Parenting is like an odd quiz show where the answers keep changing and the prizes do too.
Today the answer to, “Do you like my boyfriend?” is, “He’s more honest than Jesus, wittier than Jon Stewart and more handsome than anybody.”
Tomorrow, after a fight, the prize winning answer to the same question is, “He’s not worthy of you.”
Let’s face it, we are all amateur parents and it’s parenting itself that’s the prize, not coming up with the right answer or even always being the best parent.
In school there were occasional tests and surprise quizzes. When it comes to parenting you are always being tested. So, whether you are a good test taker or not, enjoy the tests.
The more awake, committed and observant you can be while parenting the more likely you are to enjoy/pass the tests. When your tiny one tries out a new cry aimed right at your heart, and then sneaks a peak to find out if it worked: that is a test.
When your toddler heads for the stairs or stands up full speed under a table just shorter than him, for the third time in 15 minutes, that too is a test.
When your teen breathes, or doesn’t that too is a test.
And your spouse, who is hopefully in the later stages of homeschooling is always testing too: the dinner test, the dishes test, the sex test, the money test. So many tests and so much time spent taking them.
The Terrible Twos
I learned early on that my job was to dole attention out freely—not based on behavior, or mood or convenience.
I wasn’t to try and control this little being who would soon grow into a big being, technologically able to take over the world and watch me grow old.
I see parents competing with their kids and it seems sad/silly to me. I just assumed that my kids were here to show me the way, rather than the other way around. Part of the many delights was celebrating their individuation.
Which meant I really didn’t want to pass my limitations on to my kids. And while I still passed some, I attempted to love them no matter what and spare them my particular model of the world.
One way I did this is around two years of age when they started to ask those infinite “why” questions I would respond in the same way.
My standard answer for curious why questions was: “Because oranges are orange, bananas are yellow, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.”
That is a mouthful, and it may sound evasive, but it was my way of saying that it just might be useful for them to come up with their own answer instead of adopting mine.
And of course, the humor of the answer is that oranges aren’t always orange. When they are young they are green, when they rot they turn black. Bananas too, change color schemes based on age and the sun never rises in the east or sets: the world just keeps going round.
If you want to do a kid, or yourself, a nasty turn adopt the philosophy “there is a right answer.”
I never told my kids the “right” answer, simply because I never knew it. Answers have a habit of changing rather irregularly/often if you are growing at all.
If you have the same answer to the same question three days in a row it is time to change your diet, take yourself a little less seriously, meet some new people, read a book you don’t agree with or try some different sexual positions.
The “right” answer becomes a crutch even for someone who can walk quite well without assistance.
Kids and Attention
Kids, and you and me, need unlimited non-prejudicial attention. Like plants need water, except more often.
When you give a kid attention occasionally or selectively you raise needy kids. It is that simple.
When kids get plentiful attention they are less likely to run low on money later in life—because money is a metaphor for attention.
When kids get oodles of attention they may even bring attention to relationships rather than trying to extract it from their partner.
Never the Same
The saying goes, “You can never step in the same river twice.”
That goes double for parenting. I recall when my son, five years old, thought it would be prudent to dive off his five drawer dresser and hit his forehead on the door jam. Well, he perhaps didn’t give the idea the scrutiny it deserved. But that is exactly what he did, and had an instant goose egg on his forehead.
Kids scare us don’t they?
There I was, holding him on my lap, he crying with abandon, and my wife was suggesting that we should head to the hospital.
I continued to hold him close, and applied an ice pack to the huge lump. After forever he quieted down. The lump went down much faster than I would have imagined and we were on to the next test.
Three months later he bumped his forehead again. It blew up again and this time he held me. He hardly shed a tear and I wept. I simply couldn’t cope with him bumping it again so quickly and he had no problem with it.
He soothed me, and to this day, now about 18 years later he hasn’t bumped it again. But he has been in two car accidents, has a girlfriend who he loves dearly who smokes, just adopted new/powerful social skills that dazzle me and stands close enough to my height to look right in my eyes—which he does often.
He can catch more fish than I can, is one of the funniest people I know, and I would want him for a friend whether he was family or not.
My daughter is as different from my son as can be. She learned lessons the easy way while my son learned them the hard way. I always preferred both of these kids and it is an honor to know them and watch as they learn how to parent this parent.
Author: Jerry Stocking
Editor: Travis May