Tuesday, November 18, 2008

imperfect parenting

My counselor wants me this week to think about imperfect parenting because, he pointed out, no one is a perfect parent. We all do it wrong, we all screw up. I've never before had a 2-year-old so how can I know how to perfectly parent one? I of course understand this idea, but I'm having trouble applying it. It's hard to have a toddler. Sometimes it's really hard. Frances is--I don't know--something strange is going on with her. At first I thought she was getting sick and wasn't feeling well but now I think it's a stage, and not a fun one. She's very clingy and whiny and needy, and everything upsets her. Tiny things that go wrong are terrible traumas, complete with flinging herself on the floor, shrieking, throwing toys, and sometimes it all just puts me over the edge. On the way home from preschool today I dug out some tissue from the glove compartment and used it as ear plugs to dampen the intensity of the crying. This was after pulling over and climbing into the back seat twice to try to comfort her and get her to tell me if something was wrong past the tiny bump she got on her knee while climbing into the van.

Oh, I remember. She was asking for her juice but I hadn't brought it with me; I'd only brought milk. So maybe she was crying not only because she couldn't have something she wanted, but perhaps because I hadn't provided for her as well as she would have liked. (Or as well as usual, because usually I have her juice with me as well as a peanut butter sandwich when I pick her up from school.) Hm. Going to have to think more on that.

As I type this she is screaming at the top of her lungs in her crib, screaming in her outside voice simply because I told her not to. My approach this minute is to ignore it because I frankly don't know what else to do. At least her brother isn't napping right now and, really, the sound doesn't travel too well through these plaster walls. I know she's testing limits, which is what toddlers do. Sometimes she'll accidentally hit Clark with a toy or something and when I say, "be careful, Honey. Don't hit Clark," she'll look at me out the corner of her eye, pause, clock him very deliberately, then gleefully hold up her arms for me to carry her into time out. What to do? Just the same thing I've been doing? Just repeat myself? Over and over tell her, "no hitting," then put her in time out? When I tell her no and she laughs it makes me completely crazy.

The other thing my counselor and I talked about is the difference between being authoritative and being harsh. I'm not sure I know the difference in practice, frankly. And sometimes when I want to be authoritative I have trouble reigning myself in, keeping down my own anger. When I keep it down well I don't know if I'm authoritative enough. Isn't there someone who can come and tell me how to do this???

A few minutes ago the shrieking upstairs turned to crying so I thought I'd investigate. And when I opened the door Frances was sitting in her crib naked from the waist down, holding out her hands to me, hands that were completely and totally covered in poop. "Mommy, I need a wipe," was what she said. And that was true. So I ran a bath, took the rest of her (poop covered) clothes off, and carried her wrapped in an old towel to the tub. The poop was even in her hair. After washing her I left her to play in the bath while I stripped the bed of its sheets, blankets (security and regular), pillow, babydolls, stuffed animals, books, pacis (multiple), and finger puppets. About the time I came back upstairs from running all that to the laundry room, I heard Frances saying "Mommy this is hot." I thought maybe she'd turned the water on but when I went in I found she wasn't saying it was "hot" but "hard", meaning it was hard to squeeze the bottle of baby wash into the water. The reason it was hard was because she had already squeezed it ALL out. At least she was clean. *sigh* While this was happening, by the way, Clark was happily entertaining himself in her bedroom by chewing on the cord (unplugged) to the fan. It's comical this is my life. I do prefer the comedy to the drama of earlier.


Paige said...

This is a great post! It's especially hard I think to go through this toddler stage - Ozzy does the EXACT same thing - some small thing that he gets frustrated with, but whatever I do makes it worse, but then stopping helping also is horrible, and by then it's way too late to distract him. Argh. And the constant NO - to stuff he loves! I hate to just overrule him or ignore him, but sometimes I know he's just saying NO to say it, and sometimes it's something we just don't have a choice about.

And he started a fever last night. So today should be a fun day.

Paige said...

Oh, I also can't figure out the difference btwn authoritative and harsh. Or rather, in the moment, I don't even think about it, then realize later I was probably being harsh and am determined next time not to be. But then I am. Sometimes though I have the patience of Job and I'm able to keep calm - but, yes, maybe that's not authoritative enough?
Sigh. I has such an easy time with Ozzy as a baby, when everyone else was having such a hard time, and I felt so lucky. Now I feel so - overwhelmed, tested, like I'm constantly in the middle of an important therapy session trying to become a better person, and just so hugely freakin pregnant that I can't do so many things and so many things annoy the shit out of me...

Cali said...

The last counseling session we talked about this authoritative/harsh thing some more, and also about my switch to being just completely unmoved, undisturbed by the crazy behavior, and he said he thought w/ a 2-year-old the latter was more appropriate b/c they can't really control their behavior yet, and they don't make decisions based on disapproval. In fact, disapproval may just make them more anxious while they are still unable to do anything differently. He did feel like being disapproving was more effective with older children (8, say). He felt just being consistent w/ the timeout will allow them to eventually figure out how to behave appropriately. In any case, it feels better to me. I just put her in time out over an over, have her tell Clark she's sorry and then patiently pick her up moments later and put her back in timeout again, no personal investment from me. I think I'm a better mom this way than when I get irritated or angry.