Before I had kids my main goal in parenting was to not be my parents. Much of my 20s were making mistakes trying to undo a lot of who and what I was under my parents roof. Now my 30s have been fixing the mistakes of my 20s fixing the mistakes of my teenage years. It’s easy to blame the nature and the nurture instilled in me from my mom and dad.
Now, almost 4 years into parenting, most days I just want my kids to make it to elementary school alive. Our boys are constantly hurting themselves, hurting each other, jumping off of things, running into things, touching disgusting things, and putting their hands in their mouth, nose, or down their pants.
As kids reach an age of learning right from wrong, the discussion of discipline is an important one. Lisa and I have talked about spanking, not spanking, timeouts, “uh-oh” chairs, and all kinds of consequences, actions, and responses. There have been times we’ve handled disciplinary matters with our boys with incredible grace and poise only to fly off the handle and yell in anger at our toddler an hour later for something completely different.
We will all be our parents when parenting our own children because our parents are human.
But somewhere in the midst of the humanness our parents taught us a handful of good things, or maybe more. We are able to function well in society with other humans. Our manners are hopefully good enough to get us through dinners in public, and our behaviors at home haven’t landed us in jail. The basic tenets of being a decent person made their way into our souls. We are inherently good people.
The main teacher for 3-year-olds at our church has praised Asher enough that I’ve wanted to blush at times. Part of the embarrassment comes from knowing how he can act at home. I’m overjoyed to know my child can be amazing when under the care of another adult and in the presence of his peers. But sometimes he’s kind of a little punk when it’s just us family.
He says, “Please” and “Thank you” rather well, only forgetting at times when he’s overtired or hungry and not acting like himself. But it’s at these points of exhaustion that we have been trying to teach him good decisions still need to be made even if you feel like crap. Most adults (myself included) are still learning this lesson.
Emotions are a funny thing with toddlers. They express mostly two things: happiness or the world is ending. The ability to articulate emotions and the nuances in between obviously aren’t readily available when you still haven’t learned to tie your shoes. So when a little one doesn’t get what they want, they typically allow their emotions to go one direction.
Lisa was trying to make dinner for Asher while also chatting with me about the day. Imagine a hungry 3-year-old boy that likes to talk a hundred miles a minute, but no one is talking to him and he has no food. He was having trouble interrupting us and finally just yelled at the top of his angry little lungs for Lisa to stop talking.
I slowly stood up from the table, grabbed him by the hand, and calmly walked him to his room. Once there, I said in the kindest of tones, “Asher, whenever you’re ready to talk nicely to Mom you can come out of your room. It’s up to you kiddo.”
Personally, for me, this was a huge win. Normally I’m so freaking tired from my day at this point in the evening that I don’t usually handle things that well (I’m actually growing! Yeah for me!).
But what happened next is what absolutely floored Lisa and me.
Asher poked his head out of his door and caught my gaze at the dining room table down the hall. He said, “Dad, I’m ready to come out now.”
“Alright, buddy. No problem,” I responded.
Normally he heads to our play area to go back to his toys, or he inserts himself into the middle of our conversation again. I was preparing myself for the latter. Toddlers are masterful interrupters. We are often asking him to be patient or to say something like, “Excuse me,” if he’s wanting to get our attention.
This is the never-ending parenting and teaching of little ones. It feels like we never get a break from reminding them of how to behave and they never really get it. I imagine him being at college walking into the middle of a group and talking as loud as he can in hopes of everyone giving him their undivided attention. I’m the parent at home woefully embarrassed that I never successfully got this lesson to make its impact on my beloved adult child.
Hopefully something will sink in by the time they leave the house and are on their own. That way I won’t be a total failure as a parent, just like my parents didn’t totally fail with me. I eventually turned out halfway OK, my kids should too. Right?
Back to the story.
Asher walks past me sitting at the table, smiles, and, goes into the kitchen to approach Lisa. Upon her turning to look at him he says, “I’m sorry, Mom, for not talking nice to you,” and gives her a hug.
Jaw on the floor…
Even if this doesn’t happen again for 3 more years, this moment will carry me until then. Something we are doing is working. The diligence in teaching the lessons, Lisa and my often failed attempts at consistency, the talks with Asher, the talks with each other, the prayer, they are somehow actually doing something.
Now we have proof that we can parent our children.
Moments like this help me know my parenting isn’t as bad as I thought it was. These are the wins that help me keep going. I’m going to assume I gave my parents some of these same checkpoints along the way to help build their confidence in what they were doing. They were able to send me off into adulthood in hopes they taught me enough. If who I am today is any indication of how they parented me 30 years ago, then I’ll be happy to be my parents. I think Asher will too.
I’d love to hear what wins you’ve had! Let me know at adamhillis.com