Friday, July 03, 2009

So this is 'parenting', huh?

I had an insight last night, as I muted the TV, dropped my knitting onto the couch, and sprinted upstairs to Munchkin's room for the third time in an hour. The insight was this: sometimes it's my job to be the bad guy.

I marched into her room as she scampered about, alternately crowing at my presence and whining for ... a glass of water, another stuffed animal, a book that had fallen to the floor, for the door to be opened a little further, a hug and a snug. She was stalling, putting off going to sleep, wheedling and whining and hollering and jumping out of bed to make me come back, just once more and then once more again.

I scowled and pointed firmly to the bed. "In!" I said, "Mommy is getting angry. It is time for sleeping. If I hear any more whining and crying I will close your door and turn off the hallway light." She burst into tears, her little face red with abject sadness, howling.

I wanted to hold her tight, comfort her, wipe her tears, but I couldn't, you see: she was stalling, gleeful every time I came back upstairs, extorting another hug, another kiss, another tuck-in. It was nearly 10pm, a good two and a half hours after I had tucked her, kissed her, hugged her for what I had assumed was the night. She needed to go to sleep, and she wasn't going to do it if everytime she took it into her head to call me, I came running with kisses and kindness.

So I put on my stern face and made her tuck herself in. It just about broke my heart.

I have been trying, ever since I've become a parent, to be more patient, more kind, more forgiving, more empathetic. I'll be honest: my natural inclination is to be crabby when I enter the room of a child who should be sleeping but instead is hooting and hollering about a dropped teddy bear. And so I have been pleased these past three years to see myself becoming someone who could dash four times a night into a toddler's room and love her back to sleep, use soft words and endlessly retuck blankets. Imagine my surprise to find that that's not the skill I need now.

I don't much like this shift, actually. I don't like being the heavy, the bad guy. I don't like making a stern face at my bawling daughter, even though I know it's the right thing--the bags under her eyes this morning and her strongly-worded reluctance to get out of bed on time confirm that she is robbing herself of needed sleep by her evening shenanigans.

I'm afraid ... she won't like me? Won't understand that (God help me) this cold shoulder treatment hurts me more than it hurts her?

And suppertime. I think she might be developing Only Child Syndrome: you know, the need to monopolize adult attention at all times? She's taken to shouting whenever Pynchon and I try to talk to each other at the dinner table. Believe me, she is included in many of our conversations, and her opinion is often solicited: how was your day, what was your favorite activity, how are your noodles, what happened to Max and Ruby? But still she won't let our attention stray to each other even for a minute. It's no use turning to her and softly asking her to wait: because she wins that way, you see? We've all turned back to her and lavished her with kind attention. So now I pull out my stern face and declare: "Munchkin, if you interrupt me one more when I'm speaking, you will have a time out in the kitchen. It is not your turn to talk."

Pynchon later asked me if I was angry. I'm not. But I have to adopt this tone, this posture, to reinforce the rule: no interrupting, or there will be a negative consequence. No jumping out of bed for three hours, or there will be a negative consequence, or at least, no positive consequence.

I've worked so hard, in fact, to not be an angry parent that this need to get stern is really disappointing to me. However, parenting, I learn and relearn, is not about my gratification. It is about raising as happy, well-rested, socialized daughter. And sometimes that means I've got to be the bad guy. Now be quiet and go to bed!

* But if I can just make a note to posterity? Munchkin, the sound of your voice singing at the table is one of the sweetest, most innocent sounds I've ever heard and it takes years of weight off my soul. Your warm and damp little self in your pjs is one of the most snuggleable bodies on earth. But sometimes you need to be quiet and I need to tell you so; sometimes you need to go to bed and I have to enforce that rule.


Bea said...

Pie is fond of yelling "Stop talking!" and glowering at us when hubby and I dare to have a conversation at the dinner table. And we've been spotty at responding appropriately to that.

Did I hear something about buying paint???

Mimi said...

That's pretty much exactly what Munchkin says. It's sooooo rude!

By 'buying paint' do you mean the 10 cans I bought at Home Depot this weekend? Oh? Then *yes*. I bought paint ;-)

hoppytoddle said...

I am currently accepting nominations for The Meanest Mommy In The World, too. It sucks. But I keep telling myself that I'd much rather deal with this now than when she's 12. I try to channel Mary Poppins: Kind Yet Firm.

& yes, the singing is heavenly. Especially when she sings about how much she loves me, or how I am The Best Mommy In The World, or when she asks me to sing "you Are My Sunshine" so she can sing it with me.

Whatcha painting?

naomicatgirl said...

I get the "stop talking" thing too. Often in the car. I've taken to completely stopping talking, to the boys when they do that. They DO NOT like that! It's a fine line to balance.

When I get stern/angry with my 4.5 year old, he tends to burst into tears and tell me that I hurt his feelings. While I'm glad he's getting in touch with his feelings, it's a bit dramatic!!

Cloud said...

Yeah, if we try to have a conversation at the dinner table that doesn't involve our Pumpkin, she will usually do one of three things, all of which she knows are not allowed: bite the tablecloth ( which is plasticated- so stylish!- so biting is ruining it), put her feet on the table, or blow bubbles in her drink. So far, we deal with it by putting her in time out for the behavior. I will confess, though, to making an effort to keep her feeling included, just so that we can eat our dinner without the drama.

My approach so far is to pick the rules I really care about and be stern on those, and use distraction/redirection/anything that works on the less important stuff. I guess we'll see what I think in a year- I think my daughter is about a year younger than yours.

Bea said...

Ummm, colours please?

Kyla said...

Yup, it can be a whole lot of no fun to be the heavy, but it has to be done. Children need limits and all. We tuck the kids in at night and say, "What are the rules?" and they shout, "NO TALKING OR GETTING OUT OF BED!"

KayTar is NOT an only child, but she thinks it is the KayTar Show 24 hours a day. Anytime Josh and I talk, she interrupts, "But it is MY turn NOW! I need to TALK!". When we go to physician appointments, she can hardly tolerate it when it is MY turn to speak with the doctor. She loooooves the spotlight.

No Mother Earth said...

Maybe (just maybe) I'm a stone-cold beeyotch, but I think it's absolutely necessary to be the Heavy. I comfort myself with the thought that my kids will have many friends in life, but only two parents. I have to be the parent..even when I really don't want to be.

Anonymous said...

If it even vaguely helps: I remember my parents playing the proverbial bad guys, but I still know that they only did it because I was being SO DAMN ANNOYING.


Beck said...

My youngest daughter is currently in negotiations for the title of The Brattiest Kid In The World, and OH GOODY, I get to be the person who deals with THAT most of the time.

I have no real consolations to offer. My oldest daughter - upon being scolded for something - burst out sobbing and said "Why are you always so MEAN?". Yeah, that made me feel GREAT.