Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Parenting: Optional

Can I just take a minute to say that parenting is hard. I mean, like, climb back in bed because the cards are stacked against you anyway and one of your kids is white and one is black and one day one of them is going to bring home a book about Thurgood Marshall and segregation and the brick and mortar you've pieced together into a protective wall is going to come crashing down.

Parenting is hard.

For a variety of reasons.

Kids are hard. I mean, really. You mold them and scold them and praise them and raise them and they rarely say thank you and sometimes they say they hate you. And sometimes they throw mashed potatoes. And sometimes they throw up.

I say all of that because I totally get that sometimes we're just at the end of our ropes with our kids. Sometimes it feels like we can't try any harder to make them turn out right and mine are only seven and four and they haven't yet been caught with marijuana. Or caught mooning a school bus (true story in my own family but I'll just let you ponder whether it was my butt or my brother's that was seen by a district employee). So, like I was saying, parenting is hard.

I don't really want to knock other parents for doing it the best they can.

But. Just.


There was one child last night at Matthew's preschool Christmas performance who decided to sprint back and forth across the stage over and over and over again. He threw every prop they handed him. He threw himself down in front of the other kids. He jumped off the stage and then jumped back on. He rolled across the platform as though he fancied himself a bowling ball and his classmates were the pins. Throughout all of this, his classmates sat. They stood. They sang. They stood on stars. They danced. They did what they were supposed to do.


I get it. I really do. The fact that my own child actually behaved and did everything according to plan is astounding. It gives me great hope for kindergarten. It was a bright and shining moment in my life. Earlier in the day I had filled out his kindergarten registration form. Garrett is on a transfer to the school he attends so I needed to fill out a transfer for Matthew. There was a question on the form that said, "Has the student ever been expelled from another school?" I wrote no but I thought, "Give it time."

See, Matthew is as strong-willed, competitive, and stubborn as they come. Add to these character traits an alarming sensitivity, fear of being laughed at and desire to challenge authority and you might begin to see why the past four and a half years have been exhausting.

That being said, we've been as consistent as we can with him. We've loved on him and instructed him. We've attempted to channel the "force" of Matthew into positive outlets. We firmly believe that with prayer, consistency and love, we can direct a challenging childhood personality into an incredible adult. The fact that we are slowly seeing the fruits of our labor is a blessed reward from above.

Six months ago, at his June performance, he stood on stage. He didn't make a scene but he refused to participate and he refused to smile, opting, instead, for an angry scowl. I didn't remove him from the stage because, like I said, he wasn't being disruptive. He wasn't trying to bulldoze the other children. He wasn't a colossal distraction. The rest of the audience was not mumbling about, "Whose child is THAT?"

I cannot say the same for the little boy last night. I was seated next to the preschool teachers who were directing the other children through clenched teeth. They tried to get him to stand. They tried to get him to sit. They tried to get him to stop drop kicking his hat across the stage. All while the parents looked on.

Sometimes four-year-olds have a bad day. Or a bad year. Sometimes they don't want to sit still. Sometimes they refuse to cooperate. It happens. Not much can be done. Because you can lead a four-year-old through life but you can't make him mind.


They just sit and snicker?

They make the preschool teachers attempt to deal with it until, finally, the preschool director has to pull the kid down and make him sit by himself on a bench? They ignore the fact that the director is physically holding their child on the bench because, when she lets go, he tries to sprint back over to the stage in an attempt to knock kids over?

They ignore what's going on and then laugh about it when the show is over?

You can't really make a kid obey. But you can pull your own child down from the stage, march him into the hallway and give him clear and concise expectations. You can make him sit on your lap and no longer be a distraction. You can do something other than laugh because that signals that you're fine with his behavior. And if you really are fine with his behavior well...I just...I don't understand. Can you explain it to me?

I know there are people who think we are really harsh on our kids. I know there are other people who think we aren't harsh enough on our kids. We're trying to strike a balance of love and respect. We're trying to get our children to be free thinkers while still conforming to acceptable societal standards. We're trying to teach our children that our love is unconditional but our rewards are not.

I'm sure that we're all trying our best--even the parents of the human bowling ball--but I find it frustrating that I'm raising children in an era when discipline seems wholly optional. I'm left thinking about our crumbling standards. I never would have gotten away with that kind of behavior. And I don't know very many people my own age who would have.

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