Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New Parent Primer

As parents, we all strive to be perfect. We try to be perfect in the values we instill in our children. We try to be perfect in the activities we provide for our children. We try to be perfect in the ways in which we educate our children about the world. As parents, we try. Unfortunately, as a human beings, we often fall short of the mark. For any of you new parents out there reading this blog, I thought I would write a bit about the ways in which I have completely and totally crashed and burned as a parent. Perhaps you can gain a tiny bit of wisdom from my regrettable mistakes.

Mistake #1: I allowed my children into my bed. Do not give into that maternal urge to cuddle your children. Do not allow them to get to you with those sad, sleepy eyes. Do not do it...you will regret it. In a moment of weakness and utter fatigue, I allowed Sophie to go to bed with me one night. I admit that I enjoyed snuggling up with her freshly-bathed, sweet-smelling little body....she sucked me in. However, that was months and months ago. She has YET to sleep an entire night in her own bed since.

Mistake #2: I allowed my children to eat ketchup. I cannot stand ketchup. The smell of it truly makes me nauseated. Since introducing my children to ketchup in a moment of weakness and fatigue (again), they want it constantly. It's kiddie crack. Sophie will eat it with a spoon. Then I have to wash that mess off of her face, gagging the entire time. Don't do it...it's a vile, sugary, concoction that serves no purpose other than to make messes.

Mistake #3: I made a separate meal for Lucas. Bad, bad, bad, bad, BAD idea. Do not ever make your child a separate meal when they turn up their noses at what you have made for dinner. Trust me, you will be creating a monster. As proof of this fact, I now am the proud owner of a seven-year-old who will only eat grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs. If you ignore all of my other advice, please heed this warning. Do not do it!

Mistake #4: I bought my son Legos. Legos sound great in theory. A building toy...perfect for practicing eye/hand coordination and imaginative play. Yea...Legos sound great until they are strewn across every inch of your house. They sound great until you suck them up in your vacuum cleaner. They sound great until you step on your first lego barefooted. The searing pain of a tiny lego inserting itself into the tender skin on the bottom of your foot is like no pain you will ever feel. Trust me....forgo the Legos.

Mistake #5: I decided to be a parent who reasons with my children. First and foremost, you cannot reason with a three-year-old. Try as you might, you will NOT be successful. There is no reason or logic behind a three-year-old's arguments. They are totally nonsensical. Do not try to understand them. Rather, lay down the law and stand by what you say. You will save yourself hours upon hours of wrenching, frustrating, mind-numbing debates that you are destined to lose. If that does not work, bribery is an effective alternative.

Mistake #6: I mastered the use of the empty threat. Ok...let's give our children a little credit. They may be young. They may be inexperienced in the ways of the world. However, they can spot an empty threat a mile away. They know that you will not follow through. So try to make your threats reasonable and sustainable. If you threaten to never let your child step foot in Target again in their entire lifetime because of the tantrum they threw in front of the gathering crowds the last time you were there, they will call you on it. Trust me...there will come a day when you are out with your child and you will HAVE to take them with you to Target. They will remember. Your child will look at you smugly as they walk across Target's threshold...and they will smile. You will know that you have lost. Save yourself the humiliation. Don't make threats you can't back up.

Mistake #7: I let the kids watch Saturday morning cartoons. We do not have cable at our house, so we do not get the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, or the Cartoon Network. As a result, my kids don't have 24-hour cartoon access. We typically will watch some PBS cartoons in the afternoon, but that is about it during the week. However, on Saturday mornings, we let the kids watch cartoons. Lucas has become extremely attached to his Saturday morning cartoons. Why is this a problem, you ask? Because Saturday morning cartoons last until noon. This means, unless we want to have a mutiny on our hands, we cannot do anything on a Saturday until noon. Any suggestion of a Saturday morning activity, even on a beautiful summer day...the lake, the pool, the park....is immediately met with whines, cries, and all-out riots. Do yourself a favor...skip Saturday morning cartoons.

Mistake #8: I bought my children nice clothes. Give it up. By the time your children turn three-years-old (or before then), they will have their own ideas about what they want to wear. Try as you might to get them to wear the adorable little outfits that you paid way too much for at Gymboree, they will refuse. Your son will insist on wearing the old faded hand-me-down Lightning McQueen shirt with the hole in the elbow that he got from his cousin every single day. Your daughter will insist that her pink tutu, last year's green sundress that is too short, and her red plaid tights from Christmas go together. She will think she is beautiful and will not understand your insistence that she change clothes before leaving the house. Just give it up. Save your money and your sanity and let the kids dress themselves. It is not a battle worth fighting. Besides, other parents will know that you did not dress your child in that hideous ensemble.

Mistake #9: I believed that I should treat all of my children the same. In theory, this sounds reasonable. It would seem that a mother should be fair and treat all of her children the same. However, fairness has no place in parenting. What worked with your oldest child may not always work with your youngest child. For example, Lucas has always been able to function just fine with a later bedtime and I have no problem letting him stay up late occasionally to have special "mommy" time with me. That will not work with Sophie. If Sophie does not get at least a full 10 hours of sleep a night, she is a complete and total beast. Therefore, she is never allowed to stay up late with mommy. In the same manner, I have to be firm with Sophie. When she is angry or upset, she does not respond to gentle reassurances and hugs and kisses. She explodes with anger that is not easily confined. Her tantrums require a firm voice and swift consequences. Otherwise, we will be at it for hours. Lucas and Nicholas, on the other hand, are much more sensitive. If I speak sternly with them, they get very upset. They take it personally and cry as if their little hearts have been broken. When they are upset, they respond better to reassurances, hugs, kisses, and explanations. See....different kids...different approaches. There is no cookie-cutter approach to your kids. They like to keep you on your toes.

Mistake #10: I assumed I would be the same person post-children as I was pre-children. Ahhh...such naivete! Nothing..and I repeat NOTHING...is the same post-children as it was pre-children. If you are the one who gave birth to your children, your body will forever be altered. I have a lovely little paunch with a zig-zagging c-section scar that hangs over my underwear now. I have never really been a thin person, but that's definitely new. In addition, I now have to watch myself when I laugh...the old bladder ain't what it used to be. Even if you were not the one who physically gave birth to your children, your life will be forever changed. You will find that you are totally out of the loop on politics and current events, but you could write a dissertation on the finer points of diaper changing. You will find that the only movies you ever see anymore are made by PIXAR and you can't help commenting on the nuanced performance given by that guy from Cheers who is in every PIXAR movie. You will finally get to go on a date night with your partner and the love of your life, only to find that you have to struggle to find things to talk about that do not revolve around the children. One day you will find yourself in mixed company discussing the finer points of poop consistency. You will stop yourself and think, Who the hell is this person?!? What have I become? Yep...what indeed!

You are a parent now. For better or worse, this is your fate in life. You may as well enjoy it, because those little urchins living in your house are nonrefundable. They are yours to keep. So kick back, relax, and enjoy the ride. It will seem like your mistakes outnumber your triumphs most days, but in the end...you will know that you did what you could. And your children will love you despite your flaws...because that's what they do.


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