Tuesday, March 28, 2006

parenting

Parents are like doctors. They are both in the business of making their “clients” well enough to not need them. Parenting is a self extinguishing job. You know you’ve done a good job when you’ve thoroughly equipped your little children to thrive apart from you. Not that you ever stop being a parent. You just hope that eventually they learn to do their own laundry now and again.

It so symbolically begins at birth with the freeing of the child quite literally from the protective shell of the mother. Everyday thereafter further separates the child from his/her parents.

Thankfully, we have 18 years in which to prepare them for their individual lives. Unfortunately, many parents assume 18 years is a long time, that they will have ample opportunity later on to start their “job.”

As a stay at home mom, I have an advantage over my husband when it comes to building a relationship with our kids. I usually have the time to read articles and books on parenting and the kids available to try out my newfound knowledge and strategies on. It’s like being in college and learning in the classroom and then going to your practicum. I have an experimental field available to me 24/7/365.

I believe that kids have to trust that you are looking out for their best interest before they will listen to you. My kids trust that I am doing that for them. They have seen day in and day out that I want what’s best for them. They have seen me spend the time to get to know them and to take a strong interest in their lives and their thoughts and dreams. How could I not? I’m with them all the time. I can’t help but pick this stuff up.

My husband works hard during the day, and when he gets home, he wants to relax for a little bit. I would want that too. But a lot of the time he is so exhausted from working, that the kids’ demands for attention can get overwhelming. He will push them away rather than welcome them in. They sense that perhaps they are a burden to them, and I’ve watched them shut down.
So what’s a working man to do? Is he ever going to be able to relax?

I often wonder the same thing at home. I don’t work outside of the home, but I do have a lot of work within the home to deal with. I cook three meals a day. I wash clothes and dishes all throughout the day. I dust and vacuum and wipe down and scrub all the surfaces and floors regularly. I have to keep track of our inventory. I currently have an infant and a potty training toddler (you moms out there know how busy I am!) I’m trying to work from home (at least come up with a way to do so). I have to interact with the kids constantly while doing all this. Nap time is usually my busiest time because I can finally prepare the house for my husband without the constant interruptions from the kids. When do I get a break? Am I entitled as well to this elusive event known as relaxation?

My husband wants our kids to be calm when he comes home so he can relax. I want that for him too. All they really want is some attention from their dad. I have suggested that he give them a few minutes of his time when he gets home so that their immediate desire to say hi and hug dad is over with, and he won’t have to battle them for hours. Then not only can he relax, but the kids are more fulfilled and relaxed as well.

As a mom, when dad gets home, I usually desire for him to play with the kids for a while so that I can complete dinner and whatever chore I happen to be trying to finish. But because he’s gone all day, he doesn’t yet know how to determine what each child needs or wants from him. He then looks to me for direction, which frustrates me to no end. “Be a dad!” is usually my insensitive answer. This only further frustrates and overwhelms him and puts a very unnecessary wedge between us.

My husband has always used his “inability” to parent as an excuse to keep me from being able to go out by myself. The thought of me leaving him with the two kids for a couple hours while I shop for groceries, much less spend some alone time at a coffee shop, can give him hives! He’s done it, more and more recently, but I know it overwhelms him. The only times I’ve felt comfortable leaving any kids with him is when they are taking a nap. This is so frustrating to me that I can’t even begin to put it in words. How will he ever learn how to parent if he only lets me interact with the kids? How will he ever feel comfortable with them if he doesn’t spend alone time with them? And alone time doesn’t not mean sticking them in front of a tv either!

I’ve often thought he needs a whole day alone with the kids where meals need to be prepared, naps need to be taken, diapers are filling up faster than he can blink, clothes need to be washed, there are no clean bottles, and the tv doesn’t work!

If only he could have a couple of those days, I think he’d quickly learn to be creative with the kids. When you have that kind of situation daily, (by the way, our tv works just fine – I only added that part out of spite!), you learn to do whatever it takes to make it go as smoothly as possible. In order for things to run smoothly, you need the cooperation of your children. You learn to manage your time wisely, and you learn how to approach each child (each usually needs a different approach from their sibling) so that they will rally with you toward your goal. Your brain just shifts from wanting relaxation time to getting everything done so that you can sleep when the lights go out. If I’m awake, I’m usually not relaxing. Further, my sleep is often interrupted by wet beds, scared children or hungry infants these days.

I realize that this stage of my life is very temporary, the toddler/infant stage. Once they are both in school, I don’t know what I’ll fill my days with. I will still have meals and cleaning and running errands, only without the interruptions from the kids. And when their school day ends, they will have homework and after school activities and dinner and bath time and then bed. I will never again have these constant opportunities to teach them things, to model appropriate behavior and shower them with love and attention. I feel that I need to do that as much as I can while I still can.

Soon they will be heading off to school where their peers and their teachers and their friends’ parents will influence them. I want them to already be very familiar with coming to me with their thoughts and problems. I want them to feel assured that I will be available to them whenever they feel they need me. I want to establish an awareness of appropriate behavior and social graces and manners and morals. I want them to feel so comfortable with and loved for who they are, that they don’t try to mold themselves to everything they see. I don’t feel I have that much time in which to do that. My 3 year old is just starting to hold her own in conversations and to understand my concerns and expectations for her. I am over half way through her first 5 years before she starts school. I don’t feel I have the time to be selfish.
I will get my chance to relax. I will get my chance to not have to listen to them constantly wanting my attention. I fear though that if I don’t establish trust with them now, they will avoid me later when really important things need to be discussed. Right now, they are always in my face, demanding my time and energy. I see it as an honor, a privilege, an opportunity to prepare them for life. I don’t see it as a burden or an inconvenience. (well, ok, sometimes i do!) I just don’t want later in life for them to not trust that they can come to me or for them to not listen to me when I express my warnings about sex, drinking and drugs.

I recognize that this is merely a season in my life. It will soon be over, and we will be onto the next season. Just like the bible says, there is a time for everything. I think this is the season for me to instill love and character and trust into my children. I don’t take my duties lightly. I know the responsibility before me, and I thrive in it. I will get a break someday, in a different season.

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