The Bad Parenting Tactics I Might Actually Be Proud Of

Right now, I am a stay at home mom.  I don’t love the term, or the associations that go along with it.  It is certainly better terminology than “full-time mom” (because, really, aren’t most mothers full-time mothers, because no matter the hours they put into their day jobs, they are always on-call for their kids, and always thinking about them), but it isn’t perfect.  I mean, I rarely stay at home with my kids.  If we stayed home most of the time, we’d all go batty.  It also blandly ignores all of the jobs that go along with being the primary caregiver to a child—chauffeuring to school and activities, teacher (of manners, societal norms, the alphabet, etc), short-order cook, etc.  However, for the sake of ease of writing this blog post, I’m going to call parents who don’t work “stay at home parents” and parents who leave to go to work “working parents”, while not ever imagining that the stay at home parent is not working just as hard, or that the working parent is not parenting just as thoughtfully.

When I was going to work every day, I felt guilty.  I assumed that when I left work, the guilt would go away.  It turns out that it doesn’t.  Parenthood = guilt complex.  I feel like having kids is the best way to experience the absolute extreme of every emotion it is capable of feeling—including love, devotion, pride, frustration, embarrassment, and rage.  And when I get frustrated or angry and express it, whether it’s a sarcastic reply to one child or an out-of-control holler at the other, I feel guilty.  Guilt comes with parenthood, probably hand in hand with all that love and gooey stuff (no really—having kids is gooey.  It’s sort of gross sometimes).

I read somewhere once that if you measure quality time (and not quantity time) with kids, kids get about the same amount of quality time from their parents regardless of whether their parents stay home or go to work.  Remembering that has made me work hard at home to try to have a lot of quality time, because one day I probably will go back to work, and I want to know that I made the most of what we have now.  Because what we have right now is made of magic, and I know that I am going to look back on this time in my life and remember it as the happiest and most beautiful and precious time.

You see, I have these two kids.  They are incredible.  Oliver is brilliant and loves Spiderman and Iron Man and Batman.  He loves to read, he adores music, and he loves all sorts of stereotypical boy stuff.  He also loves to carry around his Baby Girl Oliver in a sling that I make for him out of one of my scarves.  He likes to pretend and play board games and cook and do “school” at home.  Hazel is also brilliant.  Her world is made of rainbows and unicorns and our cat, Rags.  She loves her stuffed puppy (named Puppy or sometimes Puppygitchybooboo), the sea lions at the zoo, and My Little Pony and pretending to cook in her play kitchen.  She’s as stubborn as her mother, has perfect comic timing, and memorizes lyrics to pop songs after hearing them twice.  Hazel isn’t interested in baby dolls, but she does have a pretend friend named Crab.

All this build up, and now I’m going to talk about some of my bad parenting strategies.  Perhaps this is going to result in me justifying and rationalizing in order to feel better about myself.  Or, you know, maybe with the kids that I’ve got, the things that I do will work for them and it will all be okay.  In any case, I am through feeling guilty or ashamed of the parenting that I do, because I do it all thoughtfully and on purpose, even if it is unorthodox at times.

Bad Parenting Strategy #1: Coffee Time

I let myself have an hour or two every day that are just for me while Kullervo is at work.  In the morning, after he leaves, I let the kids watch some DVRed TV and play downstairs by themselves while I drink coffee.  I often pay the bills then, but I also will read a magazine or a book, and just take the time for me.  I feel like this is a bit selfish, but I’ve decided that I’m okay with it.  And while it isn’t much and is often me just wasting time, it’s time that I’m taking for me, and that’s important too.  I wind up feeling guilty about it because it’s quality time that I’m not spending with my kids.

At the same time, sometimes I have to wonder if we don’t all have completely unrealistic expectations for how much time we should be spending with our kids.  I don’t remember my mom spending every waking moment by my side, or playing every game I wanted to play.  And I don’t think that was a bad thing.

Bad Parenting Strategy #2: Sibling Sparring

When my kids start fighting, I often try to keep out of it.  So long as it isn’t coming to blows, I figure that their sibling squabbles will help them develop conflict resolution and working with other people in the future.  Also, sometimes I just don’t have the energy to break up every battle.

