It’s Not Easy Being A Kid
Being a parent is hard. From the basic responsibilities of caring for a child to making sure you are helping shape these tiny humans into the best version of themselves.
But sometimes it’s important to think about being a kid. Being a kid isn’t always easy.
Someone else is telling you what to eat and when to eat it. Where to be and how to act. When to sleep and when to play. Everything is dictated. They may have choices but not the kinds of choices that come with being a grown up. Part of being a child is that you’re living in an adult’s world.
I read an article tonight and this really stood out to me:
It had been a long night and I was so close to being on the other side of it. Then halfway through the last verse of the last bedtime song, you lifted your head up. “Wawa?” you asked. I took a cursory glance around the room, knowing I wasn’t going to see a sippy cup. “There’s no water up here. You’re fine.” “Wawa?” “Honey, no.” “Wawa!” More insistent this time. And my anger flashed to the surface, fast and red and hot and fiery. A quick intake of breath. My body stiffened, my teeth clenched. And of course you felt it. Despite my quickly stifling it, you felt it as clearly as I did and you melted into me. Your tiny body shook with sobs because the person you love most in the world, the person who you depend on for everything you need, turned momentarily monstrous because you wanted water. Because you were thirsty before going to bed and you have no autonomy with which to resolve your problems.(It’s hard for them too, by Tracy Slater)
I related to this for many reasons but what I want to focus on is this line in the article, “despite my quickly stifling it, you felt it as clearly as I did.” I often find this happening to me. My frustrations will rise and then I will remind myself in my head “he is only 3 years old! Or my younger one, is only 1!” And then I’ll back pedal. In the spirit of the Jewish new year, I’m going to make a conscious effort to remind myself daily that my children are not miniature adults, they are in fact children who do not yet have total control over their actions. They are learning impulse control and how to act in socially acceptable ways. They need to be able to do that in an environment with my unconditional love, not thinking they will disappoint me if they don’t get it right.
I will start each day with a plan to be more patient. I want to show them I understand that being a kid is not easy. As the article explained,
“Imagine failing as much as a young child does. Not being able to make your hands move the right way to cut the paper, stumbling as you run across the lawn, spilling the milk you so desperately wanted to pour (and here I am, exasperated with him again).”
My almost 2 year old is very much in a “‘me’ do it” phase. I need to work harder to encourage that instead of checking the clock and thinking that it would be way faster if I did it for him.
I’ve been trying to show my sons that I get it. For example, after a long day of synagogue over Rosh Hashanah on the way home we stopped to talk to some people. Mid-convo my older son started crying/complaining without using his words. What he wanted to say was that he’s had enough and wants to go home. Instead of saying, “please stop crying this isn’t pleasant” I said, “I get it. It’s been a long day and it’s late. I feel the same way, it’s just not socially acceptable for me to act that way.” This had the people we saw laughing and saying “me too!” It could have been an uncomfortable situation with me trying to tell my 3 year old to put the lid on his outburst, and there are many times that I do that, but sometimes, like in this situation I felt like he felt understood. Feeling understood helped him calm down and that was great.
Last week at the end of the week my kids had a play date. I know I’m not the only one this happens to. Sometimes my kids will play very nicely and then the play date is over and everyone goes home, success. Other times, like this past Friday, at some point mid play date my son lost it and was just crying about everything and anything. I knew that he was just beyond exhausted and he really just couldn’t deal at that point. It was frustrating for me and he saw the annoyance on my face. I texted the mom after apologizing for his behavior and she said, “You don’t need to apologize, they are kids, you should see mine.” After I got her text it reminded me that even though deep down I understood that he was just exhausted after a long day of school and just out of sorts, I hadn’t shown him that I understood that. Often my brain will understand but then my actions show the annoyance or frustration over the compassion and patience.
It’s one thing to say, in a calm voice, “We would love to be playing with you right now, but with the way you’re reacting and crying it’s not really pleasant so let me know if you want me to just give you a hug or give you a few minutes to calm down. I get that you’re tired after a long week, so let me know when you’re ready. We will be in the other room ready for you.” Versus, in a not so calm voice, “This is not pleasant for me. You are ruining this play date. I will be in the other room.”
Words matter. Tone of voice matters. Body language matters. With this new year upon us I plan to work harder on displaying and truly feeling my unconditional love, and not just knowing that it’s there. I plan to exercise “walk a mile in their shoes” and think about how these little children feel and act. At the same time, it’s important to not encourage tantrums. I do believe that a tantrum is only as effective as the person listening to it. If it’s not a power struggle, and it’s a joint struggle, i.e. We are in this together: “I get it. It’s hard to do the right thing all the time. It’s hard to learn to be socially acceptable and ‘on’. Let’s do this together.” It seems like a much more manageable task.
I do feel like I’m getting somewhere. Over the summer post swim lessons my friends and I would feed the kids dinner outside and they would play. After a particularly tough afternoon for my son, before bed he said to me without any prompts, “today wasn’t a good day.” I agreed and we talked about how the next time could be better. This showed me he’s getting it. While he may not always act like he gets it, he is reflecting and feels secure enough to tell me before bed that he gets it. That felt good. This was a good reminder that none of us are perfect. He will act out again, and I too will make more mistakes in my parenting techniques. But we both have chances to get it right and we are working towards that shared goal.
I want to speak to my kids the way I would if I was being filmed all day. The reality is we are being filmed by them. They watch every move we make and feel the words we say. We have these thoughts and opinions of how we want our children to act – we have to model those behaviors. That’s the best form of teaching.
Just tonight my son was driving his electric ride-on toy and he went on my mother’s grass and I said, “look what you did to the grass, it’s going to be ruined.” (I had said not to go on it, but he did) It was his brother’s turn to drive, so I called him to sit with his brother. I look over and he’s on his knees rubbing the grass. I said, “What are you doing?” And he said, “I’m fixing the grass.” Oy the sweetness in that moment, trying to fix something he knew he shouldn’t have done. This was a good instance for me to remember he is 3 years old and still learning to control his impulses, but it was gratifying to see he also recognized his responsibility for his actions and hopefully he won’t do it when he rides tomorrow.
It’s not easy being a parent. It’s not easy being a kid. We need to be grateful that these are our challenges and we need to show each other unconditional love and support in the regular moments, not just when more serious issues occur. 99% of things I can get annoyed with during the day are not a big deal. New year, daily motivation to do better.
Another amazing insightful prospective.