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.