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Saturday, November 1, 2014

On actually being a parent

Parenting can be pretty hard for me. I worked tirelessly for three years (when the girls were 2-5), entertaining them, teaching them how to use the bathroom, how to eat and drink, how to wipe, how to make their beds. I played with them endlessly. From getting their balls that rolled under the couch, to building lego towers, to pretending to be a scary witch who would lock them in a make-believe tower should they be caught. My entire days, for those three years, basically consisted of me staring at their darling little faces. And they needed that.

Then in their fifth year, they gained a little independence. They would go out and play with the neighborhood kids, they could sit still for a 2-hour movie, they could construct hours-long make believe games on their own.

So, they went off to kindergarten and I started grad school. They joined capoeira and I started writing regularly as a freelancer. I published books, I made contacts, I got into publications. At long last! My life was set to begin again! I filled my to-do list with things FOR ME TO DO, cleaning, housework, homework, writing, pitching, publishing, going to the gym. The time we had for interaction dwindled.

And I celebrated!

It's not that I don't like hanging out with my kids, I really do. It's that I had literally put my life on hold to raise them. And I prematurely thought I was done.

And when I found out that I was wrong, I didn't handle it right.

They started misbehaving. Not wanting to be left to their own devices. They still wanted my attention (being only six, after all), and started clamoring for it by fighting, giving me attitude and resuming the tantrums they had thrown as toddlers.

Instead of nipping this in the bud, I rebelled myself, like I also was a petulant child. I'd finally gotten a taste of freedom, a promise of what my life could be. I didn't want to give it up. I had things to do.

So, I grew snappish with them. They'll literally cry for my attention, or poke each other's eyes out, or look at each other or breathe on each other, you know, all the earth-shattering things little kids can do to each other.

They can no longer play nicely. Hell, they can't even watch TV in the same room for more than ten minutes without attempting to kill one another. And instead of nipping these fights in the bud, redirecting them or funneling their energy into a different activity, I grow annoyed. Why can't they play? What is going on? So I break it up in a negative manner, send one or the other to her room for five minutes, then she comes out and they do it again.

I don't enjoy their company, and I don't get anything done. Then I blame them. Then they blame me. And we all live in a hellish mockery of a home.

So, this week, I restructured. After totally losing it about my kids, and my writing, and my school and my stress, and my illnesses (my body has been breaking down all over the place), I took a step back and re-prioritized.

Yes, it's great that I can "work from home" and "be a writer". That is fantastic. It's great my kids can feed themselves and dress themselves and (sometimes) entertain themselves. But they're not ready to be understanding enough to just go do their own thing, and me pushing them to do that without giving guidance will clearly end in tears.

So, I dialed back a bit. In fact, it's 5 p.m. and this blog is the only thing I've written all day. I started it at 10 a.m., and have been able to get in a sentence here and a sentence there. Very reminiscent of when the girls were three, in fact.

I've toned down my efforts in grad school. Maybe I'll only get Cs this semester instead of As. Oh  well.

Because none of that other stuff matters if I can't bring up children who know their boundaries and have the ability to keep themselves busy and happy without needling me or each other.

To get that, I have to do what is counter intuitive and actually spend more time with them, not less.

And really, it's not that much more time since when I'm trying to ignore them because I'm on deadline, I have to spend nearly as much time disciplining them as I spent with them today...only it's all negative.

So, yeah. More time on the kids, not less. But the time must be spent teaching them how to play without me. By playing with them. On paper it makes no sense.

But based on today, it just might work.

And then, maybe in a few more years, I'll be able to write like I want to write. Maybe. Or maybe not.


1 comment:

  1. Don't I feel your pain! I set up my practice to only see a few patients a day but do everything else from home. It's maddening! Yesterday I was so worn out and snippy, which of course made the kids behave abominably, which I did not respond to effectively. It was horrible. I'm trying to find the balance but am starting to believe it doesn't exist. :)

    I came across your blog from The Washington Post... My sister sent me your article from earlier this year about collecting food stamps in a Mercedes. I wanted to thank you for speaking up. I did too ( and the doctor on here is me: ). There aren't nearly enough of us telling the truth, coming out of the snap closet. I hope someday there are enough of us speaking up to make an anthology! It's brave in our culture to say anything and hard to get criticized from all sides so thank you.



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