So much of parenthood is about what we teach our children: to be kind, to listen, to like vegetables (hmmm, maybe failing on that one) and to never, under any circumstances, leave those little pieces of Lego on the floor.
But I’ve been thinking lately about how reciprocal parenting is, and thought I’d share some of the things my kids have taught me.
There were so many delightful things about my baby Bookworm. He was super cute and loved books (obviously) and he was whip-smart – full sentences by the time he turned 18 months old. He had a fantastic sense of humour and he really liked day naps (hallelujah). But he was also very anxious and shy, and didn’t like unfamiliar environments or people. We didn’t go to playgroup much because it just wasn’t fun for me to have a child I was literally unable to put down on the floor (with all the other babies who were perfectly happy on the floor). I felt embarrassed every time people would come over, and he’d cry when they walked in the room. I hated the fact that sometimes other people couldn’t see how funny and gorgeous he was, because he would struggle to talk to them, or even look at them. I was young when I had Bookworm – 25 years old – and still very much in the stage of working myself out. I was also in an incredibly judgemental environment, where any deficiency in your child was seen as a reflection on you – like, your baby cries when you leave the room? Clearly your fault for never leaving them with a babysitter/leaving them too much/no daycare/too much daycare blah blah blah. I knew I shouldn’t care what other people thought, but I did. I wished he was different. I wanted him to be one of the “normal” kids who was running around playing, not cowering on my lap. I was feeling pretty upset about it one day, and asked my mother what I should do about it; how I could change what was happening. And my lovely Mum said, “I just think it’s really important that you don’t emotionally abandon him.” It really struck me, and turned my thinking round about (and right side up). I stopped agonising about what I could do to change him – and started changing myself. By accepting him just the way he was, I let go of feeling like we had to meet anyone else’s expectations.
I’m not saying it happened overnight – I still fall into the trap of caring too much what others think. But I’m much better at it now, and I think it’s because Bookworm was sent to me to teach me the lesson.
Ah, Picasso. It’s true that the extra difficult kiddoes are also extra gorgeous. My Picasso is exactly like a bear. At times so soft and snuggly, you melt for him. He’s sweet and sensitive and kind and gives you these long, still hugs that are just delicious. And then at other times he’s just so completely intractable. Unmoving, some would say. Stubborn. He’s the kind of person that won’t just accept what you say – he has to know it for himself. The fact that there’s a rule doesn’t mean it’s a rule he has to agree with. The fact you say the bike is too big to fit in the car doesn’t mean he just accepts the fact that you’re a grown up and know that the bike is too big to fit in the car. He has to KNOW that the bike doesn’t fit in the car. He has to waste half an hour trying everything to fit the bike in the car. Only then will he accept that the bike doesn’t fit in the car (in the meantime you’ve had a frustrated meltdown). He has taught me, I guess, about power and respect. He’s not the sort of child you can say “just do it because I told you so.” He needs explanations. And while this is sometimes really, really frustrating, I’m also glad that he’ll be a person who will need to discover things for himself, and not just blindly accept what he’s told. I love that about him – it’s just a difficult characteristic to parent sometimes. Picasso certainly has taught me a lot about patience.
There’s just something about Little Miss that makes your heart smile. She is always dancing or singing, or doing handstands or making something for the fairies; she fills up every second of her life, always brimming with enjoyment of the moment.
With the boys, I could sneak in work emails or a conversation with a friend while they were drawing or playing blocks. This never worked with Little Miss. It just wouldn’t do. If she was drawing, WE had to draw. If we had a conversation, she’d literally grab my face in her hands and make me look into her eyes. We had to ENGAGE. If I was cooking, she was cooking too, and that’s ALL we were doing. She delights in everything she does, and she does everything wholeheartedly. She has taught me so much about being present.
I’ll be honest – I really struggle with this. I don’t know if it’s a personality thing, or a hangover from having worked in media for so long – I naturally want achieve about 18 things at once before breakfast. A friend once told me I have a “very fast tempo”. It’s hard to slow down and just be present in the moment. But I’m so glad Little Miss has helped (and is still helping) me do this.
I’d love to hear what your little people have taught you 🙂