Friday, September 27, 2013

Learning To Do It All

My sister-in-law was at the store, wrangling her toddler’s stroller into the back of her van.  In an instant her five-year-old ran off through the parking lot, the apex of misbehavior that any parent worth her stripes has tattooed on her brain, and who has consistently warned her child against since he was old enough to put one foot in front of the other.

As she struggled with the small vehicle that she was muscling into her larger vehicle, along with her toddler, one eye blinking against her son’s brazen misconduct, an older lady yelled out her car window, “Learn how to parent your child!”

My sister-in-law stared in shock at the woman, who went on to harp, “Don’t look so insulted.  Your kid was going to run in front of the car!”

Completely taken aback, my sister-in-law shuffled her kids into the car, frazzled and probably a little embarrassed that a stranger not only witnessed this whole unfortunate incident, but felt the need to give her a little drive-by parenting lesson on top of it. 

When my daughter was a newborn she screamed for two hours every evening for six weeks.  She was a clock with a horrible, nerve-rattling alarm.  My husband would come home from work to a wailing baby and a wife nearly out of her mind.  I don’t even remember what our two-year-old did during these times.  He was probably parked in front of the television - I was consumed with soothing this baby.

The only thing that got her to stop screaming was a ridiculous routine that involved me moving furniture, holding her tightly against my chest, and dancing wildly around our living room to the Chicago soundtrack turned up as loud as I could stand.  It was a one-woman, one-baby Broadway dance show up in here.  No other music would calm her cries.

I can assure you that no baby book at the time advised new parents to sing the Cell Block Tango at 120 decibels to their infant as a treatment for colic.  But it worked for us, and I will never forget those memories, no matter how much I dreamed about running away just to get some peace at that time.

Parenting is hard.  We read books, go online for advice and tips, and try everything that we can think of to get things right.  But sometimes we just have to get to a place where things aren’t right but are merely manageable.  And sometimes we fail anyway.  We sit around kitchen tables with our girlfriends and lament: this child is having trouble with math, that child won’t eat vegetables, this one has a mouth like a truck driver, that one has this friend I don’t trust.  Our friends nod and commiserate.  We’re going through that, too.

Then someone says, “Have you tried this?  How about that?  This worked for us.  You should try it, too.” Your eyes glaze over at the barrage of advice that suggests flaws in your master skill set.  You can’t believe that she would think that you haven’t tried each and every thing imaginable to handle this issue.  You feel like she thinks you are less than.  You look at your friend as if she’s judging, as if she thinks she’s a better parent than you. She crossed the line.

It’s not always your friend that gives unwarranted advice about parenting.  You do it, too.  Okay, maybe you don’t.  But I have.  I do.  The result is the same; unless the other person asks for specific advice, she feels judged by your suggestions, not helped.

My sister-in-law felt judged by that woman who yelled after her in the parking lot.  Did she think that my nephew had never been told to run in the parking lot?  Is having a child who never ran in a parking lot the culmination of parenting success?

The world is so competitive.  We are all programmed to compare, to judge, to tromp on the foreheads of other people, even people we may know, just to get to the head of the line. And we are expected to fix.  Don’t sit in your mess.  Clean it up.  Make it better.  It’s so easy to tell others what to do.  It’s hard to help, even when asked.  It’s harder still to sit by and watch people do things their way instead of ours.


The trouble is – life is messy.  Some things can’t be fixed; we can just commiserate.  We can’t jump to conclusions that a parent hasn’t exhausted all options to parent better.  We can’t learn how to do everything right.  Sometimes a kid is going to run through a parking lot no matter how many times we have told them not to.  And we all need to be more understanding about that.

*******

My family at a recent wedding.

The dynamic in our family is clear
if you study the picture for a second or two.

I love this photo because it reminds me that
I have a lot to learn. I am not a perfect parent.
I don't have perfect kids.

Okay, maybe one of them is.

25 comments:

  1. Yes. exactly. EXACTLY. (Love that picture!)

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    1. I'm glad you can relate, Greta! ;)

      Isn't the picture something else?

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  2. Love this. I have given what I'm sure is unwanted advice. I can't help it. I think that because I feel I lack any and all parenting instincts, when I find something that works, I want to scream it from the rooftops.

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    1. Yes, that's usually where I'm coming from. To teach what I've learned, to make it easier for someone else so they don't have to go through what I went through. Unfortunately I haven't come up with a way to make it seem like I'm only trying to help and not trying to judge.

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  3. I only give advice when asked, and even then, I add a caveat - this worked for me, it may not work for you, but give it a shot if you like. I also refrain from rolling my eyes when others, with less experience than me (i.e. children younger than mine) tell ME what to do with MY children. Um, no thank you.

    I think that we can all learn from each other, but refrain from judging. Everyone has different situations with children of different temperament. And we're all just doing our best.

    You're a wise one, Andrea. Also, the picture is AWESOME.

