Friday, July 28, 2017

Mom, Interrupted

Before I launch into the actual post, I just have to share the wonderful news that, according to my insurance company who would otherwise be paying for my acne drugs, I am officially too old to have acne!  I am relieved to know that I have finally graduated from this dermatological affliction and look forward to 37 days of clear skin before the wrinkles begin to overwhelm my face.  Thank you, Aetna!

OK now for the post.

I think the enduring thing about motherhood that drives me most crazy--an ever-constant feature of every stage of your child's development--is the constant interruption of every single freaking thing you do and every single freaking thought you have and every single freaking conversation you try to have from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep.  And then there are many nights, even when they are way, WAY past being too old, when even your sleep is interrupted.  My son will come all the way downstairs at 2 am to tell me he is thirsty when there is a cup of water sitting expectantly on his dresser not 2 feet away from his bed.  I guess life just isn't meaningful until your mother knows about it.

Kids have a sixth sense for when the ideal time arrives to demand something or ask some burning question or have some catastrophic accident.  That time is not when a mother is sitting right beside them asking them specifically if they need anything or inquiring more generally about their well-being.  They never need anything and are always "fine" when you are poised and ready to deliver a service. It's when you've moved on with your life that they are suddenly desperate to be near you, like some kind of deranged ex-boyfriend who dumped you a few minutes before not being able to live without you.   I will be out of bed in the morning and in the kitchen, and they will be playing video games.  I will loudly ask them, "What do you want for breakfast??" 87 times.  They will ignore me.  I will then return to bed with my coffee.  Exactly 2 minutes later, they will demand their breakfast and when i say, sorry, you missed your window, they will collapse into frantic whining about how they might die at any moment from starvation and neglect.

The most stressful thing I do all day is cook dinner, because my life is terribly cushy, and it's a good thing, too.  First of all, I despise cooking.  I hate everything about it.  I hate the endless decisions of what to buy, when to buy it, what can I do with that eggplant that is about to rot and that thai curry paste that has been in my fridge for 7 months, what will my children eat, what will my husband eat, when should we eat.  I hate following recipes, trying to read all kinds of details meanwhile the oil in the pan is about to catch on fire and OH MY I DIDN'T REALIZE NOW WAS WHEN YOU HAVE TO HAVE THAT CELERY CHOPPED!  Even more than reading recipes, I hate how all the cooking websites now don't just give you the ingredients and bare bones instructions up front but instead lead you on a photographic-literary journey of culinary wonder in which they wax eloquently about butter and navy beans and you have to scroll down about 3 miles to get to the actual instructions.  I have pretty much dispensed with all recipes and now cook everything with salt, pepper, olive oil and garlic.  Sometimes lemon or soy.  If I need anything more than that, forget it, not happening.  My brain can only take so much.

Then there is the fact that my children have apparently set up a sophisticated electronic surveillance system that notifies them, probably though their video game console or some other device outside my radar, when I have entered the kitchen.  THEY KNOW.  At that point, they descend, like velociraptors who have been silently stalking you for miles as you tour Jurassic Park in blissful ignorance.  Children who can apparently go days without eating suddenly become ravenous restaurant critics.  Children who have not spoken to me for hours because they are so a engrossed in their dinosaur cock-fighting game are now hanging off my limbs, pleading for attention.  What are you making? What is for dinner? Ewww I don't like that! I want chicken nuggets! When is dinner? I'm starving, I won't make it 2 more minutes!  I am going to shrivel and die right on this floor!  But eww I won't eat that, why are you even making that?  Can I help? I want to help! Why don't you love me?  Why?  Can I have a snack?  Just a teeny weeny snack? Mom, Lawson just hit me!! Charlotte started it!  Let me tell you all about my day in great detail and don't just respond with Uh-huh, I need very specific feedback that tells me you are hanging on my every word.

They also have their surveillance system set up to alert them to various other ideal circumstances for entering my life, to include, but not limited to:
-When I enter the toilet (obviously)
-When I enter the shower
-When I am trying to construct an outfit to wear or donning said outfit
-When I make a phone call
-When I am engaged in some enterprise that cannot easily be immediately interrupted, such as fixing a sink, painting furniture, planting a shrub, cleaning out my closet or bathing the dog
-When I am reading a book
-When I am writing
-When I am working out (this is why I almost always LEAVE THE HOUSE to do this)
-When I am trying to discuss vacation plans with their father
-When I am doing..other things with their father
-Immediately upon my arrival home from somewhere, before I can put my things down, change my clothes or go to the bathroom.  No matter that their other parent has been with them for hours prior.
-Just when I have drifted off to sleep
-Of course, when it is bedtime.  That is when most of the problems of the world need to be solved right away!!  That is why the Senate voted on health care at 1 am.  They were waiting for their child/President to go to sleep.  Or, they are the children and had left it til that time because they don't want to go to sleep.

