See that line? That’s the line I was walking along at 8:19AM this morning. The line that I was trying to balance on before I lost my cool and snapped at M, whom was screaming at me from the back seat of the car.
We had already begun to pull out of the driveway, on time but barely, when she suddenly gets a twisted, concerned look on her face and says, “I want to bring someone!!”. “Someone” meaning a doll, like her beloved Emma or Julianne. M has a habit of bringing, most days, a doll with her in the car on the ride to preschool. She’s not allowed to bring it into school with her (school rules), but every day I bring the doll in with me when I pick M up at the end of the day. Showing these dolls to her friends is a source of pride for her (despite the fact that there are only boys during the last hour of pickup and they are usually not interested). I get that.
But M has a habit, probably due to her age but particularly lately, of forgetting things. I try to give occasional reminders throughout the morning, though it is hard not to sound naggy all the time so I try to back off a bit. Sometimes she remembers (or I do) as we’re putting on coats. Sometimes it’s in the breezeway as we’re locking the door. Sometimes not until we’ve started loading the car. But today it was while I was driving in reverse, halfway down the driveway. And so I was irritated. At first I said gently, “No, it’s too late now, but I can bring your purse inside when I pick you up instead, OK?” (it happened to be in the trunk because it was what she wanted to bring yesterday). That’s when the screaming and crying ensued.
I quickly considered my options. Do I stick to my guns and say no, trying (but probably failing) to drive home the message of personal responsibility about remembering things? Do I just let her cry the whole ride to preschool, having her start off a 9 hour day like that without me because of my parenting agenda?
Or do I give in? Do I stop the car, take her out of the car seat, go back in the house with her and let her find her doll that she wants (which is not always the same one, so there will be about 2-3 minutes of decision making as well), buckle her back in and head on our way? And if I do, am I giving in and letting her “run the show”? Or am I giving in and just loosening up a bit to “go with the flow”, because in all honesty it will only add another 5 minutes and we’re late now anyway? Is there even a difference, to her or to me?
Tough call. Either way, I am not ending up happy. But one way, she will. It’s these kinds of pivotal moments that get the better of me once in a while, and sometimes I snap.
So I stopped the car. And I was huffy and took her out and let her get the doll. My words to her were not very nice and I was a bully about it. It was completely unnecessary, and I immediately felt terrible. I apologized to her right after it happened, but explained why I was frustrated so that she might realize that she needs to help remember the next time. Smiling, she seemed oblivious to what I was saying now that she had Emma in hand–so much for getting the bigger picture across. I am trying not to beat myself up about it because we all have bad days, but here I am, three hours later still thinking about it and how I could have handled it better.
This is where parenting becomes a tough balancing act, especially if you’re the over-analytical type like me. Trying to be consistent, yet somehow also live in the moment and make exceptions when warranted. Not always worrying about the long-term consequences of everything we say or do or every rule we bend, but not letting the child drive the bus, so to speak. Accepting that by just “giving in”–no matter what the motivation or what message we might be sending–is OK sometimes, but not doing it too much or else run the risk of a shriveling backbone. Trying to remember that one lapse, hers or mine, is not going to create a lifelong character flaw, but knowing that, cumulatively, there may be a point of no return.
Such fine distinctions. Such great distractions.
Clearly, there are greater problems in the world than this and perhaps my main motivation in even writing about it is to let it go. But I wonder how much of these moments are felt by other parents, and to what degree? It is the rare occasion that I see a parent lose their cool with their own child. (Except at the grocery store for some reason–indeed, what IS it about aisle 9 and a freezer full of waffles that just causes the parent-child dynamic to completely break down?) Do we not see these moments because the child is on their best behavior in front of others? Perhaps the parent is. It almost seems taboo to talk about these less than finer moments, or at least that’s my impression. I think that is also what makes it seem weightier than it is when you’re going through a rough parenting patch. With no one ever admitting to being a jerk to their kid sometimes, you wonder if you’re overdue for a swirly* and what all of these other parents know that you don’t. It seems to create a bit of perfect parent-perfect kid pressure, albeit self-inflicted.
But since I don’t anticipate scheduling my right-brain lobotomy anytime soon, I’m sure there will be many more moments of walking the tightrope in my days ahead. Hopefully, there will be some good company on the ground when I land and dust myself off.
* A term used–but thankfully not practiced!–by my parents, referring to sticking one’s head into a toilet and flushing.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.