My daughter’s lip quivered.
She stomped a foot. She pointed. Her lip puckered. She tensed up. I could see it coming: the meltdown. Hide yo wife, hide yo kids, cus my daughter is about to have a meltdown over a $3.00 toy at Target.
I let go of the cart with one hand, and bent down and stroked her hair with the other.
“We can’t always get what we want,” I said. Words spoken like a woman who heard them on more than one occasion when she was growing up, and who now eats those words every instance she has to mutter them to her children because she knows her own mother was, in fact, correct.
She relaxed her arms and quietly followed me out of the aisle.
She folded her arms tightly across her chest. Then the tears came. The red face. Her tiny, quivering voice. People stopped and looked, but I gently took her hand and pushed the cart along.
She followed me, quite reluctantly, still with tears running down her face. She did inform me, quietly, that she didn’t like me very much in that moment. I told her that was okay.
I am a tough as nails momma, who doesn’t bat an eyelash when she has to let the hammer drop, so what did I care?
It was hard to say no to her, actually. I really wanted to go back and let her pick out a small toy. I was LOOKING for a reason for her to “earn” a toy, because I didn’t want to say no. Her “please, mommy” made me die just a bit on the inside. I felt like a joy thief.
When we made it to the car and were all buckled in, I finally was able to talk to her a bit more about what had just happened. And I realized that this was perhaps the first time that it really clicked for her that things -anything- cost us something, even a tiny toy.
More than that, the business of reality is that we just don’t always get what we want simply because we want it. This was so profound for her. It was the beginning a new world of responsibility and maturity.
She’s entering a new stage of life. She’s not babyish at all anymore. She’s trying to grow up into a little kid every time I turn my back. This little girl whose wavy, dark blonde hair and green eyes I get so taken with isn’t my baby anymore. There is actually a legit baby living in our house now. She is officially the middle child. I grew up a middle child. I realized then just how tricky things get when you’re in the middle.
For the first time during a discipline session, my daughter had questions.
What started off as a broken heart turned into a beautiful session between daughter and mother. For one of the first times, it clicked for her that mommy was there actually trying to help her learn and not just to be mean and unfair.
I forget how dependent on me my children are because they seem so grown up at times. They have so many opinions for their young ages. Flashes of their personality express themselves in many ways. The differences between them are staggering.
I can see the next ten years toppling over like a line of dominos. I can see where this is all going. How quickly I forget about the here and now with them. I forget what needs to happen before all of that other stuff.
I forget how much they still don’t know. How there is so much that none of us knew when we were growing up until someone just showed us the way. That’s the key.
Parenting is a constant struggle between preparing your children for the future, while loving and cultivating a relationship with them, and learning to let them start to manage on their own in the moment.
Parenting is the one thing in my life that I have stressed over each and every day. I am always worried about whether or not I am getting it “right.” If there is some “better” way to do things. If they are going to end up in therapy one day because I did all the wrong things, or didn’t do enough of the right things. Or because I secretly throw away some of their art work when they aren’t around because I don’t need another coloring of Optimus Prime, thanks.
I see these blog posts that rehash childhoods from thirty plus years ago by individuals who look at their youth rose-colored glasses. “My parents were good parents because they locked me out of the house for six hours straight, made me drink Kool Aid, didn’t give me a participation ribbon and let me ride my bike where ever I wanted, even down to the construction site with broken glass everywhere, all without knowing where I was.”
Then I see some of the opposite. “I’m feeding my children the very best organic food that money can buy, I let my oldest child co-sleep with me until they were eight, we don’t do timeout’s or spankings, just redirection, and I plan on breastfeeding the baby until he’s about five.”
I see both ends of the proverbial parenting spectrum. People singing the praises of being hands on or off.
I see so many things that we can get caught up in. We let our children’s hopes and childhoods hinge on whether or not we think we are doing enough for them. We let our confidence in how we are parenting hinge on whether or not we are giving them enough things.
The simple truth is this: a wonderful childhood is defined by our children knowing that someone cares about them.
Knowing that someone loves them. By knowing that they have you.
They need someone who likes them. They need someone who cares enough to care, and who acts on those feelings.
Sometimes, that looks like saying no in the Target aisle over a cheap plastic toy. Sometimes, that looks like saying no to that co-ed sleepover that all of the other kids are going to. Sometimes, it means listening while other times it means letting go, just a little. Sometimes, that means making Jello when they’re sick or reading the same book for the fourth time in a row. Sometimes, that means letting go and letting them find their own way.
Successful parenting is letting your children have you, the best you that you can be, in that moment.
Everything else is gravy on top.