More bizarre than my children's psychic ability to interrupt at the worst possible times is my brain's reaction to it.  According to my brain, we are living in North Korea where one must always be attuned to the demands of one's rulers and follow orders to a tee or risk certain death via hard labor.  So when a child interrupts or demands or whines, my brain thinks our immediate response is a life-or-death choice.  I don't know if this is particular to me, or if evolutionary biology has pre-conditioned women in particular to overreact to the needs of their offspring.  In any case, we can never relax, my brain and I, not while the children roam free and awake in the house.  We are like Pi in Life of Pi, floating on a boat in the middle of the Pacific with a carnivorous tiger.  We are always on edge, always waiting for a shoe to drop, wary to get involved in something that needs our undivided attention, like a phone call to a friend or assembling some IKEA furniture.  But then if we do nothing, the kids are invariably happy, and we are bored.  So we end up doing mindless things, like playing Settlers of Catan on our phones or checking the Washington Post YET AGAIN to see if Trump has been impeached yet or stress eating a bag of Goldfish crackers.  We waste time, our ability to concentrate atrophies. We gain weight.  We slowly go insane.

Which is of course what the children want.  That is their ultimate goal always.  But we need to flip the script, my brain and I, to call their bluff.  We need to ignore the adrenaline spikes and millions of years of human evolution.  We need to tell these small, cruel people that WE HAVE RIGHTS DAMMIT and besides that YOU WON'T DIE IF I IGNORE YOU.  We need to boldly launch into fixing the VCR at prime kid time, to dare them to yell at us to do it faster.  We need to write that book with them standing over our shoulder.  We don't need to cook the dinner, however, because we still hate that with a passion and because no one eats it anyway. We can just go to Taco Bell again.  But the other stuff, we need to do it.  We can always go in our room and lock the door and become immune to the screams and the clawing to get in.  We need to reclaim our dignity and our....


Friday, July 7, 2017

You are screwing up your kids with your good parenting

I think y'all know how I feel about parenting "expertise," "research," "advice," and the like.  There's no greater panic attack trigger for me than the cover of a Parenting magazine.  Not that I am opposed to social scientific/scientific inquiry or think we haven't made huge strides in raising kids over the last few decades (car seats, anyone?)  But we are now entering the land of the absurd with this stuff, where the advice is so precise, so specific, so overwhelming, you literally CANNOT WIN.  And besides all of that, even more (and better) scientific research indicates the power of genetics in who your kids will ultimately become.  Within the realm of "normal"/non-abusive parenting, your parenting methodology probably makes a marginal difference.  Those of you who basically pursue parenting as a profession in which you have a PhD and grind your own organic millet flour and teach your 2 year olds to solve quadratic equations just fainted right now, and when you wake up, you will immediately begin a coordinated campaign to have me officially shunned.  The rest of us, who basically skate by on Kraft mac-n-cheese (who am I kidding, my kids won't eat that either) and copious amounts of screen time, are relieved.  Because it's true.  Between genetics and peer influence and a million other variables that you have no control over (and that, incidentally, studies cannot weed out), raising kids is a massive crap shoot on a good day.

I came across an article this week that epitomizes the absurdity, and in fact, if I didn't know better, I would think it satire.  You can read it for yourself  here
But the gist of it is, praising your child, which the experts have been telling us to do for the last several decades, is actually stunting their development.  Yes, it's true.  There is an entire generation of people now who cannot function in life because their parents told them "Good job!" instead of "I appreciate how you motivated yourself to complete your self-determined goals."  Now, you still need to praise your kids, absolutely, but you have to do so in just the right way, at the right time, for the right reasons, with the right tone, when Mars is perfectly aligned with Venus, the moon is full, and the hydrangeas are blooming.  Otherwise your kids will be forever damaged.

