I have a secret to reveal. Somewhere along my 12 year parenting journey, I have slipped into a downward spiral. No, actually, I am in a cave. A dark, lonely cave. I have forgotten how to be a nice parent.
I will not give you my excuses; I will call them reasons.
Firstly, we moved countries twice – within 5 months. Have you ever moved house? Multiply that painful experience by a gazillion for a small indication of what I went through in that short period of time.
Then, I single-parented three kids. My husband took a job overseas and I stayed alone with the kids for four months. This experience threw out all remnants of what sanity I retained from the move.
Next, I over-subscribed to parenting blogs. I longingly admired articles titled “Why iPads are ruining your children”, and “How to get your kids to eat zucchini muffins”. I began to fret over The Dirty Dozen and bio-dynamic products, and I would ask: “Really – just how organic is this organic orange juice?”
I banned iPads in the house, I forced them to have “outdoor” play, I demanded that they shower, and I moaned all the time. Then, ironically, I complained about their moaning.
I became regimented and rigidly set on giving the kids the best childhood but, really, I was ruining it. Sometimes, on really bad days, I could step outside of my body and witness the dismal failure of my parenting. Usually, however, I was too obsessed with wondering whether or not they’d had enough greens, enough fresh air, and knew the difference between “there”, “their” and “they’re”.
I became fixated on ‘the good old days’ and constantly yearned for the past – so much so, that I became the parent that starts every story with “When I was your age…”. Ridiculous, when you consider that I am only 32 years old and my eldest is nearly a teen.
I kept looking for opportunities to run away, leave the kids with grandparents, child care – anything so that I could breathe. In my mind, I was a bad parent anyway; so what was the point of spending a lot of time with them? I truly reached rock bottom.
This all came to a head one month ago. I was sitting at yet another (long and boring) Grade 5 swimming squad trial, my mind blistering in the foggy heat, internally aggravated by the kid who kept calling my name to look at him. Although I would wave and smile back, my thoughts were along the lines of: “Does he even appreciate me?”, when a Whatsapp message popped up from one of the Class Groups. (You know, those groups with dozens of participants and hundreds of Whatsapp messages per day complaining about weather/school/head lice?)
The message was a promotion for a book by John Gottman titled “Raising emotionally intelligent children”. I ignored it. I pulled up a browser instead to Google another veggie-hiding chocolate cake recipe when a suggestion popped up on my screen for again, a book. This time, the recommendation was for “How to heal your life” by Louise Hay. From one click to another, I ended up on a free PDF version of the book and my eyes began to read.
“May this offering help you find the place within, where you know your self worth…”, were the words that began the book, and a light bulb moment sparked within me as I read them. How did I want my kids to appreciate me when I did not even know how to appreciate myself?
Originally published in 1984 (the year that I was born!), the book has been reprinted many times. “Surely Louise was onto something,” I thought. So I read the whole book, and went home determined to fix the problem. I purchased John Gottman’s book too and delved into some reinventions.
It’s never too late to reinvent yourself, I say. Even at 32.
My issues with comparative parenting stem from my own childhood. I have come to realise that we, as the new generation of young parents, are under an enormous amount of pressure. Without disrespecting past generations, today, we as parents deal with a lot more technological and advanced problems.
While I remember having a Nutella sandwich in my lunchbox everyday as a child – because I loved Nutella – now, there is healthy eating and exercise to consider (often a public topic). And although I used to drink out of the garden hose, nowadays we worry about fluoride in water and carcinogens. I have to monitor my kid on any computer because of cyber bullying, which is now just one of many other advanced dangers in society. In addition to all that, my children’s mental health is a constant worry of mine – as well as wondering if they have had enough “daddy time”.
Worrying about so many aspects relating to children often burns out parents, and in my case, I was completely consumed with trying to tick every box. But that’s the thing: the more boxes I created that needed ticking, the more impossible the task. I was forgetting how to parent because I had stopped focusing on the children, and was instead paying attention to the tasks. I learned that anger is the facade of fear, and my angry persona was definitely a product of my fears of not being good enough.
After reading these books, I can’t say I am even near being ‘great’; but I am content. I say “YES” more than “NO” to the kids now, I discuss emotions with them and I try really hard not to deny what they are feeling. Even something as small as “I’m not feeling hungry” used to be answered by me with an “Oh yes you are, come on just give it a taste”. Now, I try for a simple, “Sure, no worries”.
When I started giving them the control of their emotions and began to show them my failures, life at home became simpler. Children’s brains reflect what they see, and when I stopped being so tyrannical, they stopped being challenging. When I spelt out what I wanted them to do and they didn’t do it, there wouldn’t be a crazed tantrum (by me). I would explain the consequence and, within a few days, they were very aware of their actions. It’s incredible; Mr Gottman was spot on!
I’m not going to lie, parenting is hard like walking through the Amazon Jungle, barefoot and on fire. But, it’s not complicated. Raising kids is a roller-coaster ride, and on some days the dip is deeper than others. However, if you arm yourself with knowledge from others’ experiences then you won’t feel alone.
Just remember: even the best of adults – at some point in their childhood – picked their noses, refused to shower, and gave their folks trouble at bedtime. That helps, doesn’t it?