Bad Parenting Strategy #3: Friends

Oliver has watched almost every episode of the series Friends with me.  Yes, much of the show is inappropriate (and I did skip “The One With All The Porn” for the record) for his age, but I let him watch it anyway.  I would watch it while I ate lunch when Oliver and Hazel went down for naps, but Oliver has long since stopped napping. So he’d sit with me.  He often played with Superhero toys or we’d set up a racetrack for him to race cars down or whatever.  He didn’t understand or ask about most of the sexual innuendo, but sometimes we would talk about what was on TV.  In one of the early episodes, Ross and Rachel sleep together and wake up the next day naked under animal furs at Ross’s museum.  Oliver asked why they were naked, and I told him that some people like to sleep naked.  This started a period of a few weeks where Oliver wanted to try sleeping naked, which we let him, and which he liked.  (In fact, we suspect that the only reason he wears pajamas to bed is because when he comes into our room in the middle of the night, we won’t let him snuggle with us until he puts on some clothes.)

I think that Friends is one of the best and funniest sitcoms that I’ve ever seen.  And I like that watching it with Oliver exposed him to the sitcom genre, and we were able to talk about humor and what he found funny.  Oliver really liked the physical comedy portions, and anytime they called each other by silly names.  And the only time that he really didn’t like the show was during the episode where Phoebe shows off Gladys, and at the end of the episode Rachel sneaks into Joey’s room at night to scare him with Gladys.

Friends is just one example of shows that are out of his age range that he has seen.  While I don’t let him watch anything graphic—whether is violent or overtly sexual in nature, or even just grotesque, I steer clear.  So, no hospital shows, no Gossip Girl, nothing from HBO.  But he has seen a lot of Gilmore Girls, a few episodes of classic Star Trek, and I’m considering starting The West Wing soon.

Bad Parenting Strategy #4: Target dollars

A long, long time ago, I started letting Oliver get a toy every time we went to shop at Target.  Not my greatest (or favorite) decision.  Kullervo and I started calling it our Target tax.  The rule that we (mostly) stuck to was that he could only spend a dollar—so he could get a Hot Wheels or Matchbox car, or some random dollar item.

However, this led to an insane amount of greed and feelings of having a right to get whatever he wanted, wherever we went.  So when he saw Hot Wheels cars at our local grocery store, he insisted I buy him one.  And I didn’t.  (Phew!)  And we all survived.

And then, I decided that it wasn’t too early to learn delayed gratification.  So, before the next time we went to Target, I told him that he could get a $1 item.  Or, if he chose to not get anything, when we got back to the car, toy free, I would give him $1.50.  Which meant that the next time we went to Target, he could buy something that cost up to $2.50.  He didn’t take me up on it the first few times I offered, but I always offered.  And then one day, he did it.  He woke up and when I said we were going to Target, he said that today he wanted to save his money.  And he held to it, and when we got to the car, I gave him $1.50.  He was so excited.  And to really drive the point home, I later realized that I had ‘forgotten’ to get something we needed, and we went back and he was able to get a $2.50 item.

Since then, sometimes Oliver saves his money, and sometimes he spends it, but I’m glad that he has the opportunity, and will put back a toy because he’s decided he would rather save up for that cooler toy over there.

Bad Parenting Strategy #5: Fury

I tend towards anger.  I get frustrated, and I’m a yeller.  Actually, if I could get away with it, I’d be just like Hazel when I got mad—I’d stomp and throw things and yell and hit.  Since stomping makes me look like I’m still three, throwing things just breaks my things (that I then have to live without or pay for), and I can’t stomach the idea of hitting my children, I wind up resorting to yelling.  And, let me tell you, I can holler.  Sometimes I have yelled so much that mid-rant I have yelled that I was putting myself in time out, and marched out of the room that Hazel and Oliver were in, petrified by me.  And I tried desperately to calm down.

I’m not perfect.  I try not to yell at the kids, and not to lose control, but I mess up.  And I yell.  And I rage.  And then, there it is again, I feel guilty.  My only saving grace is that after I lose my temper, I sit each of the kids down, together and individually, and sincerely apologize for yelling and scaring them and losing my temper.  And I tell them that I’m working on it, but sometimes I make mistakes too.  And I ask them to forgive me.  And my sweet kids always tell me they forgive me, and we hug and we love.

Bad Parenting Strategy #6: Swearing

I am a cusser.  I swear.  Like a sailor.  I know that there are better words that I can choose, but frankly, I don’t care.  Especially in traffic.  As a result, my kids hear me swearing, and sometimes they do it too.  (*gasp!)  Oliver and I talk about it, and about how they are words that people sometimes use to emphasize a point or express frustration.  And that it’s important to know who you are swearing around.  So, for example, while I might yell out an expletive in the car, I probably wouldn’t yell the same one at Target.  Or in front of my grandma.  And it’s never okay to swear at people-to call someone names or likewise.  I tell him that I don’t care if he swears, unless he abuses it by hurting someone’s feelings or not being mindful of who is listening.  So, he can’t swear at school—lots of other kids’ parents probably wouldn’t appreciate their child coming home with some choice new words to use about eating their vegetables.