In addition to not saying "good job"--which incidentally was the guidance 5 years ago, in order to avoid the even more ruinous "good girl/boy"--you should never ever ever give your kids an inaccurate compliment, to include that parental go-to of saying their objectively awful artwork is beautiful:

"Maybe you do think their artwork is beautiful [doubtful], but by praising kids in this way you’re encouraging them to look outside themselves for approval [because otherwise they will never ever ever look outside themselves for approval and will in fact transform themselves into super human, enlightened, celestial beings]. 'It teaches the child that his work can always be evaluated by others [which will never ever ever again happen in their lives.  I think I'll complain to my management next time performance evaluation time comes around that this is NOT the way to go.  My performance evaluation should be renamed "Neutral observations on work practices" and include lines such as, "The employee sits at her desk and moves her fingers over the keyboard."] which undermines his confidence [which will otherwise never ever ever be assaulted and on which they will soar through the skies like an eagle their entire existence, unscathed],' Dr. Markham says.... In one study, kids with low self-esteem who were overpraised on their artwork more often opted to then sketch a simpler drawing instead of a more challenging one [oh the horror, that my child might draw 3 monochromatic lines in stead of 10 rainbow ones], because it was the safer choice."

Who knew I was screwing up my kids by deeming their artwork beautiful???  Hello, isn't that one major purpose of art--at least the kind that normal people like and buy by the dozens in poster-prints at museum gift shops--to be beautiful?? AND ISN'T IT A PARENT'S JOB TO GUSH OVER A TODDLER'S RANDOM CRAYON SQUIGGLES???  WHO ELSE WILL EVER DO THAT FOR THEM???  Do you honestly expect me to say, "I see you have used a blue crayon to make a straight line"?  I think I will have earned the quizzical look from someone 1/4 my size and 1/7 my age that would result from such ridiculousness.

I think kids are smart enough to understand by an age at which it might matter that parental praise is usually total BS but an indication of that parent's unconditional love.  When my dad told me after I did not make choir in 10th grade that I sounded EXACTLY like Karen Carpenter,  I knew he was full of elephant dung (I do have a low voice, but I sing like Karen Carpenter the way vaccines cause autism), but the larger point was that he loved me and was trying to make me feel better.  Could there have been a better, more honest, more carefully researched and scientifically vetted way for him to buck me up? Sure.  But those studies had not been done in 1990, and anyway, the motivation would have been the same.  AND GUESS WHAT, I SURVIVED HIS BAD PARENTING (and numerous vaccines, incidentally).  I also continued to sing (and eventually made choir), because I think it's fun, and I eventually got to a place, through a journey we call life on which we all must go, where I could acknowledge that I am not a massive singing talent and that's OK.  I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh-darn-it (some) people like me.

The article includes some advice that is, admittedly, not horrible and makes some sense.  But in general, I'd have to file this one away in my file of "Reasons American Moms Suffer from Anxiety and  Depression" (Dads, incidentally, on the whole seem to still live in a fantasy world where if you show up for your kids and love them, that's basically good parenting.  Dads, just stay in that world, trust me on this one).  This file also includes more articles cited in this article, with such cheery titles as (and I am NOT making these up):
52 of the worst parenting tips parents get
Parenting mistakes to avoid with toddlers
11 ways you're being a toxic parent without even knowing it
Things parents say that ruin their kids' trust
The five biggest myths parents buy into
Then they have the unmitigated gall to cite a book called, Parenting Without Fear.  Now you are just messing with us, right?

Here's the thing.  I'm not saying that parents can't screw up.  I can in fact go on at length about the ways I am already screwing up and how my own parents screwed up (which may be news to them given they did not parent in today's context of self-loathing).  The fact is, YOU WILL SCREW UP, that is a certainty, like Donald Trump tweeting something ridiculous or dogs pooping in the middle of the sidewalk.  And if you do everything the experts tell you to do today to perfection, by the time your kids are adults, there will be new experts with new guidance that probably directly contradicts the expert guidance you are eating up with spoon now.  The good (and bad) news is that the consequences of your specific screw-ups will probably be subsumed and rendered unidentifiable within the swirling morass of yours and your children's messy humanity.  I can predict with 100% certainty that my children and yours will have struggles, flaws, failures, humiliations, miseries, and frustrations.  They will absolutely make some poor choices (they might even GIVE UP or QUIT! accck!!!!), and they are guaranteed not live up to their full potential.  None of us do, because none of us are perfect.  Your parenting may or may not contribute to this.  Whether it does is unknowable and, in many ways, irrelevant.

Bottom line is this: Try your best.  Love your hardest.  Show your kids you accept their humanity, because that's your condition, too. Model humility and repentance for them.  Set an example of compassion for self and others.
And above all--
STOP READING SO MUCH PARENTING ADVICE!!!!  It will paralyze you with fear and kill your joy every. single. time.