I know you "shouldn't" compare your kids, but I'm sure we all do. Hopefully the comparisons we make are constructive and positive at best, or neutral at worst. He responds to this kind of parenting, and she to that. He likes red best, but she likes yellow. And so on. The older Surprise Baby grows, the more I begin to realise how... well, "spirited" The Prata Boy really is and has been. She is just able to roll with what's happening in a way The Prata Boy never has been. And all of a sudden I'm gaining a new perspective into some of the strange looks, comments and advice I've received or overheard in the last four years.

The friend (a parent) who wanted to organise a ski holiday, who blinked at me strangely when I said PB, at nine months or so, probably wasn't "old enough" to be left with his father for several hours whilst I went out on the snow fields (and that therefore I might be more interested next season). I now understand that not all babies display signs of deep traumatisation when separated from their mother for those lengths of time, and that therefore some parents are actually able to enjoy several hours spent apart, instead of spending the whole time feeling as if they're committing some form of child abuse (in this case, at great financial expense, and under conditions of severe sleep deprivation).

The person who tried to convince me that balance bikes were best, full stop, and just couldn't understand my continued belief that a traditional training-wheel version was best for PB. I wanted to buy PB one of those trendy new bikes like all the hip parents buy because I wanted to be a trendy, hip parent, but was forced to admit that the old-fashioned training wheels were probably the go for a boy who was too scared to use a three-wheeled foot scooter. I now understand that some people have kids who love to use foot scooters, even as young as sixteen months, which is when Surprise Baby started using her older brother's. PB loves his training-wheels bike. But he is still freaked out by his foot scooter. At least one of my children is using it.

The person who loftily said she didn't childproof her house, choosing instead to teach her baby not to touch things that weren't meant to be touched. I now understand that some children can be redirected from their goals through the simple act of telling them no and giving them a substitute activity. Who knew?

The woman who told me I should come shopping at the mall with her all day and we could see a movie during nap time, and when I suggested a modified plan in order to avoid all the sleeplessness and screaming meltdowns and the several days of miserable, post-outing recovery (not to mention the wrath of all the other cinema patrons), tutted at me and told me I just had to get PB used to it. I now understand that some people have kids who get used to things like shopping malls and sleeping through movies. True fact!

Oh my goodness: everyone who ever said anything to me about getting kids to sleep. Apparently some kids do respond to sleep techniques. Some kids sleep easily even before you use them! Although neither of mine are in that latter category... or, really, the former - so I mainly believe it these days because I have now witnessed everything else to be true.

The list goes on, but I won't.

Surprise Baby has taught me a lot about other people's advice, looks, and comments. In a nutshell, she has made me believe in my soul what I have long been telling myself in my head - that it is not bad advice on their part, or clueless parenting on my part, but simply a mismatch between patient and medicine. A person saying, "I used aloe vera cream and changed my cleanser and my rash cleared right up!" to a person whose skin is breaking out from peanut allergies. (Which, in one sense, is the very definition of bad advice... but is perfectly reasonable in the sense that aloe vera and a change of cleanser can be a very good treatment in the right circumstances. I assume.)

She has also made me realise I'm not less competent or more highly strung than the next parent (although I'm doubtless less competent and more highly strung than some). I do have a child who demands more parenting than (some) other children. And of course, it's not all him. Some parents aren't as bothered by clinging, or crying, or they don't need their children to adapt to new plans or situations as much as we do. Some people are organised and enjoy organising. Some kids have personalities that don't tax their parents' weaknesses, only their strengths, and vice versa. All I know is that - so far - SB is so much easier for me to deal with than her older brother. And it's not just me - it's Mr Bea, too.

I have to stop Mr Bea making unfair comparisons. "C [who lives nearby] is ten times more socially adjusted than PB," he says.

"Yes, C is nine months older, and is the younger sibling of a highly charismatic family of extraverts," I counter. PB doesn't have to be the most popular kid in school, he just has to get along and have friends. And in terms of the social development of a four year old, nine months is a long time. Anyway, you're on a different curve if you were born with an older sibling.

Recently, I read Raising Your Spirited Child and I wished I had read it sooner. There is a fine balance between accepting your child as they are, and encouraging them to fit in with the society around them. It seems, sometimes, there are two competing camps, both too extreme to be the wise choice. One group is so keen to use therapeutic interventions that their definition of "normal behaviour" seems dangerously narrow. When I was in my final year of university, about a week before the oral exams which would be the end-all of our academic careers to date, I was studying with a group of about six of my friends. After a couple of hours, I sat back in my chair, put my hands over my face, and sighed deeply. Within thirty seconds I had been offered valium, prozac, prescription amphetamines, and professional counselling.

