Throw Out The Parenting Toolbox
4:00 pm, November 18th | by Èlan Barish
Now, I don’t love him in a creepy Mary Kay Latourneau/Villi Fualaau way. I just, well, I just cannot get enough of him. He is gorgeous. He smells good. And, he has a delicious patch of fuzz between his shoulder blades. And let’s face it, he thinks I am the bomb. He tells me I’m beautiful, he thinks I should dress like a princess for Halloween, and he is constantly trying to get me to take my hair down from my usual ponytail because that’s what he prefers. I am his woman.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.
I am an only child. When my husband and I originally discussed having kids, it was clear he did not want an only child. I wasn’t sure. I wanted to have four kids for the simple reason that, when they went to sleep away camp they were “The Barishes” — they were a force, they were known. Then I had my daughter, and to be honest, I was fulfilled. Here was the girl I had dreamed of my entire life. Everything about her tickled me pink. I wasn’t convinced that I wanted or needed another child. I was good.
But the more I thought about my life experience, and the experience of my mother — also an only child — the more I realized I wanted to have a second. Not for my fulfillment, but for my daughter. I did not want my precious love to go through the experience of losing her parents, alone. I watched my mother live through that, and I know I will, too. And, as vile a thought, I knew I did not want my girl to suffer.
As an only child, I have gone through my life alone, meaning there is no shared worldview with another person — no one who was truly a witness to my life. No one who looks at my parents through the same lens. No one who will make the tough decisions about my parents but me. No one to grieve beside. No one but me. Which is, to be honest, okay. I think being an only child forced me to forge friendships that are deep, meaningful, familial, referential, and satisfying. And my closest friends get that I am an only child and understand the sometimes symbiotic relationships I have with my parents.
When we decided to have another child, for me, it was like a science experiment. Two kids? What to do. As all parents know, two kids is exponentially more than one, and my boy was a challenge. He was not the easy, breezy, take-everywhere person my daughter was (and still is). He was different. He was demanding. He was frustrated because he wasn’t speaking fast enough. He was kind of a pain in the ass. I tried everything I thought had worked with my daughter and nothing helped.
I read every book, talked to everyone I knew, fought with my husband, tried all the suggestions, and, bubkis. The one thing I was sure of was that I did not want my son to be a jerk, that while people are who they are, it was my job as his mother to help shape and guide him into a socialized, likeable, human being. Not a douche. And he was slowly becoming a misery to be around.
He would challenge everything I said or asked of him, sometimes responding with a comment like “When Daddy comes home he is going to punch you in the face.” WTF! Where on Earth he would learn that is something that stymies me to this day. He would yell at someone if they looked at him in the stroller. And everyone looks at him because he is a blonde, blue eyed, adorable kid. It was embarrassing, uncomfortable, and made me very sad. But then, there would be moments of deliciousness. Moments of him loving me and wanting me in a way that my daughter never did. And that’s around the same time he discovered his penis. And, like all boys and men, he really likes it.
And it struck me. My sweet little boy is, after all, a dude. And, I admit (blushingly) I am the object of his affection; I am his woman.
When I realized I was his woman, that was the moment I understood how to discipline him — that he is a guy. That all my explaining, processing and talking was as ineffective as when I tried to tell an old flame that his lateness hurt my feelings. That like most males, they only reeeeeeally listen when they see a goal at the end. Men, in my experience, understand action.
So I threw out the parenting toolbox I used with my daughter: gone were the long-winded explanations; gone were the emotional resolutions; gone was the hope of ever seeing things the same way through a similar lens. The freedom I felt from this realization changed my life with my son. No longer captive to his behaviors, I knew what to do. Instead of saying “Babe, don’t do that,” I would simply remove him from the situation. Instead of arguing with a screaming child on 2nd Avenue, I would ignore him until he was forced to change his tune. I would give him a choice: act like you want, or get what you want. It’s like reading The Rules. And holy crap — it worked.
Now, I am not such a fool to think that this was all my genius. His age and social development nicely dovetailed with this realization. However, I believe it to be true. Unlike my daughter, though he is from me, he is not OF me. He and I will experience things differently in life because we are chemically different. I will never be able to relate to certain emotions he feels because I have never been a 13-year-old boy.
I can, however, offer him the female perspective. And, to him, that will be a glimpse into another world. I can raise him to be respectful of women and to respect himself. And this understanding has led to a gorgeous relationship with his sister. My kids decided recently that they wanted to share a room, so we got them bunk beds. For the first two nights, my son crawled into his sister’s top bunk and slept cuddled up with her. Most nights, I hear them cackling with laughter together. It’s a little annoying, but it’s also the pleasure of my life. They love each other. They have each other. They share a sense of humor.
Hopefully, their connection will keep them tethered for their lifetime. Hopefully, they will seek each other’s counsel, care for each other, and be there always. And they will never be alone.
This post has been republished with permission from ÈlanSocial
[Photo via Shutterstock]