Everything I Know About Parenting

Monday, January 25, 2016

Everything I know about parenting can be summed up with one word: Nothing.

Let me back up.  Before I had children, I thought I knew a lot about parenting.  

I wasn't totally without experience.  I mean, growing up I had given up a loooooooot of weekend nights to babysit a great many young children, earning $1 per kid per hour. (This rate makes me really sad now when I pay my own babysitter.)  I had also worked with elementary children in an after-school program before becoming a middle school teacher.  Although that meant I had more formal experience with teenagers, I felt that they were more like toddlers in bigger bodies, which absolutely proved to be correct.

So, when I was approaching the birth of my first child 4 1/2 years ago, although I felt pretty terrified, I also felt sure about what kind of parent I was going to be.

CJ gave us a run for our money right away, including a very fast no-time-for-drugs labor.  She had severe colic, which turned into food sensitivities, which turned into sensory processing issues.  Months into her life, I wondered if we would ever make it through the grocery store again without her having a complete meltdown.  (It took a while!)

I spent most of our days her first year trying to understand this often-sad, very skinny baby who seemed to be begging me for comfort and guidance.  I was desperate to figure out what was ailing her and how I could help.  (It should be said that I'm writing this post from my point-of-view as a parent, but Brad has been an excellent partner throughout our parenting journey and has proven to be such a wonderful father.)

My inner-Hermione urged me that the solution was to read from the experts.  I devoured every parenting book I could read through my sleepy, half-open eyes: Happiest Baby on the Block; Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child; The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding; How to Care for Your Newborn; Baby Wise; The Entitlement Trap; and so, so much more.  I poured over BabyCenter.com and the depths of its forum-hell like it was my job (which it kind of was)!  Answers for my little girl were difficult to find, as was my own stance on how to raise her.  

Since I was doing cloth diapers (mostly for economical reasons) and researching CJ's food sensitivities, I was led me to other fellow-crunchy moms of the Internet.  These DM's (Dear Mothers, if you don't know "Forum-speak") were very sure of their parenting stance, so I wondered if I had to buy into the whole Dr. Sears attachment parenting philosophy to be a legitimate DM.  

While I loved having CJ in the baby carrier, my back hurt after a while so I could only do it so much.  While I loved doing Baby Led Weaning, I also hated wasting up all the leftover mashed up food and would spoon-feed her the rest.  I was much too high strung to have her sleep in my bed, and while I hated to hear her cry, I really, really needed her to sleep better by her 9th month.  

Parenting is the school of hard knocks, and it was quickly showing this nerd that books and Internet experts could only teach parenting so much. 

Still, I held on to my positive behavior management skills I had carefully gleaned as a teacher.  I worked hard to do what was best for my child in my own way, even if that meant getting philosophy whiplash with our day-to-day decisions.  And I loved being home with my baby, however difficult it was proving to be.  I began to feel pretty confident about being a middle-of-the-parenting-philosophies parent.

Within 21 months of our first baby, little R came along.  He also came so fast I didn't have time for an epidural.  (This scarred my mother even more than it did me.) We managed incredibly well at first, due to him having a fairly normal temperament and typical baby problems. I was used to babies with projectile spit up and not sleeping through the night for 10 months.  I'd take that over a baby that was nigh impossible to soothe.  R was seemingly chill.  Also, he was as deliciously-fat as could be; I got to squish his wobbly thighs all day and nibble his tummy rolls, which made me incredibly happy.  CJ loved him, but largely lived her life exactly the same.  I was starting to feel quite sure of my position as a good parent, guiding my toddler to better behavior and getting my baby into a routine.  Things were going pretty swimmingly.

Then R figured out how to bother his sister.  He learned young, even before he could walk, how to push her buttons.  To be fair to R, CJ's buttons are very easily pushed.  But I truly couldn't have predicted how quickly, how naturally, it seemed, for R to figure out how much joy it brought him to make his sister angry.  He quickly took great delight in making her upset, even if all it took was tapping his hand against his carseat to incite her incessant wails.

He also proved to be anything but chill.

With each passing month, we learned more and more about how polar-opposite our children were.  Whereas CJ relishes quiet, R loves noise and action.  Whereas CJ prefers to play alone with dolls or coloring, R wants to wrestle, act crazy, and wield anything as a stick.  Whereas CJ thrives on soft, positive-based discipline, R seems to only respond to, um, louder discipline.

(Interestingly, somehow R loves vegetables like broccoli and salad.  I'm not sure how that happened.)  

