Day #267 Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve: thankless parenting choices

SCENARIO A: This morning should have gone something like this:

  • get up at the usual time and stumble through my morning routine
  • come back into the bedroom to help get toddler dressed, ready for creche, and out the door with daddy
  • finish getting dressed for work in peace and quiet.

The end result would have been:

  • toddler gets to creche reasonably happy
  • daddy is inconvenienced and slightly delayed on his way to work in order to drop toddler off in creche
  • mommy gets a much-needed break and a stress-free morning.

SCENARIO B: This morning also could have gone something like this:

  • get up at the usual time  and stumble through my morning routine
  • come back into the bedroom to help toddler get dressed
  • discover that previously-happy toddler does not want to put shoes on
  • try to reason with the toddler
  • try to bargain with the toddler
  • endure a massive tantrum, demands for ice cream, biscuits, snack bars, and book reading
  • enlist help of daddy to forcibly finish dressing toddler and strap him into the stroller
  • see off a rather harried daddy and screaming/crying toddler
  • finish getting dressed for work in peace and quiet.

The end result of this version would have been:

  • toddler gets to creche sullen and unhappy, tear-streaked and snotty
  • daddy is frazzled and stressed as well inconvenienced and slightly delayed on his way to work in order to drop toddler off in creche
  • mommy is upset that she couldn’t calm the toddler, secretly slightly relieved that the whole mess is out of her hands, and still gets a mostly stress-free morning but arrives in work frustrated that parenting sometimes feels like you have to pick the worst possible choice in order to keep the rest of your adult life ticking on time

However, neither Scenario A nor Scenario B actually happened. What happened instead is Scenario C:

  • get up at the usual time  and stumble through my morning routine
  • come back into the bedroom to help toddler get dressed
  • discover that previously-happy toddler does not want to put shoes on
  • try to reason with the toddler
  • try to bargain with the toddler
  • endure a massive tantrum, demands for ice cream, biscuits, snack bars, and book reading
  • Wearily sigh and admit that this requires more time and patience than you really want to devote this morning but remember that you’re trying to be a grown-up, responsible parent and you don’t get to control your life anymore
  • Send daddy off to work so that he is not late
  • Sit down with the crying toddler on the couch and try to find out what’s causing him to be upset
  • Spend endless rounds of conversation trying to explain why it’s important to put on shoes
  • Spend endless rounds of conversation trying to explain that sometimes we all have to do less fun things (get dressed, get ready for school) in order to be able to do the fun things (have a treat, run around, see friends)
  • Spend endless rounds of conversation asking the toddler if he wants to go to the toilet
  • Alternate between listening to screaming and crying and quiet, sniffly couch cuddling
  • Start contemplating the terrible concept of having to forcibly dress the toddler all by yourself with only one pair of hands 
  • Ask the toddler one final time what is it he would like to do in order to feel better expecting no reply but actually discovering the toddler climbing up to reach above the couch and find a toy
  • Discover the toy is suddenly incredibly fascinating and has caused the toddler to forget that he’s crying and upset
  • Discover that the toddler, though distracted, has not quite forgotten that he still doesn’t want to put on shoes
  • Tell the toddler that if he won’t put on his shoes, that you have to go back to your bedroom to get dressed yourself; ask him if he’s ok staying on the couch for a few minutes to play with his toy
  • Find yourself utterly amazed that there is no screaming despite you walking out of the toddler’s line of sight; get dressed as quickly as possible and start gathering your stuff for work
  • Get interrupted by the toddler because he wants to go to the toilet
  • Take toddler to the toilet for a wee wee
  • Finish gathering your stuff for work, and remember that the creche has requested extra trousers for his bag
  • Get interrupted by the toddler because he wants to go to the toilet, again
  • Take toddler to the toilet for a poo poo; listen to him get very excited
  • Get shoes on the toddler with absolutely zero resistance, watch him insist on fastening the velcro straps by himself.
  • Get the toddler dressed in his coat and into the stroller with his complete cooperation and good humour
  • Give toddler one gingerbread man as per usual morning routine when he remembers about it and asks for it
  • FINALLY LEAVE THE HOUSE FORTY MINUTES LATER THAN USUAL
  • Watch the toddler laugh at his toy as you walk to creche

The end result of this was the following:

  • toddler gets to creche happy with no tears
  • daddy gets to work without any extra inconvenience or delay;  feels secretly relieved that he was able to escape, but also upset that he wasn’t able to help mommy
  • mommy does not get a quiet, stress-free morning and but gets to work knowing that was the best she could have done

I’ll be honest. I don’t consider myself as a person with an overabundance of patience. I don’t even consider myself a person with an underabundance of patience. I like it when things are easy. I like it when they’re going my way. And I really like it when someone else steps up and just takes an intractable problem off my hands.

The problem is that small children rarely have any respect for what you like, what you want, or what you plan. Not because they’re terrible little monsters and dictators, but because they’re small children, with still-developing immature brains, no impulse control, overwhelming emotions, little control over their own life and person, limited vocabulary and communication skills, and a big huge world that doesn’t often bother to pay attention to their needs and wants.

And when I remember that, through the fog of exhaustion, stress, frustration, or just even sheer weariness and lack of patience, I can, sometimes, summon forth the will to act like the grown up I’m supposed to be. Because I remember that my threenager might be getting bigger and smarter, but he’s still a small child who doesn’t understand that going to the toilet can make his tummy feel better. No matter how many times I say it, he won’t remember that a weekday morning just before leaving the house is not a good time to ask me to read him his book, and he won’t remember that he shouldn’t ask for ice cream until after dinner. I remember that his brain has not finished growing and developing the cognitive functions required for higher emotional reasoning which is what allows human beings to understand concepts such as empathy (“mommy is very stressed right now and needs you to to help her by doing as she says, which will make her feel better”) or more advanced causes and consequences (“going to the toilet early instead of waiting until the last minute can stop my tummy from feeling bad which will stop me from getting cranky and upset and lashing out at mommy and daddy”). He can understand the basic “if you won’t put your shoes on right now you won’t get any snack bar” but he can’t understand why he won’t get a snack bar. So when daddy holds him on his lap, restraining his arms while mommy tries to get shoes on his feet without getting kicked in the face, and his parents then strap him into the stroller and send him off to creche with no snack, he doesn’t actually learn why it’s important to listen to mommy and daddy. He’ll learn that certain behaviour is more likely to get him treats than other behaviour, but that’s also how we train dogs to sit and fetch so maybe this isn’t the best approach to raising a human being that one day you will release into society at large.

Have we ever had mornings that ended with Scenario B? Yes. Yes, we have. Because we’re human, and we err, and we strive for the best but often stumble along the way. I would love to say that they will never happen again but I know better than to assume something like that. I will not always have the luxury of the extra time I had this morning to take a deep breath and plunge into Scenario C. And even with extra time, I will not always succeed in finding the patience and the willpower to go down that road.

Do we have mornings that are like Scenario A? Yes, lots of times! Because at heart, he’s not a bad kid. He’s gentle and sensitive just as much as he is loud and boisterous. He’s kind and loving as much as he is stubborn and persistent. Our good days far outnumber our bad ones. And you know what? I’m pretty confident that as long as we try our best to go with Scenario C on those days when things aren’t going according to plan, those bad days will continue to diminish. Because someday he will be old enough to reason, old enough to empathise, and old enough to understand not only that good behaviour may get rewarded, but that good behaviour  in and of itself may be a worthy reward.

1 Comment

  1. It’s a manic life being a mum and all we can do is try our best. Things will fall into place… X!

    Like

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