The Deep, Dark Underbelly of Parenting (and how my attitude is still my own problem)

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Give them rocks to climb and they won't fight. Oh wait. They had that fight over the walking stick, didn't they? Never mind...

Give them rocks to climb and they won’t fight. Oh wait. They had that fight over the walking stick, didn’t they? Never mind…

I was driving home last night from Julianna’s last horseback riding lesson of the year, and pondering what to write for a blog post today, when I realized Julianna and Michael were in the back seat, fighting over…

…wait for it…

…a dirty paper plate.

This was not the first fight of the afternoon, either. Two hours earlier, Nicholas and Michael had a screaming match over who got to use the electric piano at the piano teacher’s house that included a tug of war over the headphones. And they snapped the cover off one of the headphones.

Fortunately, in this case I was able to snap the cover back into place, and no harm was done. But they got the full scolding, including the words not okay, not acceptable, and who has to pay for the things you break when you’re fighting?

Several things occur to me this morning, as I sit outside typing this and listening to Michael shriek, “JUWEEANNA, *I* AM THE LEADER!” while they ride bikes before school.

But if they work together to try to, say, dig a trench from the wall seepage to the creek, you might just get forty-five minutes of peace and quiet.

But if they work together to try to, say, dig a trench from the wall seepage to the creek, you might just get forty-five minutes of peace and quiet.

One: Michael has definitely hit the age where he’s no longer the victim of sibling oppression, but a full and willing participant.

Two: Often when I do presentations on Down syndrome I get the question about how my boys view their sister’s disability. These illustrations make it very clear that the younger boys, who were not partners in her early intervention therapy, see no difference at all. She’s fair game in every way that ordinary siblings are. She gets no free passes in the Sibling School of Hard Knocks.

Three, and the main point: having children is without a doubt a powerful reminder that I have to choose my attitude, because life will always, always be full of irritations and frustrations.

I frequently feel like pulling my hair out when my kids start bickering. It’s usually so petty. I mean, really. A dirty paper plate? There’s not even a good story behind that one. It really was just a dirty paper plate. And fighting over the electric piano? They actually both had good cause to consider themselves justified in wanting that instrument. Michael got to it first, but the purpose of the piano being there at all is so that kids waiting for their own lessons can practice, and Nicholas wanted to—gasp—use the piano for its intended purpose.

But it never occurred to them that there was any way to resolve their dispute other than PULLING APART SOMEONE ELSE’S ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT?????????

Excuse me for a moment while I take a deep breath. Or twelve.

The danger in failing to acknowledge the icky underbelly of family life on a blog is that you give the impression that your life is all unicorns and rainbows, thus making others feel inadequate.

But the danger in focusing on said icky underbelly is that it’s really, really easy to start seeing nothing else. You start thinking that your kids are going to grow up to be sociopaths, when in reality there are indications to the contrary. For instance:

A week ago, Christian dropped Julianna and me off at church on Wednesday night so she wouldn’t be late for “church school,” and then he took the boys and went to fill up the van with gas. The gas station happened to be next door to Taco Bell, and nobody had had dessert, so Christian decided to get them some of those amazing cream cheese-stuffed fried whatevers. And Nicholas put a check on Alex, who wanted to finish them, by saying, “But what about Julianna? Julianna didn’t get any.”

It’s hard to accept the self-absorption of young childhood, especially when your whole life is structured around meeting their needs ahead of your own. It doesn’t really matter how many times the experts tell you it’s normal. It always chafes. And that chafing draws attention to itself, to the point where sometimes you fail to recognize—or choose to ignore—the sweet moments, and cling to the problems.

When all those parenting surveys show how “less happy” people are after they’ve had kids, I think it is more an indicator of our own attitudes, which are, let’s face it, entirely in our control. Bad things happen. That doesn’t mean it has to ruin your entire life.

Thus concludes my daily self-pep talk. How about a funny Nicholas school paper?

That mile-long word?

That mile-long word? “Music.”

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3 thoughts on “The Deep, Dark Underbelly of Parenting (and how my attitude is still my own problem)

  1. I’ve been absent from reading blogs lately, but I’ve been dwelling on the same thoughts. 🙂

    Usually my Facebook feed is a 50/50 mix of “unicorns and rainbows” (more accurately, cats and rainbows!), or someone is complaining about how difficult parenthood (and life) is in general. Ugh. It’s hard not to compare ourselves to the envious snapshots that friends share.

    I remind myself every day, “You aren’t seeing the whole picture, Tara. Five minutes after this family photo was taken, the adorable toddler undoubtedly melted into a tantrum.” Maybe? 😉

    Having grown up as an only child, I never experienced the dynamics between siblings first-hand, although I witnessed it often enough at friends’ houses. It always surprised me that brothers and sisters could literally fight like animals one minute, and be best friends the next. My close friend grew up to have a strong relationship with “her annoying little brother”.

    I have learned a great deal watching my own kids quarrel, and then resolve their differences, carrying on as if the war hadn’t just been fought. My hope is that they will remain close for the rest of their lives, and not let petty arguments ruin their adult relationship.

    Although I have my periods of aggravation at their behaviour, I would never measure my happiness by it! I *choose* to be happy because I can see them growing into talented, intelligent, and thoughtful people, and I know the world will be enriched by their contributions to it. Even though I do have an occasional worry that I am creating monsters! 😀

    Besides, happiness isn’t “feeling happy” all the time. It is knowing your life has a purpose, and continually making progress towards your life’s goals. At least, for me, that is my definition of happiness. The people who most often complain to me are those who feel lost and directionless…. which has nothing to do with parenthood.

    Being a parent isn’t pretty in a superficial, Instagram-filtered way… it is so much more.
    It’s real life.

    • I think there are a lot of problems in the way of people’s happiness, and these are only part of them. We take on things we don’t need to, thinking we have to be everything to the kids and that the kids have to do everything and we have to be there for everything. We weren’t created to live like that, and when we try to, of course we get frazzled and unhappy.

      On Sat, Oct 17, 2015 at 10:01 AM, Kathleen M. Basi wrote:

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