Still, we were managing it alright.  Some days put me over the edge, especially when I was pregnant and really nauseous and tired.  But most of the time, I could still keep my act together and they seemed pretty happy in general, even with their near-constant bickering.  

Baby D was born six months ago, four days before CJ turned 4.  His birth was the best by far (thank you, epidural!) and his presence brought a big, almost tangible piece of heaven to our home.

It's also been six months of parenting purgatory.

When I brought this sweet, innocent baby home, it was as though the "good parent" switch clicked to the "off" position.  Both CJ and R were obsessed with our baby right away, but not in the good way.  They could not leave him alone for a single second.  While nursing, I had three heads at my breast, not just the one who actually needed to eat.

R, in particular, could. not. stop. touching. him.

Out of protection for my little cub, I became a momma bear against my own older children.  I have truly growled from the depths of my gut, "Stop touching him!" "Leave him alone!" and "Get out of here!" to CJ and R who run away in fear, only to return about eight seconds later.

Brad's hours have been very long since right before D's birth, and even on the days he comes home "early," I've usually been flying solo with the kids for 12-13 hours straight.

While I am so grateful to be home with my kids (really, I am!), this made me a little batty.  OK, a lot.

Keep in mind that I am a constant referee between my two oldest, one of which is so very sensitive that it's a constant ticking time bomb of what will make her explode.  I've had to break up fights, running across rooms with a baby attached to my breast.  I've put one child in time out over and over again in a single day for the same reasons: "Stop pointing [an object] at your sister!"  "Stop making noises to bother her!" I've stretched myself between two very opposite parenting tactics until I've mixed it all up and done the wrong kind of discipline for the wrong child.  And I've been doing all of this on very little, very interrupted sleep and while holding a baby 90% of the time.

As a result, my calm, collected mothering went out the window.

That first month after baby D was born, I remember day after day feeling like I had "my worst mothering day ever," only to have it repeat again the next day.  I didn't know who I was as a parent any more, like my parenting was now all instinct-based, but not in a good way; it was more of a self-protecting instinct.

Example!  One morning, I tried to preoccupy my normally-responsible 4 year old daughter with bubbles in the backyard while I pumped a bottle for the baby who lay next to me in his rock n' play.  Through the screen door, I hear her whining.  I do the pumping dance, where I still try to stay attached to the machine while arching my back and twisting my head so I can see out to the steps leading to the back porch.  There is CJ, standing and staring at the bubbles she had tipped all over the steps.

"No big deal!" I call, giving myself a pat on the back for not freaking out.  "I'll just spray it down with the hose!"

I quickly detach myself from the pump, run outside and hose down the steps, and instruct CJ to run back inside and get another bottle of bubbles from her closet.  After I finish spraying the bubbles, I hear my baby crying and run inside to see R right in the baby's face, vigorously shaking his rock n' play.  I rip R from the side, with my heart in my throat.  He could have really hurt baby D!  I give R firm instruction to never do that again, and why; but during that disciplining, I hear CJ yet again wailing from her room.

I carry a squirmy R with me across the hall and witness CJ standing in the middle of the rug, crying and staring at the largest bottle of bubbles we own, lid off, tipped over, and emptying out on to our rug covering a wood floor.  The baby was still crying, R was trying to rip from my arms to go back to attacking the baby, CJ was now beyond hysterical, and I was panicking as the large puddle of thick, silky liquid sunk into our thin rug.

This is when I threw a mommy-tantrum.  Two-year-old style.

I'm pretty sure I blacked out with rage, so the details are a little fuzzy.  I seem to remember throwing every single bottle of bubbles in our house into the garbage, as hard as I possibly could.  Two kids were yelled at, one spanked, and both thrown into time out while I raged, screaming at the heavens, "WHY?!!!!  How do I clean this up?!  WHY ME, Lord, WHY ME?!" Between gnashing my teeth and stomping my feet (this is not me being poetic), I threw some wet towels on the bubbles and scrubbed as hard as I could until my poor wailing baby made me literally throw in the towel.  Rug and floor be damned.

Oh, this story is most definitely not done yet.

After shakily feeding a starving baby and simultaneously attempting some deep breathing, I tried to make amends for my tantrum.  Mommy apologized.   Mommy explained.  Mommy would do better next time and do her best to not lose her temper.  To make it up to them, we'd go see the airplanes later that day when they were done with naps, after a quick stop at Trader Joe's across the street from the small airport.

A few hours, lots of kids fighting, and no-napping later, we arrive at Trader Joe's.  Amid the choruses of, "You've got your hands full!" I loaded up my circus: baby in the carrier, 2 year old in the cart, 4 year old hanging on the front.  Before we entered the store, I leaned over.  "CJ, do you need to go the bathroom?"

