone other than my husband in many, many years.

Now, lest I continue on this victimy rant another moment (something I would love am loathe to do), I did have choices in this situation.

I certainly could have spoken up and calmly explained my preferences. Unfortunately, all I could think in the moment as the blood pounded my temples was “You may be competing for some kind of Miss Congeniality award, but dear woman, shut the fuck up!”

While those words were an option, she was holding the fate of my delicate woman parts in her hands.

Instead, our interaction went something like this:

Chatty Cathy Technologist:  “You’re looking a little pale, dear. It’s okay if you want to sit down. You could sit for two or three minutes and relax and then we can start again. Whatever you need because all I care about is making sure you’re comfortable and making sure we get the best pictures we can. We need the pictures to be identical to the ones you got last year so the radiologist can see if there were any changes to your breast tissue between last year and this year. Do you want to sit down and relax for two or three minutes? Or even five or ten minutes?”

Me:  “No, thanks.”

Chatty Cathy:  “A lot of women get light-headed so it really isn’t any problem if you want to sit down and take a break. We’ll just take our time between each film; go slow and steady to make sure we get the best films we can. Do you want to sit down? This is a foldable, cushioned chair made in China but imported in the United States by an American chair company. I can guarantee it is comfortable and should you want to try it out yourself, I’d be happy to take off the iron shield from around your hips so you are comfortable.

Me:  “No, thanks.”

I am disappointed in myself for not speaking up – that would have made for a shorter post and perhaps a better story!

My 9yo daughter, Ava, has no problem using her voice and speaking up whenever necessary, sometimes to my dismay. During the mammogram, I started thinking WWAD – What Would Ava Do? I’m confident she would have spoken up immediately with some version of:  “Miss Technician Lady, can you please stop talking now. You’re giving me a headache. 

If only I had her courage!

Instead, I offer myself this practice script for next year’s exam:

Technologist:  “… And we compress your breasts because we care. Do you want to sit down, dear?

Me:  “Miss Technician Lady, I am feeling really anxious. I would prefer to do this screening as silently as possible. Could you give me the least amount of detail to get through the screening and keep the talking to a minimum? Thank you.”

Easy? No way. Doable? Perhaps. Next year.

Or maybe I should practice holding my breath longer? You tell me.

Does anyone else have trouble speaking up to a medical professional? If you are a medical professional, how would you suggest a slightly neurotic patient like me handle this situation?

Next up, getting my dental hygienist to shut up…

Anger Looks Good On Me

I feel angry. Glorious, full-bodied rage.

Every inch of me pulsates with passion and electricity. I feel brazen, voluptuous and alive in my body.

I am real. Free. Powerful.

And then reality hits. I am terrified. Terrified of the raw power born of my anger; terrified of the intimacy of sharing all of me, my anger in particular.

For most of my life, I’ve told myself that my anger is too frightening to unleash in my relationships; that “all of me” is too much. I’ve feared I would bulldoze through life, ripping large trees from the ground as I raped and pillaged the earth; scared I’d take more than my fair share, more than my carefully- portioned slice of life.

Instead I trained others to see me as a nice girl, a kind refuge. I expressed few needs, no demands, only accommodations. While no one emotion defines me, the more I shoved anger down into various nether-regions of my being, the more I became a prisoner to it.

I was convinced I could not be compassionate, kind and loving as well as angry, powerful and strong.  One or the other. Choose, damnit.

And I did choose. For years I chose to stay safe and small and in control. I chose to rage at myself instead of owning my power in the world. Chose to believe my anger made me unlovable. Disposable. Unwanted.

Worse yet, I chose to believe my anger would hurt others; elicit derision and hatred while frightening animals and young children.

I am slowly, imperfectly learning to make different choices.

I have learned to express my anger with and at my husband. He has been a loving witness, and this intimacy often brings us closer. I express my anger with and at my daughters. While I’m not clear of the outcome, our relationships for now are strong and real. They are experiencing an authentic mom:  human, flawed and ever-changing.

While I’ve been willing to risk expressing anger with my husband and children, until recently I rarely brought my anger to any other relationships. Again, I’m slowly making different choices. Now that I’ve tasted this untapped power, my soul wants more.

I want to live, to soar, to feel worthy of my spot in this world without apologies. I want my daughters to learn from me how to walk through life unafraid of setting boundaries, being authentic, owning their power. And I’m terrified.

Terrified and willing; willing to try out new behaviors and gradually show the people in my life a more complete picture of me – drop by drop. Slowly the colors of me are coming into view.

I am living through the backlash of loved ones feeling hurt or angry with me. My relationships at times feel out of control, messy, unsettled.

My new choices don’t feel better yet. I trust they will. For you see, I am learning that there is no such thing as too much me.

I am linking up with Yeah Write for their Summer Writer’s Series