Parenting: it's not for sissies, y'all. I've met my match and her name is Eleanor. In the last few weeks (ahem, maybe a couple months, but definitely reaching a new high in the last couple of weeks) I feel like I'm spending 95% of my time just trying to retain my own composure over her toddler-ness. She's awesome and curious and inquisitive. She's learning so quickly that she's leaving her momma & daddy in awe. She's articulate enough to repeat a bad word faster than you know you've said it. (Think she's not paying attention? Drop a four letter word and find out exactly how much she's paying attention.) She's also demanding and temperamental and irrational. And loud. Did I mention that she's loud?
I want to blame it all on toddlerhood, but I know that not every kid experiences developmental stages the same. I know that much of what she's going through is developmentally typical, but I also know that much of her expression and temperament has been learned from me. (Talk about annoying. Geez. Do as I say, not as I do, kid.) I'm struggling with how to effectively parent Eleanor right now, but I'm also struggling a bit with how much similarity Eleanor has with Emma at this age. It's messing with my head and I'm struggling with some strange emotions.
Parenting is hard. There. I said it. If you're a parent, then perhaps you need to hear someone else say that this is hard. Parenting is hard. I'm struggling. If you're in a place where you feel like you've got this, good for you. Enjoy it. For real, enjoy it, but don't get too cocky. Kids have a way of keeping thing interesting.
When we are at home, discipline and direction is one thing. Drew & I are trying a method that worked really well with Alex. We aren't using time out as a punishment, but as a redirection and way to calm down. I'm nearly 37 years old and I need frequent time outs. I need to step away, take a deep breath and regroup. That's not shameful, that's an effective & healthy coping mechanism. Using that approach with Alex was very effective. When she started losing her cool over something silly or when her emotions started getting the best of her or when she was overwhelmed & needed a break, we would simply tell her that it was okay to be angry, but it was not okay to be ugly. We would walk her to her room, tell her that she could behave however she needed to in her room, but that she couldn't come out until she was ready to calm down and be nice. That was so effective with Alex that she would actually request to go to her room at times. Sometimes she would stay 30 seconds, sometimes she would stay 20 minutes. Sometimes she would come out as good as new, sometimes she would come out just needing some extra love and snuggles. Fingers crossed that this will be effective for Eleanor. (I should probably mention that this did not work with Emma.) So, that's our current approach for Eleanor at home, but what about in public? That's rough. Walmart? Church? The park? It's really difficult for me to know how to handle her in those moments where we have an audience and I so desperately just want her to be quiet and behave.
I do have the Love & Logic books & CDs that I need to pull back out (again) and try to learn something new. It's easy to think, "well, I already read it, there's nothing new there", but it's not the information that's new, it's my current state of need that colors how I receive and process the information.
No matter, at this particular moment in time, I feel like I have approximately 0% control over parenting. Hey, Susan Goss, I keep thinking about your "circle of control" and I have to say that at this moment in time, it is helping me zero. Sure, I'd love to control Eleanor's attitude and behavior sometimes, but not at the risk of stifling who she is or the colorful personality that God gave her. I just want to control my parenting. I want to control my attitude and own behavior. I want to feel like I have some sort of idea what I'm doing here. I want to know how to help her channel her own feelings and emotions and frustration into something productive and appropriate. So maybe this isn't really a control thing after all. It's a preparedness thing. I feel unprepared. I feel like I sailed through the first few semesters of parenting Eleanor with only minor hiccups. I messed a few things up and found myself in too deep a few times, but somehow I recovered. In the school of parenting Eleanor, my GPA was pretty good and I felt okay about how my parenting career was going. Now I've started a new semester and the course load has clobbered me. It's like that dream where you show up to class and everyone else is prepared for the test, but you didn't even know that there was a test. Or the dream where you show up naked. Or the dream where you have to give a presentation on something that you know nothing about and everyone is staring. Heck, it's actually like you show up to class and find out there's a huge test that includes giving a presentation in front of your peers and then you realize you're also naked. Yeah, that's what parenting feels like right now.
Even when I keep my cool and calmly direct and correct Eleanor throughout the day, my insides are bubbling with uncertainty. Did I do that right? Should I have done that differently? Did I actually just handle that situation effectively or did she just decide to let me win that one?
In my Bible study on Wednesday we discussed vulnerability and how God desires us to be vulnerable with him and in our relationships. It's where we find our honest and authentic self and how we enter into and share in meaningful relationships. Our small group seemed to really need to explore that in terms of parenting and I left with lots of ideas and thoughts on how to be vulnerable and available as a parent while maintaining appropriate boundaries in my mother/daughter relationship with Eleanor.
I walked away with these thoughts: Being vulnerable as a mother doesn't mean that I have no filters and just let it all hang out, it means that I proceed with intention and honesty and openness. It means that we have authenticity and intimacy in our relationship and that she knows she can count on me. I am the adult in this relationship and when Eleanor is feeling her giant toddler sized emotions spiraling out of control, she needs to know that I've got her back. I want her to understand that Mommy isn't perfect and I make mistakes. I want her to hear me apologize when I mess up.
I have no idea how to make her stop screaming and hitting, but I do know that I have a deep desire for authenticity and stability in our relationship and that, as the adult, it is my responsibility to provide and teach her those things.
I've shared a few things from author/speaker Brene Brown before, but these two quotes seem particularly relevant now.
"Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness."
"Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
So, here I am, being all vulnerable for you people. I am a strong & smart woman who currently feels quite challenged to parent my toddler in a healthy & successful way. I'm not comfortable admitting that, but I also know that admitting it is not weakness. I hope that admitting to myself and God (and now all of you) that this current stage of mothering is a challenge for me, that I will find some new and creative ways to be Eleanor's momma.