This post was contributed by Debbie Jarvis, educator, artist, mom of two, and curator of cavedandboughtaminivan.com. She started her blog because life after kids is crazy and hilarious and crazy hilarious, and we’re all in the same wobbly, sticky, crayon-graffitied boat.
To the parents of the kids who are just a little bit more … “challenging”:
Why can’t my kid be more like their kid? Five-year-old Billy is an 18th degree black belt and the star goalie of the half-pint hockey team, while my kid’s idea of going for gold is digging for it up his nose.
What are Billy’s parents doing that I’m not doing? What are they doing right, and what am I doing wrong?
I see all of little Billy’s pictures on Facebook, snapshots of his successes and cuteness peppering my feed while I instead post the silly things my kid says because he’s not in football or dance or choir. But he is SO funny. He’s a total clown, he’s bright, and he’s too smart for his own good. He’s like a border collie in that way; if you don’t give him stuff to do, he’ll somehow outsmart you and get into trouble or just get bored and chew up your couch.
We all have our own struggles. We all know that in this day and age, what we see on Facebook is just that: a face. A facet. A facade. It’s a filtered snapshot of the one day when everyone was wearing pants at the same time, or even a just a staged moment in an otherwise really crappy day. We see those other posts from friends, from acquaintances, from strangers. We know it’s not real life.
And yet, we compare.
But little Billy, who has never uttered a mean word in his life, lets kids walk all over him. He’s a sensitive soul and he doesn’t stand up for himself. His mom might blame the child who called Billy a name, but she also knows that kids will always call each other names and that Billy needs to learn to tell other kids that he doesn’t like it when they call him PoopyButtFacePants and could you please stop, it hurts my feelings.
And I feel for that mom. But I’m the mom of the kid who called her kid PoopyButtFacePants. Can I just be honest for one second?
I want my kids to be happy. But I don’t “just” want my kids to be happy. I also want my kids to be kind.
I have no doubt that my bright, funny, loving kid will grow up to be an engineer or a computer programmer or maybe even a stand-up comedian. And he is one of the snuggliest, most loving kids on the planet… when he wants to be, which is actually quite often. But he has a lot of trouble with impulse control. He continually does things immediately after being told not to do them. He KNOWS not to do those things. He gets it. But he struggles with self-restraint. He is even articulate and self-aware enough to tell me that he knows he is not supposed to kick the dog but his brain was saying one thing and his body wasn’t listening to his brain.
It’s hard. It’s exhausting. Having a kid that just seemingly doesn’t listen, who struggles to regulate his emotions. It’s mentally draining. Being a parent is challenging. Being the parent of a kid who doesn’t listen can feel impossible.
My good friend has a four-year-old who is also bonkers. One day we were chatting and she commiserated with me, telling me that her little one ran up to her at preschool pickup, said “I just pushed my friend down to the ground!” and then zoomed across the main room to a support pole and circled it until he got dizzy. I said, “Ahhh, yes, the dizzy pole. I know it well.” My son was a frequent dizzy pole dancer. He went to the same preschool. He also pushed or hit his friends and told me about it, often showing little or no remorse.
This friend is brilliant, down-to-earth, educated, well-rounded, and just plain chill. The same is true of her husband. How did they end up with such a weirdo? I feel that there are so many of us – so many of my friends are smart, cool people, and yet we have these deviant, defiant, challenging children. We try everything. We read all the books. We go to the town-funded behavior expert seminars. We are trying.
And still, we’re judged.
I know full well that we don’t get invited to as many playdates because we are often the one hitting, the one calling names, the one crying when things don’t go our way. I know that the moms would totally hang out with me but would rather have a playdate with another mom because it’s easier. I know that because I’ve thought the exact same thing. You want to have a playdate with Bobby, but Bobby is a hitter, and he hits you, and then you hit him, and maybe he’s the reason you started pushing? I’d rather not… I’d rather do a playdate with the nice kid so you guys can play nicely and leave us moms alone to drink coffee and chat, because we need mommy time too…
But you know what? Where does that leave Bobby’s mom? And when you say, “Why on earth is Bobby’s mom talking to him like that? She should just say ‘don’t do that again’ and then send him into a time out?” “She lets him get away with too much” or “Stop with the ‘I understand you’re frustrated but…’ and just discipline him.”
You know why Bobby’s mom is talking to him like that? Because Bobby’s mom already TRIED “Don’t do that again” and then “You’re having a time out.” Bobby’s mom already tried all the typical disciplines that work with your kids, but Bobby ISN’T LIKE your kid. Bobby doesn’t stop poking the baby in the ear-hole just because you told him to. Bobby may even know that he shouldn’t poke the baby in the ear-hole and that he’ll get in trouble. But Bobby is going to do it anyway. Bobby may even know that his brain is saying no but his body is doing it anyway. Bobby’s mom has been to all of the seminars. Bobby’s mom is trying as hard as she can. Bobby’s mom doesn’t like being the parent of a kid who pushes and calls names. Bobby’s mom’s biggest fear is that her kid will become the bully, will cause other kids to feel sadness instead of joy.
Bobby’s mom is trying. I am trying. We are all trying.
Parenting is hard. It’s the hardest job there is. And we all have our own daily struggles for so many innumerable reasons. But we as humans are all different. Kids are all different. Some are naturally more challenging than others. Perhaps they’ll be tomorrow’s greatest thinkers, creators, leaders. But today, they’re our little patience-testers. And while other parents might have a particularly hard day here or there, for us parents of more difficult kids, it feels like every day is a particularly hard day.
To the exhausted, drained, wiped parents of challenging kids: I see you trying. I get it. And you are not alone. I’m right here with you, even though I’m falling asleep on the couch as I write this, and I can’t remember if I’m wearing pants.