My husband has been trying to teach our older son, Justin, that the proper way to respond when he calls him, is “Yes, daddy?”instead of a less cooperative “What?”. Despite numerous attempts, he hasn’t produced much results so far. Coincidentally, a few days later, I had this conversation with Justin.
Me, impatiently: “What?”
And then I froze. It took me a few seconds to realize what i had just done. And that is, model the exact behavior I don’t want him to show. Now, I have always attributed my lack of patience and inability to deal with frustration to my loving but rather permissive parents. I can go as far back as my very young years to find excuses for a number of my flaws. That I am actually good at. And, of course being acutely aware of the importance of leading by example, I have completely missed how MY OWN behavior is molding my kids’ interactions with me and other people.
Like a detective, I went to work and uncovered multiple examples of cause and effect between my sons’ behavior and my actions (well, not only mine, so let’s not leave my wonderful husband out of it). The more evidence I came across, the more a certain thought loomed over me. I HAVE TO BE PERFECT, DON’T I? If I want my kids to act a certain way, I absolutely have to a model parent. I need to morph into a human being that is always polite, calm, patient, loving, forgiving, and neat (that is a big one) CONSISTENTLY.
At that point it became clear that my kids are screwed. Because I am none of those things CONSISTENTLY. I go through periods of stress induced anger and frustration. I don’t clean my apartment for days sometimes. When pissed, words like: “I am sorry, I just don’t feel like talking right now” aren’t the first out of my mouth. What comes out is more like, “Leave me alone! I am SO tired of this!”
Luckily, there is no light without darkness. And the positive traits my kids have picked up from me did not fail to present themselves. Like my younger son Lucas showering me with ‘I love you’s’ in the most trivial moments; my sons comforting each other affectionately after a foam sword fight; or staying stationary while eating at a birthday party, while the rest of the kids pepper the floor with grapes and blueberries. I have my proud moments.
But on a serious note, the familial isolation, in which many families raise their children, leads to high parenting stakes. My spouse and I don’t have many relatives that help us out often. The last time i enjoyed additional babysitting, i had to go to another country to visit my parents. I am my kids’ main caregiver, and they are around me a lot. Whatever flaws I have they will most likely inherit, right?
I come from a family of yellers. That is how my parents dealt with frustration, and that is what i learned to do because there was no other behavior model available to me. Not having the need to verbally explode, is the major difference between my husband me. That and his high blood pressure. My pressure is just fine.
So, what is an imperfect parent like me to do? Resign to the fact that the cycle will continue? Keep repeating my own parents’ mistakes? After my natural rage at the lack of subsidized child care in this country simmers down, this comes to mind. No one is perfect. All we can do is try, little by little, every day, without judging ourselves too harshly. Kids have a way of surprising us, adults, at how kind, wonderful, and unconditionally loving they are despite the situation they are in. This gives me hope my children will respond to the good in me and not just the negative. In a way, I am learning from them just as much as they are from me.
No one is perfect all the time, and it is ridiculous to expect perfection from your parenting.
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