It is early on in the summer vacation days and she is pushing my buttons. A lot. I took the girls to my mom's house to play in the creek. It was mostly amazing and perfect and cooling and idyllic. Except when A was driving my crazy. I was not making parenting look good. The following conversation actually happened (it's tedious, so maybe just skim it):
She said, "I want to change into my dry clothes." I said, "If you're going to play at the creek more, you should stay in your wet clothes." She said, "No. I want to change and play here in my dry clothes." I said, "No, you should stay in your wet clothes so that you don't get your dry clothes wet and then have no more dry clothes and you will be wet and sandy and uncomfortable for the drive home." She said, "No. I want my dry clothes." I said, "Annabel, you should stay in your wet clothes until you're all done at the creek." "No, I want to change." Exasperated sighs and eye rolling. (both of us)
My mom said, "You're kind of controlling." Annabel said, "Yeah Mom, you're kind of controlling." Bah! Oh for fuck's sake! Really?!
That is the dumbest conversation I have ever had. I warned you, you should have skimmed it. If you did, good direction following by you. Truthfully, I didn't care if she wore her wet clothes or her dry clothes. I was irritated that she wouldn't do what I had asked so I dug my heels in and she dug her heels in. There was a lot of heel digging.
If this has happened to you and now you know exactly how to handle it, please let me know because I have no fucking idea!
When A was very little I noticed that everyone, really everyone, even my hippie feminist mother started conversations with her by saying something like this, "You have such a pretty smile," or "I love your bouncy curls," or "Your dress is so pretty." On the surface these may seem like benign comments, even sweet. But, maybe because I'm high strung and a little sensitive, I found them to be condescending and insidious. If we open with "you're pretty" the message is clear: The most important thing is how you look. Even if we talk about something else next, the first and most important thing is that you are cute, pretty and well behaved.
I'm not an idiot, I get it that how we look is what people see and that it's an easy opener when you don't actually know someone. But little people don't always (or ever) get the intricacies of social interaction. They aren't thinking about how that woman on the bus just didn't know what else to say, but is wishing she had grandchildren and so she opened with the only thing she could think of. I promise the sweet babies are not having these thoughts.
They are thinking "I'm pretty, I'm pretty, I'm pretty. Pretty dress, pretty curls. Pretty." They like being complimented. So they keep trying to do the things that got them those compliments. Ick! Is this what we want our little ones striving for?! Not me.
Here are some things to say instead:
Also, these comments are not gender specific. You could say these things to boys or girls. Why oh why are we assigning gender roles to our small little people?! Just let them be. We begin sending the secret and coded message to girls at such a young age that it is good when they are pretty, quiet and clean. I asked my husband and a thoughtful friend of mine with a boy what people say to boys. Both of them said that people either said nothing (What?! WTF? Nothing?!) or they commented on the boys being tough. That is just as effed up as telling girls they are pretty. I'm sorry?! Nothing? We're not talking to little boys?! Or we're complimenting them on their toughness. Again, ick! And no fucking wonder we have some problems!
The job of a full time parent includes a lot of tasks, none of which is quite as important as the moral and ethical compass we must constantly provide for our little people. Ok, an overstatement you say, fine. Maybe feeding them is more important, but assuming that we are filling them with calories on a daily basis, the moral compass thing is super important. And it's constant. All. The. Time. All the time they are watching us and they are gauging our responses to different tricky encounters and situations. We're it. Did I mention it's all the time that they are watching? Except when they're sleeping, but be careful, because they're tricky little monsters and sometimes you think they are sleeping and you admit out loud that you think your neighbor is totally crazy town and also kind of a bitch and then it turns out that the sweet monsters (the kids, not the neighbors) are actually just lying in their beds being super quiet hoping you'll say something interesting that they can bring up at the next inopportune moment. Or not, maybe your kids go straight to sleep every night. Whatever.
Anyway, the moral compass thing: I just had a very trying visit with my in-laws and I spent an exorbitant amount of time doing a shitty job explaining that the way their well intentioned grandparents love them is not intended to make them feel bad. (Even though it kind of does sometimes) Explaining how, if a friend was treating them the way their grandparents sometimes do, they should get new friends, yet also, asking them to understand these 85 year olds who still think it's ok to yell a lot for no real reason and I'm asking my girls to tolerate it. My in-laws' communication is not evolving into a kinder more understanding dynamic as they age. In fact, since I have known them, it has devolved. My girls pick up on this. They don't like getting yelled at for sure, but they also don't like listening to someone else get yelled at. The whole thing is stressful and I'm wondering about the example I am setting. Because so far, my actions are telling them that sometimes you have to accept love that doesn't make you feel good and the truth is, I don't believe this. I don't want them to settle for a love that doesn't make them feel awesome. I need to do a better job because we get to define what kind of love we will take. It is not the giver of said love. It's the receiver. I get to decide and my sweet babies get to decide.
I'm Molly. I'm all in for parenting. I'm all in for good food. All in for big and small outdoor adventures. And really only partly in for homemaking. I want a Martha Stewart home and meal, but the truth is, we mamas just can't do it all. Not really. This shit is tricky!
This is a collection of musings and missives about parenting like you mean it. I mean really mean it. About how you can pull off a really mostly decent meal, keep your house kinda clean, do some of your laundry, and also even remember to usually feed your pets. But mostly about how being a mama is hard and we can totally rock it, but maybe that dream of perfection has got to give a little.