Me and the People Who Keep Me Sane and Drive Me Crazy at the Very Same Time–in front of a Tiny House
There’s truly nothing like actually having your first child to help change your perspective on all of things you thought you knew, advice you were given or marketing that was targeted at your “Newbie” status as a parent of your first child. Here are five things that I can tell you, after having three children, are nonsense, though you’ll hear these bits of advice, rude comments or well-meaning old wives tales over and over.
1) Use a soft cloth or a clean finger (or the fancy rubber-nubber finger cot we’re trying to sell you) to rub your child’s gum and new baby teeth. This will get your child “used to having his or her teeth brushed” so that they won’t mind having it done later when they actually have teeth. False. Now, there is nothing wrong with wiping down baby teeth or using a soft brush–in fact, it may be beneficial. But, don’t think that doing this will prevent that very same baby-turned-toddler from screaming, thrashing or otherwise refusing to have his teeth brushed. It’s not a matter of “being used to it.” It’s a matter of not wanting to do it. Why? Because you asked him to. This will apply to every single thing your child should be used to and yet refuses to do when they are a two and three year old–including having diapers changed, getting dressed, having hair washed and brushed and sometimes, something as simple as holding your hand in a parking lot.
2) You can control your child. False. Before being parents ourselves, most of us have thought it at one point or another. Many of us have heard it. “She needs to learn how to control that child!” Really, no “advice” was ever less helpful. Babies and kids cannot be controlled. We can swaddle, we can bounce, we can hum. We can threaten, we can bribe, we can set good examples and model good behavior. We can yell, give time outs and we can take away screen time. The truth is: some kids are genetically programmed to be calmer, handle frustration better and cry more quietly. I’ll never forget our friend’s daughter falling and getting a boo boo. Her parents (our friends) were talking about how upset/hurt she was while she whimpered and wept quietly into her mother’s shoulder. “THAT is how she sounds when she is crying?” my husband and I asked, in shock. “THAT is IT?” Our kids react in a much louder, angrier (did I say louder?) way, whether reacting to a skinned knee or a “No, you may not eat cookies for breakfast.” They were born that way. When we ask them to do something, they often do not get up and do it immediately like good little robots. They procrastinate, they whine, they refuse (not ALWAYS) and they might “accidentally” kick a sibling when they do finally get up. I wish they would act like meek, little robots sometimes–like if they had an “Off Switch” as they were tantrumming toddlers at the grocery store–that would have been AWESOME. Or a “Mute Button.” Are they this way because we are too easy-going? Because we don’t do this or that or have consequences? No. It’s because they are little people, who are genetically pre-determined to be loud, stubborn, frustrating and overly-opinionated–just like their parents! Sometimes easy-going people accidentally give birth to children like mine–probably the obstinate genes were recessive and skipped a generation. And sometimes, bull-headed parents accidentally give birth to mellow, easy-going children–Not fair! But, if you have a child who reacts to any “parenting advice, behavior charts, who enjoy earning a sticker for putting away the dishes,” consider yourself lucky. You have what is called a “People Pleaser,” so please don’t judge those of us who don’t have “People Pleasers” too harshly. We often wish we did!
3) Parenting gets easier as your children get older. False! Or maybe true. But like every other Parenting Myth…it depends on your kids. If you are struggling with a newborn and a toddler and multiple night wakings, and you’re covered in spit up and boogers from head to toe, if you have bags under your eyes and crumbs in your bra…and a friend looks at you and says “Don’t worry. It does get easier,” you should realize what she really means is this: Don’t worry. Some day your children will sleep through the night, they won’t throw up on you on a daily basis and you won’t be changing diapers forever. All of this is true. Easier however, is a relative term. As your children grow and enter school, you will be dealt a new set of challenges and tasks, though quite different from the mind-numbing exhaustion of parenting infants–but often still overwhelming. You will suddenly find the social lives of all of your children are completely dependent on you and your willingness to socialize. Easy for extroverts, painful for introverts. You will have approximately 18 birthdays a year to attend and to buy gifts for, in addition to deciding how to either invite your child’s whole class to a party or how to NOT invite your child’s whole class to a party. You will have to attend three different holiday parties, all held in the same week and bake two dozen cookies for each class (or contribute something else). You will have homework to help with…easy if your child is self-motivated, can stay on task and enjoys doing common core math at the kitchen table while you cook dinner OR a nightly disaster if you have a high-needs toddler, a fussy infant and a school-aged child who needs your complete attention to stay focused on schoolwork…while you burn dinner.
4) Exposing your child to a variety of foods will help you avoid The Dreaded Super-Picky Eater: False No matter what I have tried to feed my children, I cannot figure out why they like what they like or, when they will like it. After having two girls, I thought “Oh, good! I’ve heard boys will eat anything!” As it turns out, Cooper is the pickiest of my three children. He won’t even try most foods based on how they look. And as for the girls, they’ll gobble down something I serve one day and then claim that they hate it the very next day. Instead of genetically modifying our food, I’d be in favor of genetically modifying children. Wouldn’t it be convenient if all siblings were genetically programmed to like and dislike the same foods? Or at least, to consistently like and dislike and the same foods? There is nothing more frustrating than stocking up on something that was a huge hit on Thursday to have them refuse to eat it the next time it three days later.
5) The number of years you carefully plan to have between your children matters. False. To start with the obvious, whether you are adopting or trying to get pregnant, you cannot plan to the day or the month when your child will be born or when his or her subsequent siblings will follow. While debating the timing of Baby # 2, many parents make comments like, “Won’t it be nice if they are close in age? They’ll be best friends,” or “They’ll have each other as playmates.” In ideal situations, and in families with more than one child who is an Easy-Going, People-Pleaser, your children, no matter how close in age or how far, will be playmates and best friends, thus making parenting them actually easier. OR you might find that your children have incredibly competitive personalities, like to “push each other’s buttons,” and have a relationship more like wrestling puppies except with tattle tale-ing and whining. While putting four to six years or more, between children, might seem less than ideal to some families, often the older the first child, the less competition and sibling rivalry occurs. Each child has the chance to “be the baby” and the older child often enjoys, rather than resents, having a new baby to help take care of. Or maybe not.
So, as we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s this year, my gift to you is this: Peace of Mind. You can be doing everything right and still be living in complete and utter chaos and wondering how to achieve Parental Zen–which to me would look something like a Waldorf school run by an organic chef and children who rarely have tantrums and are “quiet weepers” when they’re upset. Are your children happy and healthy and well-fed? Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters. The thing is, there are no right answers–only different ways of approaching the complex process process of raising amazing, intelligent, complicated little people. Cheers to you for however you choose to parent!