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.