Sometimes, reality smacks you in the face and it can be quite painful.
After almost 6 years of having a child on this earth, I have come to the realization that having a child is NOT the same thing as parenting. The definitions are pretty similar, but it's really starting to feel like they are world's apart. Don't get me wrong, having a child by birth or adoption, providing for their needs and dealing with the ups and downs of having a baby is a major challenge. Sometimes, it's downright impossible (late night feedings, no sleep, the worry if they've eaten enough, reaching milestones etc). But, I've come to see, in light of some recent developments, that all of that was the "easy stuff" compared to the uncharted waters we find ourselves in now.
We recently went camping with some friends and while I'm not usually one to play the "let's compare kids" game, a few glaring differences between our girls and the other children were crystal clear to us. Before I launch into the not so great stuff, we do still feel and know that they are both sweet, funny and wonderful girls. We both love them more than anything in world and realize that with a lot of hard work, this situation can be turned around. But, our kids (S, in particular) talk back way too often, feel as though they are above the rules and/or don't need to listen to us, are often disrespectful and generally don't have any defined boundaries/expectations in terms of what we expect from them in terms of behavior/actions. I think we've both been stuck in that "providing basic needs" stage and it's high time we caught up to the reality of our situation.
When S proceeded to have a massive meltdown late into the trip (you know the kind..the ones that suck all of the life out of you just trying to stay calm in the face of the craziness), we found ourselves in a really tricky situation. She was clearly exhausted (none of us had slept well the night before) and reached the point of no return pretty quickly into what started as a fairly minor tantrum. She wanted to be carried and J refused because she's perfectly capable of walking. When given the choice to walk herself or be taken home because of her behavior, she was unable to make a decision within the period of time we gave her and she was put in the car...getting more and more out of control and working herself up to a point where she was hyperventilating and thought she was going to be sick. It was an ugly few minutes. Once calmed, we sent her to the tent to rest while we tried to make a decision of what to do.
It was then that I realized that our children act the way they do because we've really never told them how we expect them to act. We have expectations in our head of what we want our family to look like, but I'm pretty sure we've done a poor job communicating these expectations to our children. It's no wonder they constantly "disappoint us" to the point that we are angry with them for things that they didn't know we wanted differently in the first place.
The irony of my realization...just two days ago, S came downstairs demanding oatmeal in bed for her breakfast. When I refused, she lost it and proceeded to have a meltdown that lasted almost an hour. When I could finally talk to her, it turned out that she had this whole "special day" for herself planned which included breakfast in bed, a play date and doing something at home. Problem was, she didn't share this with anyone and when I failed to provide her something that I didn't know she thought was important, she got mad (and rightfully so, even though oatmeal in bed still isn't going to happen).
It's exactly the same thing we've been doing to them. Not sharing the expectations but still getting irrationally mad when they're not met.
So, we're back to the drawing board and devising rules/boundaries and expectations that we'll share with them over the next few weeks. We're taking a look at how we work as a parenting team and realizing that our kids only get one childhood...while it's not our job to live it for them, we both feel that if we have it in our power to make it a good one, that should be our focus. I'm not talking material goods or expensive trips. I'm talking how they feel, the experiences we have together and the way we are when it's the four of us. It's like we need a team building seminar geared towards little kids and their perplexed parents.
If you're reading this and have any words of wisdom based on your own child-rearing experiences, I'd love to hear them. This really is one of those times when you wish kids came with manuals at birth.