The result of this is that Oliver doesn’t really swear.  Sometimes he tries out a word (“Ass.  Mommy, I just said ass.  It means the butt.”).  But he doesn’t really appreciate a good swear word the way that I do, and thus doesn’t really see the need to use them.

So, after all this, I have to say that I am not a perfect parent.  I have come to realize in the last year, however, that kids don’t need a perfect parent.  My kids love me, with all of my screwy-uppy days, with all of my mood swings, and with all of the singing and dancing and rhyming and laughing and hugging and bugging and nicknames and chocolate that comes with living with me.  So I will keep parenting as me, the imperfect parent, and hope that my kids grow up thinking that it’s okay to be imperfect, but that we should always be trying to be better.

The Kids

Many thanks to an old friend, Kimber (aka One) for letting me know she wanted to see pictures of my kids!

First, there is Oliver.  He’s four and a half now, brilliant (of course), funny (obviously), talented (clearly), and has an unbiased mother (indubitably).  He also totally gets Christmas.  He was telling me today all about all of the presents that he wants for Christmas, and I said, “Now, you know that Christmas is about more than just getting presents right?”

He responded, “Yeah, I know that.  It’s also about snow.  And candy.”

Then there’s Hazel.  Her world is made of magic and you can’t help but fall in love with all of the epic cuteness.  She says such wonderful things that I can’t help but wonder if she’s plotting world destruction through adorability.  She memorizes the lyrics to songs after hearing them twice, and sings along with the radio she insists on leaving on in her room all the time, tuned to the local country station.

So, these are my kids.  I love them.  They drive me crazy, they bring out the best and the very worst in me, and I wouldn’t change them for anything in the world because they are the absolute perfect versions of themselves.

Hands

A lot of people that I know love baby feet.  And what’s not to love?  They’re small, squishy, and don’t have all the ugly callouses from, you know, walking that the rest of us do.  They make adorable footprints and have little chubby toes that might just make delicious snacks for the cannibal-minded.

Now, I have nothing against baby feet.  I think they’re cute.  But they are not my baby-nip of choice.  For me, there is something magical about hands.

A baby’s hands are so expressive.  When Oliver was a baby, I used to just watch him open and close his little fists.  They communicate needs–through gripping so tightly that they can actually carry their own body weight, they communicate feelings–when Hazel gets mad she balls up her hands as a way of expressing her rage.

These days, though, I still fall in love with my kids by watching and experiencing what they do with their hands.  Watching Oliver’s little boy fingers, with nails too long because he won’t let me cut them, and chipped green nail polish from the last time we all had to paint our nails our favorite colors, watching him grip a pencil as he furrows his brow and concentrates on putting pencil to paper and practices writing–I fall in love.  I love that this is my little kid, and he’s getting old enough to be able to write and to be able to do, and to be excited to learn. And I love that he thinks that writing is fun, because it’s something that is inherent to who I am.

Today, we were walking home from somewhere or other, and Oliver was riding in the stroller and Hazel was walking.  I have a hard and fast rule that across the major streets, Hazel has to hold my hand (not just the stroller), because she’s a fickle pickle and will just run off if something strikes her fancy.  And obviously that’s not okay in the middle of the road.

As we got closer to the main intersection we had to cross, Hazel reached her hand out to me and wrapped her fingers up in mine.  Her soft skin was warm, and I could feel each of her little fingers inside of mine.  She gave me her hand to hold willingly, because she trusts me.  She has faith that I will keep her safe.  And it made me so glad to be her mommy, and want to remember that moment forever.

To add to that, tonight when I tucked Hazel in, she reached her arms up and encircled my neck and pulled my face close to hers.  She tangled her fingers up in my hair and said, “I love you forever.”

I love those kids so much that it makes me cry when I think about it too hard.  I have to break it down into more manageable bits–like individual body parts–to even think about communicating those feelings into anything other than a blubbery mess on paper-mache.  And so I can’t wait to see where life takes these two little humans I get to have in my life, and to watch their hands grow and develop and help form them into whatever they become.

The Potty

Oliver has begun potty training.  If he is naked, he’s a superstar and goes and sits on the potty ever time he feels the need to pass gas.

Wearing underwear, on the other hand–he doesn’t care.  He just lets loose.