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    1. We are just doing our best - something that I remind myself of all the time. My best does not look like someone else's.

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  4. I love that family shot. It is a real moment, not a canned photo with fake smiles. An instant in your lives was captured. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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    1. It sure was a real shot! My husband and I both have a tinge of guilt when seeing this one. Poor kid.

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  5. I try not to give advice unless asked, because I like it only when asked.
    And I love the photo! :)

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    1. Thanks!

      I try to refrain from giving advice, too. I hate when I hear myself say, "If I were you,..."

      I hate hearing someone else say it to me, too.

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  6. As someone who has been on the receiving end of unsolicited and unwanted advice, I can completely relate to your sister in law. Raising little humans is HARD, and it's impossible - IMPOSSIBLE - to know what someone else is going through and what goes on in anything other than that one moment that was witnessed and that it's so easy to make a snap judgement about. You are so right. We all just need to give each other a break, be nicer to people who are in a different (or the same) place in their journeys and to assume that people deserve the benefit of the doubt, especially about something that is so ridiculously difficult, even under the best of circumstance.

    *Steps down from soapbox.*

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    1. Parenting IS hard; we are expected to know everything with very little training, within the smallest unit possible - our own nuclear family. And we are expected to use all the experiences we've had to do the best we can moving forward. It's no wonder parents are exhausted all the time.

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  7. I tend to give advice it people are asking. Mostly because when my son had colic I was so desperate for advice, for someone to tell me how to do things. I love commiserating but if someone has an idea that make my life easier I'm willing to try it. On the other hand a woman screaming out a window at your sister is not helpful advice it's just mean.

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    1. I don't mind giving advice when people are desperate, because anything has to help, right? It's difficult to know when to stop, though, when to say "this worked for us" and not "this is what you should do."

      Yes. That woman was mean. I have some advice for her, even though she probably wouldn't take any of it.

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  8. Great photo. Love the interactions. So much better than a posed and formal shot.

    Oh, unsolicited advice...we've all given it and we've all gotten it. It's hard, isn't it? Like Leigh Ann said, when you find something that works, you want the world to know. I think it's a fine line between being insulted or feeling small when someone offers advice and being so desperately happy for one more thing to try. Sometimes it depends on the day, doesn't it? Or the person offering? But I do think that sometimes people need to think about the way they deliver "suggestions" - like screaming out the car window? Honestly. Roll up the window and complain to yourself.

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    1. We are all open to advice on different days and in different situations - such a good point. And many of us would do better to fine-tune our delivery - myself included sometimes. Okay, most times. :)

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  9. Love this. Abby had colic too, and I'm sure that is why I hive out when babies cry that cry in stores, restaurants, strip clubs (just making sure users still awake). I'm so close to rushing over and doing the Magic 5 Ss: Swaddle, Place on Side, Swing, SHOOSH loud as hell in their ear (we used a hairdryer, I kid you not), and Sob (can't remember the fifth S) to calm their baby down. But I don't. Unless the mom or dad is weeping, then I would fix and advise away!

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    1. I too have leftover panic from the colic days - when I hear a baby cry in the grocery store, I have to stop myself from running over and scooping that baby up to calm him/her down.

      I wish I would have thought to take my daughter into a strip club - I'm sure that would have calmed her down immediately. ;)

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  10. ug, I feel bad for your SIL!! any time my son acts like a nutcase in public, i get scared someone is going to say something. we had to take him on a plane when he was 8 weeks old and he cried for like 2 straight hours, and NO ONE was nice to me about it!! i was shocked - you would have thought that at least one person would have given me a sympathetic smile or something.

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    1. Oh, no! A crying baby is the fear of every traveler - parent and fellow passenger alike. People on airplanes are reduced to their base emotions and levels of tolerance. I've been there, and you're right - it is shocking how lacking in empathy people are. I'm so sorry you (and your son) had to endure that behavior.

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  11. I would have given that old biddy a one finger salute that she could talk to her friends about.

    I have so been there. This one time I wrote a post about how I had tried everything to get Cady to sleep alone. I can't tell you how many comments I got that started, "have you tried..." Yeah. Sometimes I wish I had one of those perfect kids other people think they have. Then I realize that I prefer mine that have personality. ;)

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    1. Yeah, advice-givers are all perfect, aren't they? The thing that people never say is how many things they tried before the one thing that actually worked.

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  12. I love that picture of your family. So funny what comes up in candid shots, isn't it? Sigh life is messy isn't it? We need to be a little more gentle with each other.

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    1. This picture was eye-opening for my husband and I. Being gentle with each other - that's such a good way to put things. Thank you!

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  13. As much as I'd like to rail against unwanted advice, I am quite sure I've probably given it too! I really try not to, but sometimes I'm bossy. :-D OK, seriously, I try to be gentle as well, and when people are not gentle with me, I may let them know.

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