Really, parenting shouldn’t be that hard. You take two people that love each other very much. By all accounts these two people have enough love left over to be shared about with any small people that they are blessed enough to create. There’s some money coming in to pay the bills and make sure everyone is fed and clothed. Nothing easier. And then the children arrive.
Recently Susie and I took our three girls to the beach for a beach-side soccer game with an army of their cousins. Seeing that the game was well underway and the kids were completely engrossed, Susie and I volunteered to take baby Rita on a coffee and muffin run to the nearby kiosk. After placing our order through the kiosk window, we retreated to an adjacent bench and engaged in a leisurely spot of people watching. The first person we spotted was a very neat lady being walked by a very large dog. Rita decided to wave her Vegemite sandwich at the dog, which the dog took as an invitation to share the meal. After fending off the woman's insistent apologies we asked her what breed her dog was. "He's a Groodle - part Golden Retriever, part Poodle. I used to have a Schnoodle. I just love all the Oodles". As Mrs Neat-Casual continued to be dragged along by her Groodle I asked Susie if she, too, felt that she'd just spoken to a real-life character from a Dr Seuss story.
Next came a smartly dressed woman with a pair of smartly dressed boys in matching all-weather raincoats. Patiently she turned to the boys and asked them what ice-creams they would like. This was the cue for five minutes of vocal and insistent indecision, all carried along on an invisible current of sibling rivalry. And through it all the woman continued to give understanding nods, encouraging feedback and helpful suggestions, answering their every question and indulging their every demand. Before we could see this particular pantomime played out, we were served our coffees and started walking back to the soccer game. As we were crossing to the oval, Susie casually turned to me and said "She has to be an auntie". This was my cue to launch into how I would see the same scenario unfolding if I was getting our girls an ice-cream: "OK, you can each have one ice-cream, but you both have to have the same, I'm not having any fights about who got what. And you can't get an icy-pole, they're too hard to clean out of your clothes. And nothing with chocolate coating or any sort of lollies stuck all over it. Listen! Stop screaming at me! If you can't calmly pick an ice-cream I'm going to pick one for you. Look, this is all too hard. I'll make you all an ice-cream at home. If you keep up that screaming you won't get anything! That is it! I AM NEVER GOING TO OFFER YOU GUYS AN ICE-CREAM AGAIN!"
But it wasn't always this way. When Maisie was first born I was determined to give her everything she ever demanded, to exist only for her. That lasted about twelve hours before sleep deprivation made me realise that if I didn't also look after myself there was no way I could look after Maisie. These days I’m all for my kids having free spirits and constantly questioning their choices rather than just blindly following the herd, just as long as they blindly follow everything I ask them to do, don’t ask me so many questions and take their free spirits outside. There’s a certain point in every weekend when “Quality Time with the Kids” becomes “How on Earth Do I Survive the Next Few Hours?”. And I know I’m not alone – a trip to any shopping centre anywhere in Australia on a Sunday afternoon will reveal a wealth of parents screaming at their kids to “Come ON!” or “Listen. To. Me. Or. Else”. And before I had kids I’m sure I judged these people – and judged them harshly. Had I become a stressed out parent?
In the time it had taken me to collect my coffee and cross the road I had determined to turn a new leaf, to become a more patient parent. No more would I ruin a beautiful moment, such as the purchasing of an ice-cream by the beach, by thinking ahead to the numerous unintended consequences that could flow from such an action. No, I was going to start from scratch and start seeing the world as my children do. As soon as I got to the soccer game, I saw my angel faced Frances running toward me. I bent down to scoop her into my arms and share the splendid simplicity of the day ahead with her. As she neared me I could see her brow was furrowed, her lips pursed.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I inquired.
“You didn’t get me anything from the shop” she accused.
“I got these lovely muffins. Would you like one?”
“I hate muffins. Muffins are stupid. How come you never get me anything? Maisie always gets things, but you never get me anything. Why can’t I have an ice-cream? Other kids are having ice-creams. And I hate soccer. Soccer’s stupid. I want to go home. I don’t want to wear this jacket, it’s stupid. Can I go to Eloise’s house? You never let me go to Eloise’s house. Maisie gets to go to her friends houses. Houses are stupid...”
Does parenting test your patience? Is there a secret Zen approach to letting parenting stress wash over you? If so, what is it? Comment on Joseph's blog.
These days I’m all for my kids having free spirits and constantly questioning their choices rather than just blindly following the herd, just as long as they blindly follow everything I ask them to do, don’t ask me so many questions and take their free spirits outside.