"No, mommy!"

"Are you sure?" I asked, suspiciously.  Even though she went potty right before we left, CJ had been having a lot of accidents as of late.

"No, mom!  NO!" CJ responded, her face screwed up in protest, head shaking no, her eyes firmly resolved.

"Ok," I said with a sigh, trudging on into the store.  Some people were kind, commenting on how busy I must be.  Most tried to make way for the anomaly of three-young-children-in-Northern-CA and gave us a wide berth.  We were doing pretty well.  The oldest two weren't fighting, I was getting through the store fairly quickly, and we had a reward in sight with the airplanes just across the street.

I was racing through the frozen aisle with CJ hanging off the front, arcing around the corner into the dry goods section.  This store was my oyster! I was super mom! I was turning this hard day around!

A helpful employee tapped me on the shoulder.  "Oops! Looks like something is spilling from your cart!"

"Hmmmmm," I thought, looking back at a stream of liquid that visibly followed my journey down and around the aisle.  "I haven't got any milk or juice in my cart. . ."

Then it hit me.  The source was CJ.

My daughter.  The potty-trained 4 year old who just adamantly told me she did NOT have to go the bathroom less than five minutes earlier.  She was peeing while hanging off the front of the cart as I pushed her all the way down and around an aisle, and was doing so without giving even a little hint to her mother.

If I hadn't been surrounded by people, another mommy-tantrum would have happened right then and there.

I was in shock.  I stared, my mouth gaping, the breath in my lungs getting short and rapid as I watched people wheeling and walking through the trail of pee we had unknowingly left behind us.

Another employee took notice of my horror.  I haltingly tried to explain what happened and they sprung into action, stopping confused innocent bystanders from splashing through the stream and getting a mop.  I grabbed the two year old, clenched CJ's hand, and left the cart full of groceries making a five-legged race to the bathroom, my baby whimpering in the carrier.  This is where I allowed my mommy-tantrum to take over.  I'm sure the people in the store heard CJ's wails as I reprimanded her, my heart ka-thumping and a newly-familiar growl coming from my gut.

I was more embarrassed than my most embarrassing moment up to date: peeing my pants on home plate, while up to bat at my baseball game as a 7 year old.  (Like mother, like daughter!)

We eventually emerged from the bathroom and made our way back to our abandoned cart.  CJ sported red eyes and no panties, but luckily I had found a pair of mis-matched leggings at the bottom of my hiking backpack, I mean, my diaper bag.  We thanked the employees profusely, made CJ apologize, and instead of acting upset, the most incredible people of Trader Joes kneeled to my daughter's eye-level, gave her stickers and encouraged her to not worry, that it was OK.

I pushed my cart through the remaining aisles, and for the first time in my adult life I allowed the tears to roll down my cheeks in public, despite my fellow patrons noticing and giving concerned looks.  I cried out of embarrassment.  I cried out of gratitude for good people who could have been justifiably cruel, and instead responded kindly.  But mostly I cried out of shame for how I chose to respond to my child's actions.

Needless to say, we did not go see the airplanes after that.

(But here's a picture of the airport a few weeks ago to show we do have some good days...)

Soooooo.  A lesson, perhaps?  Let's get to a lesson.

Parenting is the most mystifying, difficult, seemingly-impossible work on the earth.  Every day, you are reminded of your weaknesses.  Every day, you are presented with a mirror that reflects your own imperfections, these imperfections often visibly replicated in your offspring.  Every day, you make mistakes, mistakes that you had even promised you would never make again.

But every day, you try again.

Because parenting is also the most rewarding, joyful, and important work you can every embark on.  Because you have moments where everything makes sense, sweet-smelling hugs that heal your heart, and smiles that zap energy back into your soul.

Because you have friends who would give absolutely everything they own to have your terrible parenting day, if it would just make them a mother or a father.

Because being a parent is the greatest blessing of your life.

When I said that I know nothing about parenting, I didn't say that to deface this work.  The past six months have humbled me to the bone about what kind of parent I thought I would be.  These months have taught me that I have a GREAT deal to learn about how to be a parent and raise these beautiful humans, each in their own way.  These months have taught me that so much of being a parent is raising the white flag, admitting defeat, looking for help, and trying something new the next day.  And again the day after that.

So while I now feel that I know next-to-nothing about parenting, I still know some things.  I know that I want my kids to see that I am trying.  I know that I want them to witness me admitting my mistakes and being quick to forgive theirs.  I know I want them to understand that they are important enough and that they are loved enough for me to take those hard looks in the mirror.

