The Backside of Parenting
We’ve almost made it. I’ve said for years, we just have to get them to their 18th birthday. We have twin boys (three boys total, currently ages 19 and 17) and our spoken goal for the younger two has simply been to keep them alive. The oldest, well he’s a more cautious kid. The twins, they grab caution by the neck, tell it its mom is ugly, swing it above their heads, and then throw it into the wind. I left them for mere minutes when they were toddlers only to find them repeatedly covered in powder, or flour, or sugar, or coffee grounds, or grape powdered drink mix. I have thrown a load of laundry in and then found them throwing two dozen eggs on the floor. I have gone to the bathroom to come back and find them dumping two gallons of milk. In their childhood years, I stopped them from skating down the backside of a car with scooters, stopped them from jumping out their two story bedroom window with umbrellas, and halted their plans to ramp their bikes over a piece of plywood on top of bricks stacked 10 high. I have defined the word hypervigilant for the last 17.5 years. My husband and I would simply say, “if they make it to 18…” and we’re almost there.
I thought for sure this parenting thing would get easier as they got older. I am here to tell you, from the almost other side of raising children, it doesn’t get easier; it just gets different. We know we will never stop worrying about them; but it is hard to know what to expect, until you actually do it. We have muddled our way through the last 19 years, basically looking at each other with shrugged shoulders when it didn’t go well, but also when it did. We utter a, “I can’t believe that’s what worked,” on many days. And if I had a dollar for every time I or someone said, “Sure would be nice to have a handbook for this job,” I’d have like, well maybe 23 dollars; but you get my point.
I realized a few months ago I had learned a few things from my years of parenting. You cannot sweat the small stuff, and most things are a phase. I spent so much energy losing my mind over things that simply didn’t matter 6 months later. One of the twins’ favorite word when he was two was “stupid.” He would call everything stupid. He called his brothers stupid, he called me stupid, he called the tv stupid, he called his grandparents stupid, he called his books stupid, everything. He would even respond, “Love you, stupid.” I was just mortified. He would call people at the store stupid, and I would melt into the floor. I would get so many dirty looks. Strangers would eyeball me and I could hear their thoughts: “What a terrible mother, a toddler talking that way to me.”
I can’t tell you the number of times I have felt the disdain of onlookers in public places after one of my cherubs did something society had deemed irreprehensible (basically anything loud). I hate conflict, and I’m an only child who grew up trying my best not to disappoint my parents. If I’m in public, I prefer to disappear into the background. This wild bunch of yahoos I birthed brought an awful lot of attention my way. Knowing what I know now, I would march my happy sass around those grocery stores and give zero cares about what any of them thought. I would do what I knew to be best for my kids in the moment, and not what was best for the strangers around me. Have I seen any of those people ever again? I have no idea. I do see those cherubs every day, though.
The view from this side of parenting is full of what ifs. What if I had ignored the advice of family members and did what I thought was best instead? What if I had held my anger a little better when they broke that 4th window? (Incidentally, in case you don’t know, many glass repair companies have a frequent flyer program. Emergency rooms, however, do not. I asked.) What if I had let them fail a little more? What if I let them get up on their own? What if we had been more consistent with family game night? What if I had been tougher when I corrected them? Wait, was I too tough? We can Lionel Ritchie those questions all night long.
The moral of the story is nobody is perfect. My 3-year-old kicked his preschool teacher and yours might too. We field their behavior as it comes. They are learning, but so are we. We aren’t perfect, but we can be present. We can be there to listen when they are sad, when they are happy, and when they are frustrated. We can be their biggest cheerleaders, and kiss all over their faces (until they are about 7, when it’s uncool.) We can love them unconditionally and show them that love every day. We can put our phones down and close our screens, giving them our undivided attention regularly. We can teach them resilience, kindness, courage, strength, and perseverance. We can teach them how to manage their emotions and manage their reactions. We can allow them the space to manage their own tasks, to make mistakes, and teach them how to pick themselves up and try again. We can also remember these lessons take time; they take time to teach, and years for them to practice. Who cares about onlookers; you are raising your tiny humans to be successful and kind big humans. You be their cheerleaders, and those of us who have come before you, we will be yours.