You may have heard me say this before that I believe parenting is the most challenging undertaking a person can encounter in his or her lifetime. There is no formal educational process to teach you how to parent. Yes, there are tons of advice books and videos and therapists that often feel they have all the answers. The only trouble with these resources that I have found is that parents consult them, but children never do. Hence, real kids never respond in the utopian manner in which the kids in the resource materials do. Parents and kids, literally, are not on the same page. I don’t think that is ever meant to be.
Some parents luck out. They have kids who, for the most part, are pretty much like them. The genes lined up nicely at conception and anything weird or different just didn’t make it into the mix. Other kids, meanwhile, are a composite of every obscure, obtuse and obscene element of the family’s lineage—the perfect storm kids. Somewhere between these two extreme types of offspring are probably where most kids fall.
I am convinced if you are “the best” parents ever (whatever that means) that does not necessarily relate to your children being “the best” kids ever. I know of only one family that fits the penultimate mode of perfection. Sometimes I wonder if they are for real. I have looked on their butts for a Hallmark card logo or at least a Walt Disney signature. I found neither…but who knows what skeletons may be lurking in their closets down the road. For now, however, they define “perfect family.”
My children are in their 40s, but that doesn’t stop my wife and me from occasionally pondering how we might have handled things differently if we had to do it all over again, knowing what we know now. Our first conclusion is to buy tropical fish and forget about having kids. I even concede that tropical fish are too demanding–just keeping the tank clean is a daunting task. For me, it’s stuffed animals. In fact, I have a stuffed duck I bought years ago. His name is Dutch the Duck. He has little Velcro pads on his feet so I can hang him around my shoulder and he’ll stay there nicely, quietly, wanting for nothing. Dutch and I have an agreement. I will continue to talk to him about things going on in the world as long as he doesn’t tell anyone we have these conversations. Dutch is totally trouble-free, like real children should be. He doesn’t need to learn how to drive; doesn’t have college tuition issues; his disposition is always on an even keel and he never touches my ice cream.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many positive moments in the parenting process. Phase I–The Early Years, can be a wonderful experience. Toddlers are cool. I especially like them in overalls. Fact is, early childhood is reasonably easy and enjoyable once the child masters four basic skills. These are:
– Learning how to use the toilet and putting an end to diapers
– Learning how to feed oneself without having to rely on someone else to open the jar, spoon the goo into your mouth and not having to worry about it coming back out.
– Learning how to dress oneself. No, not everything may match, but the basics are there: the kid knows how to put a shirt on; underware and pants; socks and maybe can even tie his shoes.
– Learning how to quietly get oneself up on weekend mornings; pouring oneself a bowl of Cocoa Puffs and then sitting quieting playing a computer game or watching TV without waking mom and dad.
Once these four elements of life are accomplished there is a window of relative calmness and false sense of fulfillment that most parents can enjoy…for a very brief moment. This is the end of Phase I. Then, slowly but surely, children lose their luster. Their cute smiles turn to sneers, they learn the word “no” and how to manipulate and maneuver around every directive you may issue. Hence, the challenge of parenting enters Phase 2, a seemingly eternal period of chronic fretting, frustration and financial loss. But all this is exhausting…we’ll get into Phase 2 more in a later blog. In the meantime, happy parenting!