The Bigger He Gets, The Harder I Fall: Around the Bonfire

by Gigi Ross on September 26, 2012

self doubt

My dad, a very wise man, used to say, “The bigger the child, the bigger the problems.”

I never really understood that until a couple of years ago, when I realized that all the time I spent worrying about things like what pacifier to give my baby paled in comparison to the difficult decisions we face with elementary school-aged kids. And I imagine that in 10 years, THESE decisions will seem silly in comparison to what we’ll face then.

This is what Kerry from Vinobaby’s Voice touches on today around the bonfire. Kerry’s got a child about Boy Wonder’s age, and I can really identify with where she’s at with her parenting right now.

When I was pregnant and my son was an infant/toddler, I never suffered from those niggling “will I be a good parent” doubts. I know, that’s odd, but I’d grown up with an excellent role model and I trusted my gut. I read the parenting books, took a mish-mash of baby whisper/child psychologist/pediatrician/celebrity advice, and survived infancy and toddlerhood.

I actually enjoyed most of it (though this may due to selective memory). My cats gave me far more fits than my kid. Sure, I had my fair share of afternoons when both of us were hysterical, I stuck myself in time out, and I counted down the seconds until bedtime. But by nature/nurture, grace of God, or pure luck I got a good kid. After surviving potty training, my hubby and decided this kid thing wasn’t too hard and we were capable enough parents to handle another one.

That didn’t work out, but the point is we exuded confidence. We thought we were awesome parents.

But recently, I’ve been overcome with tremors of doubt. Make that earthquakes. Each day, my former parenting confidence crumbles as crises arise which I have no idea how to handle.

I’ve become a sucky parent.

I’ve always expected I’d buy stacks of books and scour the internet for advice about how to survive those tricky teen years. And middle school. Just the thought of middle school makes my stomach knot.

But I never thought that an eight-year-old would leave me at a complete loss. No one ever mentioned how to handle these “in-between” years. Or that parenting got harder.

When my son was little, I thought I had all the answers. I figured out how to make him eat his veggies, sleep through the night, and I excelled at kissing boo-boos. I knew that we’d both survive his (and occasionally my own) time-out tears and everything would be alright after a hug and “I love you.”

Now I am at a complete loss daily.

Third grade homework has me about to start wig shopping because I’m pulling my hair out. Tears erupt each afternoon, not because he doesn’t have the skills to do the assignment, but because he’s emotionally drained. I spend hours by his side googling definitions of the “new” math, steering him back on course, threatening him to just get it done. I get unbelievably frustrated.

But worse, I don’t know how to help HIM feel less frustrated. I don’t know how. That kills me to write that. I feel like an utter failure each time he breaks down.

As he gets closer to middle school, friendships become more complicated. Luckily, my kid is outgoing and makes friends easily. I am shy and socially awkward—not a good tour guide for the how to cope with friends turning into enemies, girls who he was going to marry (yes, he’s been engaged three times) giving him a cold shoulder, and emotional blackmailers. I didn’t know how to handle them when I was a kid. I still don’t know.

Then there’s the sports, the extra-curriculars, the pressure to excel. Getting good grades isn’t enough anymore. You have to win. At everything. But kids don’t always win. And it’s really damn hard teach them how to handle a loss, to not give up, to keep on trying when they know they will get pummeled. Once again, lessons I’m still learning.

Lately I yearn to go back to the days when playground drama revolved around going up the slide instead of down (and yes, I was that mom who let him go up) instead of trying to explain bullying, if it’s ever okay to hit back, and how to stand up for not only yourself, but your friends.

The answers were clear once upon a time (do. not. hit. ever.). The answers are now as muddy as his knees after a rainy soccer match.

I DO love this age. I adore watching him discover the magic of reading, draw comics, and write stories. My heart nearly burst with joy as his curiosity blossoms, his kindness shines, and his intellect grows. I have the most amazing kid and I couldn’t be prouder of the boy he has become.

But I don’t have all the answers for him anymore. And he knows it.

And I hate that.