It’s gross.  But I’m plowing through it.  But when he’s potty trained, I’m getting the carpet cleaned.  😀

When Did This Happen?

Hazel has a few words (Mommy, Daddy, tickle, baby, ball, eat, apple, book, and I think a few others). She’s also gotten to the stage where she has more sophisticated wants than she has vocabulary for, and she hasn’t quite mastered pointing. It’s frustrating for everyone; I’ve been trying to introduce sign language (we have got milk and eat down for that), but it’s still a frustrating time.

At the same time, she is delightful. She has more personality than her size would imply. She’s her own little person, through and through. She’s feisty, independent, and loving. This little girl loves! She loves the cats–even The Beast, who is kind of unlovable. She sees the cats, points, smiles and looks ridiculously happy. She’s very gentle with them (for the most part), and approaches them gently and slowly. It’s like she has an instinct for it. And she’s incredibly sweet with her stuffed animals. She’ll pick one up and carry it around all day, and smile at it. She’ll hug it tight and make it give her kisses, and then is delighted with the kisses she just got.

She has a favorite book–Fifteen Animals by Sandra Boynton. I read it to her every time she gets into bed, and she holds the book while she sleeps.

She loves Oliver. They adore each other. They sit in the back of the car and have conversations. Oliver will ask Hazel questions, and then say, “Yes or no, Hazel? Yes or no?”. Hazel will nod or shake her head, and Oliver will take it very seriously. They listen to each other.

Oliver becomes more and more of a total character. First, he can remember everything. Once, about a year ago (when he was just-turned-two), I picked Conner up from Army (heehee!), and we had to wait awhile for him to be ready. We got out of the car and one of the other infantry guys brought out a ball for Oliver to play with. This weekend, when we were there, Oliver asked if he could look for that man with the yellow ball. How can he remember that?!

He also has this amazing imagination. He has started playing pretend games, and is very elaborate with what is going on. Things often get stuck in the mud (I don’t know why, but that’s been an ongoing theme in his imagination since last summer). Today, a dragon got stuck in the mud and Oliver couldn’t get him out! I offered to help, and proceeded to attempt to pull the dragon out with all of my might, but my attempt was foiled! The mud was too thick! So Oliver found a hero who saved the dragon from the mud and they were friends.

He also talks a lot about his “work-job”. When we tell him to do something, his response is likely to be, “But first…” Often, first he has to go to his work-job. When caught picking his nose, he has explained to our nanny that picking his nose is his work-job. And when prodded further, declared that Hazel is his boss at his work-job, and makes him pick his nose. And pays him $1 for it.

So, when did this happen? When did my kids stop being babies and start being these intelligent, imaginative, loving, really cool people?

Also, just for kicks:
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Surgery Success

Oliver had his dental surgery this morning.  Besides my emotional state being frazzled at best, it went off without a hitch.  I had talked to Oliver about what to expect ahead of time, and his only request was that I stay with him the whole time (we will never EVER mention how after he fell asleep I went and sat in the waiting room).

So, here is our morning, in pictures:

On our way to the hospital after we had dropped Hazel off.
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Waiting to be checked in. They had a kids’ section for us to sit in. Olive was my champion in his Batman cape.
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Back in the pre-operating room, where we changed into our awesome outfits and Oliver got a drug to relax him so he wouldn’t freak out about the gas. The nurses were all surprised that Oliver was so stubborn even after taking the meds! He wouldn’t let me put his hospital shirt on or his hat.
Here are his cool socks:
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My rockin’, sexy outfit. Note that they chose for me “Father X-Large”–I don’t know why I didn’t qualify for “Father Medium”, at least… Oliver took the pictures of me, so I am headless and/or weird looking in all of them. 🙂
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Me and Oliver, hammin’ it up. He was so brave!
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He finally let me put on his hospital shirt (I think they chose pink because they all thought he was a girl). There was a TV right there that he was watching, and he would only let me put it on cartoons in Spanish.
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Me, showing off my awesome hat that I got to wear. I was trying to convince Oliver that he should put his on too, but no dice.
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After the surgery was done, I was brought back into the room area with Oliver before he woke up. Here he is, still sedated.
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Seeing him hooked up to all the machines and stuff brought back memories of when he was born.
Today–
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March 15, 2006–
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On our way home from the hospital, at the ready for any throw up. Luckily, he saved all his vomit for the hospital ride out, so the wagon got the worst of it.
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All in all, he only needed one crown and got a bunch of fillings. Way better than anticipated. Also, he only kind of fought the anesthesia.