Do you see the child, or the mess, or the white shirt about to get red on it?
Rachel Macy Stafford gets my vote for most honest mom with the best message of the day. Over at the Huffington Post she shares the moment she realized that she was taking away her daughter’s smile by focusing on daily challenges and roadblocks rather than all the things that were going right in their family.
But go ahead and read it, because she tells it best. And then come back.
What I want to say is: Dear Rachel, you are so not alone.
I think parents right now really, really want to parent. We grew up after the birth control pill was available, and a lot of us delayed having kids not just because we wanted to build our careers first, but because we wanted to have a really nice nest ready. We really want to know our kids, and help them grow.
But the flip side of that at times is that we don’t know when to stop. We take all the desire and drive to have a family that really works and end up focusing on whether the meal plan has enough quinoa or the closets look like the “after” shot on an HGTV show.
Delayed gratification: Not just for kids. Also, not the only thing ever.
Here’s my personal little eddy of high-anxiety parenting thinking: You know the marshmallow test where they give the kid a marshmallow and see if he is able to wait a few minutes to get two, or whether he eats the first marshmallow all up, and therefore can’t delay gratification and then all these studies have show that kid, the marshmallow-eating kid, is going to be behind forever on whatever indices? (Although the piece I linked to makes the case that both approaches have their strengths.)
That study made me freak out that if my four-year-old — my four-year-old — couldn’t wait for the marshmallow then we had to get, I don’t know, remedial dessert eating help. Around that time at my house you could hear me saying to my husband “Can’t you just delay your gratification?” or catch me saying to my child, “Here’s your dessert, but don’t eat it yet.”
That was fun. Eventually I realized parenting is delayed gratification too. Sometimes your kids are going to be kids and you just have to wait to see how it all turns out in the end.
One thing that helps my husband and I keep our focus a little bit more in line with our long-term goals for our kids (ethical, happy, productive human beings) is to try to catch our kids doing something right every single day. And it’s funny how looking for that one thing really does help us see how much is going right. Even if they eat their marshmallows.
Thanks to Rachel for reminding me.
Have you struggled with cranky parenting? What’s your strategy?