Kerry Ann Morgan is a lover of words, wine, and wit. Though most people think she’s “just” a SAHM, she spends most of her days hacking away at yet another draft of her women’s fiction novel, freelance writing/editing for various websites, or ranting on her own blog Vinobaby’s Voice. Also follow Kerry on Twitter.



angela September 26, 2012 at 6:44 am

I’m not coming from a place of wisdom, since I am still in the preschool trenches. But I’d like to think it’s ok to not have all the answers and to be honest with him about it and try to work through it together. Showing that you, such a strong presence in his life, can struggle now and then to figure out the “right” thing can help him learn to work through and question issues on his own, instead of falling back on you and your husband for a black and white reason for something.

But oh, eight does seem so young for that :(

Kerry Ann @Vinobaby's Voice September 26, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Black and white went out the door about age 5. I’ve always preferred to think with shades of grey because there is so much more room to grow. It’s the “I don’t knows” that are so tough.

Lea Ann September 26, 2012 at 6:57 am

I hear ya. I’ve got a high schooler and a first grader. But they are such polar opposites that what worked on the first one is not working for the second one. I feel like I’m a new parent all over again, and that’s just not fair.

As far as the oldest one goes, I stopped being able to understand his homework after 3rd grade, so I decided I’d teach him time management instead. That was his ticket to self-sufficiency.

As far as having the answers, I now throw the question back at them when they ask me something. “Well, what do YOU think the right answer is?” Then I reinforce positively the parts that make sense, and suggest alternatives for the parts that don’t. You become more of a mentor than a caretaker as they get older, so the situational problem-solving will have more to do with being a decent human being than learning math. And those lessons are the most important ones of all.

Kerry Ann @Vinobaby's Voice September 26, 2012 at 2:35 pm

You are right. I love your point about growing from mentor to caretaker. As their legs get longer we must train them to take more than just baby steps on their own.

Jacki (@JackiRHayes) September 26, 2012 at 7:04 am

Wow, this sounds so incredibly familiar. My son in 10 and will be going into middle school next year. I hate it. He is becoming an incredible young man and I am so very proud of him, but life most definitely is more complicated and parenting is so much harder.

Rather than focusing on having the answers, I am trying to just be open for discussions. He is now at an age where he needs to work through his own answers and I do have the ability to help him do that.

Kerry Ann @Vinobaby's Voice September 26, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Discussions are the way to go. You are right—we need to guide them to the right answers, make THEM think, instead of just telling/giving them a cheat sheet.

Christina Berry September 26, 2012 at 9:40 am

Oh my. I soooo feel you on this. My son is now 22, and while I’ve always been a worrying, overprotective mother, I now long for the silly things I fretted over when he was an infant. Those things PALE in comparison to the things a mom has to deal with when her boy is a man {or at least, he thinks he is. he’ll always be a baby to me!}.

Thanks for sharing. This is a really awesome post! :)

Kerry Ann @Vinobaby's Voice September 26, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Oh goodness—22? I’d love to think that your job is now done, you’ve raised a child successfully to adulthood, but we all know that’s not the case. Good luck and thanks for reading!

Wenie Langacre September 26, 2012 at 4:17 pm

I could hardly imagine how hard it is to have a kiddo at home. Well, I actually have experience with kids but they’re just my nephews, but the feeling of becoming a parent to a toddler seems really hard to deal…

Valerie September 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm

You bring up some good points. I also think that as kids get older, it becomes harder to guide them. I have a 12 year old and a 6 year old and I think my concerns with my 6 year old are minor in comparison to my older one. There is just so much more at stake! When they are little, we tend to read/research more so by the time they are older, we think we have it figured out. It’s natural to assume that since we have been parenting for awhile, we know what we’re doing. The teen years have a reputation for being a difficult period so perhaps we are better prepared psychologically. I think the period you are referring to is more mysterious because it’s harder to gauge reasonable expectations.

Galit Breen September 28, 2012 at 5:21 am

I have tears in my eyes, because yes, this.

A million times: Yes, this.

We’re right here, too – and it hurts my heart everysingleday,

Lovely, poignant, thinker of a post, girl. Love.

denise October 1, 2012 at 4:45 am

Loved reading this thoughtful post.

I have a 9 year old daughter who makes me shake my head, hourly. The stuff you write of here? This is it. It’s so hard. It gets harder. And admitting we don’t always have the answers (and in my case these days, rarely) is important.

Thank you for letting us all know that we’re not alone.

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