Most of the time, I’m a pretty confident parent. When I’m having a “bad mama” moment it’s usually because I didn’t handle a situation the way I wanted to. But once in a while, I have moments of doubt. A recent example is the way I dealt with Halloween candy. And last night, I worked myself up into a bit of a panic when I had an attack of doubt that covered pretty much everything I’d done for the last few years.
I was at knitting group and my friend K mentioned that in her house there are things that are just non-negotiable and expected of the kids. What struck me was when she specifically said she does things “differently than [me] does”, which made me think that she must consider me a particularly “permissive” parent (I don’t know if she does or not). And that is what started it.
All night I wondered if maybe I’d screwed up somewhere. DD does not always sit down to dinner with us like K’s kids do, and when we tried to institute it as a “rule” it got worse (duh!). K’s kids snack on raw veggies whereas DD asks for Smarties all the time and both my kids love Happy Meals. Every time we go to the Aquarium I have to buy DD a “squishy toy”. Sure, it’s 90 cents, and she gets hours of enjoyment out of them, but at this point I feel I don’t even have a choice. Suddenly, I was comparing my kids to hers and everybody else’s around the knitting table, and wondering if maybe I had just totally failed my kids. I mean, I totally believe that children need limits, but what and where were mine? I couldn’t even think of any.
It didn’t help that I came home to a total wreck of a house and two wired and hungry kids. By 10:30 I was losing it. I was trying to read in bed, trying to nurse DS, but the two of them were feeding off each other and kept bursting into loud laughter and play. I ended up yelling and storming around the house, pushing them off me and threatening to lock DD out of the bedroom if she couldn’t leave DS alone. It was not pretty and I hated myself for it. But I was exhausted and it was my issue, not theirs. Still, on top of everything I’d been thinking that night it was easy to decide that this was all due to me not being firm enough.
Well, this morning I decided I needed to explore these feelings, so I allowed myself to just “be” with the feelings and let them lead me where they may. This was a really good exercise for me. First, I thought about the dinner issue and realized that 1) we don’t always sit down for dinner together and it doesn’t bother us, and 2) DD is generally happy to sit with us, especially if she is hungry and interested in the food I’ve made. In fact, in thinking upon it further I realized that the only times when it has really bothered me is when other people are over for dinner! Obviously, this has nothing to do with her and dinner and everything to do with me worrying way too much about what other people think of my parenting. So I was able to let that go. I’m convinced that, when she is older, we can have a family meeting about such things and, if we decide it’s important to us, institute such things with consent and harmony. I don’t buy the “if you don’t teach them now, they’ll never learn” bit for stuff like this.
I also asked myself what my fears were regarding such things as DD wanting a squishy toy every time we go to the Aquarium. Can we afford it – absolutely. Does she enjoy them, oh hell yes. She carts that collection around with her everywhere. So what am I worried about? Turns out, I’m worried that I am spoiling her. Now that was a surprise. I didn’t think I even bought into that concept, and yet obviously it’s lurking there in my subconscious, a leftover from my own childhood and a society that firmly believes that “indulging” children’s wants is akin to ruining them for fit company forever. It was rather liberating to acknowledge my fear and release it. No, I don’t think greediness comes from giving children things they ask for. I think it is that in the context of a whole lot of other things, and lack of things. I think greed comes from insecurity and insensitivity, and my children are neither of those things.
Ultimately, the lesson I learned was that I need to embrace moments of self-doubt and let the feelings play out. I think in the end it allowed me to reaffirm what I’m doing right, and it also made me rethink some issues I’d been lax on. I’ve written before about setting limits and trusting them to deal with disappointment. I realized I’d strayed from that, and one good thing that came of the Halloween issue is that I’ve been a lot firmer about buying sweets since then. Turns out, a bit of self-doubt is a Good Thing.