This is the first of a little series of posts I’ll call “Mommy Myths.” Because, let’s face it, motherhood is full of myths that we all tell ourselves and each other. And it’s really inconvenient when reality comes along and slaps us in the face as our kids grow up.
When my little sisters were five or six and I was 25, I went to a movie with my mother and sisters. It was a children’s movie, and my mom let them talk in basically their regular voices without reminding them to whisper. At the time, it bothered me horribly because I knew I would never let my own child be so rude in a movie! That was back before I had an actual child. When I knew EVERYTHING about parenting.
Then a couple years later, I had this baby, and it turned out I knew absolutely nothing about anything. N was my only guide, and when your guide can’t even hold up his own head or feed himself, the navigational outlook is not fantastic. The only thing that was made quickly very clear to me was the huge amount of crap I thought was true of parenting until I experienced parenting.
So, here are a few of the many things I’ve unlearned. Let’s start with discipline. Disciplining your own kids is a minefield of disillusionment.
Discipline Myth #1: Children can be successfully disciplined with positive reinforcement alone. I knew that it was possible to discipline positively, without ever actually saying “no.” I also knew it was possible to remain patient and keep in mind that kids are just being kids. I had taught preschool. I was an elementary teacher when N was born. I would manage my own children kindly but firmly, and this method would successfully maintain a calm, well-behaved brood.
After kids: Hahahaha. Kind but firm is really great ideal. Like showering every day when you have little kids. Or only serving organic foods grown in your backyard. Reality, though, is filled to the brim with ‘no’ and misbehavior. Lately, no is the most common word in my household. N says it to me constantly, I say it to him constantly, we shout it at each other and at the world.
Myth #2: I had the only child on the planet who would hit two years old and still be sweet, easy, and obedient at all times. Other people’s children just had different temperaments than mine. Other parents obviously weren’t consistent and kind enough in the first two years of their kids’ lives. The ‘terrible twos’ were just an excuse for moms to complain about their cute little toddlers. And the first two or three months of N being two only strengthened my belief in this myth. He was a late bloomer in the arena of defiance.
After kids: N bloomed. Boy, did he ever bloom. One day, he was a sweet little 15-month-old who listened to me, played quietly and didn’t question why he had to do things. The next day, “no” was his favorite word, preferably shouted rudely and accompanied with an obnoxiously crabby face. He wouldn’t get dressed in the morning. He wouldn’t put his jammies on at night. He hated every kind of food I put in front of him because he only wanted hot dogs and mac ‘n cheese. He laid on the floor and threw tantrums just like I’d seen those other people’s kids do! He was a monster! I look at Baby K now, 9 months old, and it’s hard to believe he’s going to turn on me, too.
Myth #3: I would never yell at/spank/manipulate my child. My discipline would always be kind but firm, fair and quiet.
After kids: Turns out that terrible two thing? It stretches into three. I’ll let you know if it slides on into four when we get there. Whoever decided to call this period of time the “terrible twos” obviously didn’t have a three-year-old yet. After a year of fighting with N, I resorted to all of the above tactics to try and gain control of the situation. None of them work, they all make me feel like shit, and they go against what I imagine to be my parenting style. But, again, we all know how to parent SO well until we start to do it.
Five years after the terrible movie experience with my mom and sisters, I find myself sitting at Puss In Boots with N, my mom, and my sisters. And I let N talk in basically his regular voice half the time without reminding him to whisper until my lets-her-kids-shout-in-the-movie mother has the nerve to lean over and shush him. Because now that she’s a grandparent, she really does know everything.