I know that in a world where everyone seems to know THE answer and boast of the latest and greatest technique for raising children, I am OK with my parenting philosophy being, "I don't know what I'm doing.  But at least I'm trying."


  1. I'm reading this as I watch my 9 day old baby struggle to put herself to sleep, after snuggling her for 6 long hours last night with a gassy tummy. I have a lot to learn and I take a little comfort in knowing that I'm not the only one without all the answers. You are a wonderful mom and those kids are very lucky to have you.

    1. It's such a wonderful, hard time with that first baby in the first few months. I'm sorry you're trying to figure out that gassy tummy! I never quite figured it out; seems like they just have to grow out of it and their gut starts to figure things out. I hope I can meet Brooklyn soon!

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  3. This post zoomed me right back to my own days with three small children in tow. I too cried all those crys and had horrible mommy days-weeks-months. As moms it's good to know we're not alone. Love you friend, thanks for sharing! Oh! And once after a million nights where I'd just get the girls settled in bed and the oldest would start shrieking for a glass of water I brought her the glass of water and dumped it on her head. So I deeply know the feelings of shame for bad mommying, but it does seem like my kids still love me and are pretty awesome big people...so light at the end of the tunnel?

    1. Yeah, you seriously made me laugh out loud. Thank you for telling me that story, because we were "this close" to doing that to Clara just last night! Kids can drive you crazy and make you do such impulsive things! I wish I could say that this story was me on my worst behavior, but it's not... Definitely some light at the end of the tunnel! I think you are an AMAZING mom and that gives me a lot of hope. Thanks, Shelley!

  4. I'm dying laughing over that glass of water story. I am basically the worst mom after 7:30 p.m. - once those kids are in bed, I don't want to see them again!

    1. Best story ever! I become a complete demon after bedtime.

  5. Beautiful and true words Monica- I have definitely been there....I think most Moms have:) Miss you guys! Xoxo

    1. Thank you! And is this my old room mate, by chance?

  6. So well said Monica- as always! This is so real- and so familiar! Sammy yelled he hated me at church the other week as we sat right in front of your parents. And I definitely felt the tears coming for so many reasons. Your such a good mom. Keep writing!

    1. Amy! Thank you for this kind comment. How do little ones know just what to say in order to make you feel the worst. I feel terrible for any thing I've ever done toward my mom now... I'm sure Sammy will too!

  7. Uum, are you sure you weren't retellinh a day at our house?! You didn't mention a slammed door though. So perhaps not. Haha. And I still have yet to meet my number three. I think age five has been a wonderful transition for J though and he has a new confidence and can start to handle his tantrum a bit quicker. We are trying OT in a few weeks to see if they have any suggestions for him. Mostly I try and just send him to his room for some quiet time to either cry it out or calm himself down. He usually seems some refreshed after his time alone. Although they share a room so it's hard to keep H away. The only thing I know is that I try and say I love you and hug them as much as possible!

    Oh and I have the same photo of J at a similar age crying and so uncomfortable. Poor babies.

    1. Ha! I think I accidentally omitted the slammed doors after they were thrown in to time out. And seriously, the baby is the easiest part so I'm sure if he weren't here I'd still be having just as hard of time with the older two. You'll be ready for baby #3 because you are already on the thick of it! You'll just be doing it with a little less sleep and a baby at your breast. Let me know how OT goes! I'm in the middle of trying to secure it myself. And we're running into the same trouble with "alone time" for C, because R just wants to be right in there with her.... Hugs--always are good! I'm so lucky to have you as my neighbor and my friend. I will return your book tomorrow, and remind yourself to never let me borrow anything ever again! It's been super helpful.

  8. You are a super mom! Thanks for sharing :) - kelly

  9. I might've started crying right along with you in this post! I'm totally with you! I can see why Heavenly Father encourages us to get married and have children because this life is about "becoming" and learning to rely on Him. And absolutely nothing humbles me and brings me to my knees like parenting has. So put me down for a huge "AMEN!" to this post. Thank you for sharing. I'm studying Brene Brown's work about how vulnerability and opening ourselves us is what helps us connect to others. She must be dead on because whenever someone shares a post like this, I am 100% ready to be their new best friend. Because clearly they get me. :)

    1. I hear you on all that! Especially the thinking that parenting/marriage is necessary to our progress because it FORCES us to change, on the daily. Man, it's so dang hard though. Feel like I'm getting whiplash all day trying to change myself, then my kids, then making mistakes, then trying again.

  10. Great post Monica! I can definitely relate to everything you said.


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