So, ok, feeling stressed and/or fed up is a normal part of the human experience - especially for a university student about a week before final exams. And sighing about it is a normal reaction. You need therapeutic intervention if you are having trouble coping, functioning, or recovering (for reasonable periods of time between episodes) from your stress or fed-uppedness. You do not need therapeutic intervention because you sighed deeply and covered your face with your hands. Society has no right to demand that everyone is super-dapper-happy about everything all the time. Society should be able to deal with the fact that people's moods oscillate up and down, and that people have different likes, dislikes, and ways of relating - otherwise it is just a little too Brave New World for my comfort. 

On the other hand is the person who believes so hard in respecting the feelings and individuality of others that they leave absolutely no responsibility in the lap of the person in question. People do have a responsibility to use tools - therapeutic or otherwise - to manage their emotional reactions in order to fit in with others. Else we give ourselves nervous breakdowns walking over all the eggshells, or we spend all day sitting around picking the metaphorical lint out of our metaphorical navels and giving each other hugs instead of putting our backs into it and getting the job done. And I say this as someone who is obviously a big fan of metaphorical navel lint, as evidenced by this post alone. (Perhaps I should get to the point.)

I feel like my own mother spent her parenting days swinging wildly between the belief that she should be the giving, accepting mother, loving us for who we are and making all the necessary allowances to do so, and the knowledge that she'd pretty much had it up to here with everyone's "quirks". To me, Raising Your Spirited Child hits the balance better. We celebrate our children's character traits, but we are allowed - in fact, encouraged - to shape and channel them for good instead of exasperation and tears. The two ideas do not exist in direct opposition to each other.

But I am hanging out for the time when PB can meet me half way. Today, we managed to get ready for kindy without a fight, but it was a draining experience for me - one highly-distractible parent trying to keep one highly-distractible child on track. I was just celebrating our achievements, when PB asked me to go a different route to school on his bike. "Sure," I said chirpily. "We can do that." But of course, once we'd gone half way the other way, he decided all this newness was too upsetting, and he now wanted to go back and re-start, this time going the usual way. "You can go back to the usual way tomorrow," I assured him. "We'll run late if we go back now. Besides, we only went this way because it was what you wanted, so I don't think it's fair that I should have do it all over again when I was actually trying to give you what you asked for in the first place."

PB pouted. "Come on," I said firmly, "let's keep going." That's when he rode his training-wheeled bike right smack into the back of me. Having been pushed to the full length of my tether just trying to get peacefully out of the door, and now with a painful calf, I officially snapped. I ordered him off his bike, put it aside in a nearby bike rack, and informed him that he had just lost the privilege of riding to school.

Wow. Just wow. His response defies description.

All I can cling to (in the face of all the looks I got) is the knowledge that I did, in fact, get him to walk there in the end, and we weren't even that late. A year ago (thanks so very much to Mel for the meme that reminded me, just when I needed it) I sometimes resorted to carrying him kicking and screaming at times like these. As it happened, I was able to get everyone calmed down using breathing techniques, followed by a short jog. After that, we were able to discuss things sensibly as we walked, although I am still not convinced we understand each other. Maybe he's just tired or restless because it's the end of term. Maybe the novelty of the upcoming holidays will do the trick. As long as I'm careful not to make it too novel. You know.

Wish me luck.


HereWeGoAJen said...

Yes. Exactly. And all the people who imply that we've made her this was by "letting" her act like this. Someone told me the other day that I should force her to use the potty and I was like "um, I had to take her to the doctor after I just suggested it because she held it for four days."

Ellen K. said...

Oh, I just saw Raising Your Spirited Child at the library yesterday and thought about reading it. I think I'll go get it this morning... and maybe return the books about ADHD and sensory disorders that made me feel so guilty that I needed to sleep in that particular child's bed last night.

The girls began preschool last week (glorious!), and this weekend D. and I had to fill

D. often makes unfavorable comparisons between our kids and other people's kids. I think it is a dad thing. It's *definitely* a grandpa thing.

Serenity said...

I loved "Raising Your Spirited Child" - got it when we were in the midst of potty training issues.

Well, actually. I should revise the tense to present. Because I breathe through my own spirited child's peccadillos.

And even this morning, I snap too. For me, it's the combination of "EVERYTHING'S WRONG!" and the Not Listening... and today the line to my patience completely snapped.


It's one thing to say that you can let the parenting advice roll off your back and do what's best for your family, and quite another altogether to realize that, you know, it WAS bad advice.

Nice to see it in action. And, selfishly, I am happy to hear that instinct can be proven right, too.

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