It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Interview Question Number 3: Mary’s Parenting Mistakes

The third installment of the Interview Meme. You can find the previous two questions here (#1), and here (#2).

3. Most people who read your blog end up, like me, very impressed by your parenting (caregiving) skills. But ‘fess up, it ain’t all Mary Poppins! Share one of your mistakes with us! When you first started parenting, what were you doing that causes the more experienced, wiser version of MaryP to shake her head disapprovingly and mutter “tsk tsk”?

I do, you know. “Tsk, tsk” my younger self. Which is not to say I think I did a bad job. I rather think I did a great job, and my kids bear that out. However, back in the early days, I was…
I was…

I was an Earnest Mommy.

Yes, indeed. Nowadays I mock them, gently. Once, I was one.

Let me first say that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with being an Earnest Mommy. Most first-time mothers are Earnest Mommies, and they do, for all their over-analysis, angst, and intensity, a fine job. (YES, of course you do!) However, Earnest Mommy-ing does lend itself to certain parental weaknesses…

Now, I wasn’t an out-of-control Earnest Mommy. My children were never allowed to treat me with disrespect, scream in my face or hit me, dictate their own bedtimes, or misbehave in coffee shops.

But…

See this fridge magnet? Which I now have on my fridge because it makes me grin, every time?

slackermom.jpg

Back in the early days, I would not have understood this. It would only have confused, or perhaps annoyed, me. It would have been inexplicable. Aren’t mothers supposed to do all they can for their children? Isn’t it right and appropriate that a child can know s/he can rely on their parents?

Now I know better. Yes, I do my best, but I am not the beginning and end of my child’s world. Their every twitch and rustle does not take its root in me. Their decisions are their own, not mine.

In the early days, I made it my responsibility to see that my children were happy.

So, when my first came home from school upset at a certain social interaction or dynamic, I would work with her, sorting it out, analysing it, considering the best possible response(s). I might – though not often, even then – meet with the teacher or even phone the parents of the other children. But mostly, when working it through with my daughter, I would not leave off until she was happy. If I put forth several possible solutions, and she, in her disgruntlement, dismissed each and every one, I’d keep going, brain-storming, encouraging, persisting, probably, now that I consider it from this distance, essentially badgering her (in the kindest and best-of-intentioned ways), until she would accept one of the ideas (or, unlikely as it might be in a mindset of dismissal, suggest an idea of her own) and work with me.

The result? I became responsible, not only to be a resource to her in these situations, but for her happiness.

Mistake.

When you make yourself responsible for your child’s happiness, you take this responsibility from your child. Now when the child is upset or disgruntled, it’s up to you, the parent, to fix it. It becomes your fault. An impossible situation, really, because no one, no matter how much they love, cherish, respect, admire – whatever – another person, no one can make another person happy.

As a result of my Earnest Mommy refusing-to-release till she was content, when she was unhappy, I became the source of that feeling. Of course, I wasn’t (well, not generally!), but we both worked on the assumption that until Haley was happy, my work wasn’t finished. It made for a lot of dissatisfaction, resentfulness, and, ironically, unhappiness. (Well. Let me clarify: Haley’s childhood was essentially happy, and the conflicts we had in her adolescence would have made me the envy of many of her peer’s parents – but the principle holds. This assumption of ours reduced her experience happiness/satisfaction rather than enhanced it.)

Nowadays, I will listen, I will help the child sort it out, examine the dynamic, analyze what’s happening. Because, hey, I’ve been alive for 24/28/32 more years than you, kid, thus I have more general life experience, and a perspective you may lack. I provide a different outlook, and suggest myself as a resource. I will try to help the child evolve responses. But should the child resist…

“All right, then. I’ll leave it with you, then. You can let me know if you want to talk about this later.” (Sometimes, I confess, if the resistance has been expressed with sufficient snark, I will say this in a rather snarky tone of voice myself. Because I am human, and the older they get, the more one expects an adult-level response from them.) But I don’t respond with snark often, because most of the time, unless they’ve been offensive, I’m not offended. I’ve just know these days, that, bottom line, this is my child’s problem. If they wish my assistance, they can treat me and my ideas with respect. If they don’t wish my assistance – or, if they’re responding to it with resistance, hostility and/or disrespect – I don’t give it. Simple.

(I’m talking more about teens than toddlers here, but even with toddlers, you can – I certainly do – say “You may be angry, but you may not scream/hit/kick/bite. When you can use your calm voice/stop hitting, I can help you some more.”)

And thus they learn that a) I trust them to solve their problems/make their own decisions, b) I think they’ve capable of doing this without me, and c) their happiness is their responsibility. I will probably follow up in a day or two – “How did it go?” – but I don’t feel I must be part of the process through to its completion.

Emma appeared part-way through the writing of this. Sat on the porch railing and stared at me as I tried to compose my next pithy sentence. When I finally deigned to look at her, she came out with the completely predictable, “I’m bored.” I lifted my chin, grinned at her, and said, “Not my responsibility.” “Ooooo”, she says, pointing a finger at me and made a hissing sound, grins, and vanishes inside the house. Two minutes later, she’s on her way to a friend’s. Perfect!

She’s happy. I’m happy.

July 21, 2007 Posted by | memes and quizzes, parenting | 11 Comments