When you get squeezed, you find out what you’re really made of. Folks are getting a chance to find that out during this Coronavirus pandemic, especially families quarantined together.
I’m here to tell you—you don’t have to fake being the perfect family! We all grow weary and impatient. We all need time alone. We all have our limits. We all fail.
Ever tire of reading about everyone else’s perfect family vacations, holidays, birthday parties, traditions, and achievements? On Facebook, but also in those annual Christmas newsletters (which I’ve been guilty of sending myself). Those updates are from people whose children are star pupils and star athletes, consistently cute, clever, clean, and cultured.
If you get depressed rather than inspired from reading such accounts, if you feel taunted rather than encouraged, STOP READING THEM and re-attach yourself to reality. Sometimes family fun and finesse is more of a family fable.
Reading about my own family foibles in child-rearing (though years ago) will hopefully raise your parental self-esteem. I didn’t even have the added stress of home schooling while working from home.
We’ve been told that to be good parents, we must subscribe to the right magazines, read the right books, and implement the right child-rearing techniques—assuming you have spare time from your parenting duties to read. Sometimes, as busy parents, trying to squeeze a good “how-to” book into your schedule is like a heart surgeon taking a break mid-surgery to read up on bypasses.
With access to decades of research and parenting advice—good and otherwise—from books, articles, support groups, and classes, not to mention extended family and in-laws, we’re without excuse if we don’t have our act together, and if our kids don’t measure up.
Stumbling through family tragedies is one thing. But what excuse is there for failing normal life?
Too bad parenting isn’t as easy as playing Candy Land—straightforward with a few setbacks here and there, surrounded by sweets and all colors of the rainbow whether you land on the sugar plum tree or the ice cream floats.
But parenting is more like playing slot machines at the casino. Put in tons of quarters—give and give and give from our own (sometimes meager) resources—before hitting the jackpot. If it comes at all, then not knowing if it will ever come again.
When family events resemble scenes from The Simpsons rather than Leave it to Beaver or My Three Sons (yes, this dates me), take heart. Fear not! You’ll find no advice here–only empathy!
Books offer plenty of advice that presume success, except at our house where Murphy’s Law is the rule rather than the exception. Certain personality types don’t help matters.
My son, from week one, was determined to not go by the child-development books, just for the satisfaction of throwing me for a loop the size of the Raging Bull roller coaster at Six Flags. He was perfectly normal, but didn’t want me to know it. He did everything late, much later than the ever-blooming boy next door who was four months younger.
Following are some prime-time family moments that went awry—when trying to follow advice from the “books.”
Principle #1 — Spend quality time with each child alone on a regular basis.
One time, seven-year-old Kaia and I planned to see a show together. By the time I got her younger siblings ready for the babysitter’s, Kaia had driven her sister to tears by bragging about her special time with Mom. I disciplined everybody several times, and lost both patience and desire to spend time with this child of mine!
Our outing began with pouting (mine and hers), moody silences interjected with her whining and my reprimands. I probably even told her that after all this hassle, she’d better have a good time, or else!
Principle #2 — Catch your child being good.
In a rare moment when my grumbly three-year-old was quietly building blocks alone, I was so pleased that I wanted to compliment him on his industriousness. I said something inane like, “You’re making some tall towers, Colin. I’m glad to see you enjoying your blocks so much.” But this broke his concentration. He accidentally knocked over a block which set off a fit of yelling and block-throwing. A better axiom would have been, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”
Principle #3 — Affirm the values you want your children to learn and internalize.
Taking advantage of time driving with the kids, I put in a cassette tape with catchy Scripture verses. The first song was about doing all things without grumbling or complaining. Within three measures, this four-way dialog occurred:
“That’s too loud.”
“No, turn it up. I can’t hear it.”
“Put in on the front speaker.”
“No, put it on the back speaker.”
“Now it’s way too loud.”
“I still can’t hear it!” (accompanied by whining)
“I’m getting a headache!” (shouted, of course)
“I’m tired of this tape.” (wailing)
“Be quiet! I can’t hear!” (gnashing of teeth)
“Can we listen to another one instead?”
“I don’t want any music on!”
Yes, this really happened.
Principle #4 — Expose your children to art through various media and hands-on experiences.
My first child got the full benefit of this. Everything was new and exciting for both of us. Plus, I had my art background to draw upon (pun intended). But by the time Child #3 came along, I couldn’t bear the sight of glue and scissors, paint repulsed me, and I broke out in hives near paper pieces the size of hole punches scattered over the just-swept floor. I cringed when tape got pulled from the dispenser two feet at a time. I have horror stories about supposedly washable markers.
What happened to me? How’d I get from welcoming creative messes to dreading them? Maybe I’m to blame for my kindergartener who still preferred scribbling crayons and mashing paint to anything else. But who’s to say he wouldn’t be the next Picasso? (Fortunately, he later had good art experiences.)
Principle #5 — Don’t designate gender-specific toys and don’t let your kids play with guns.
We didn’t have guns in our house–except squirt guns. But my boys played with toy guns at other people’s houses, and loved it. To bring out his nurturing side, we gave Colin his first Woody doll when Toy Story came out.
One day at McDonald’s, I ordered the boys Happy Meals. I assumed they’d want the car toys, rather than miniature Barbie dolls. But Colin wanted a Barbie instead. Oh, my! Barbie? Really? A Woody doll is one thing, but a Barbie for a four-year-old boy?
Don’t panic. Not wanting to be sexist, I agreed and ordered him a Barbie Happy Meal. He tore open the bag, whipped out the Barbie, and bent her in half. He held the doll like a gun, pointed to the closest customer, and said, “I’m going to shoot you with my Barbie!”
Principle #6 — Use object lessons to teach Biblical truths and enhance learning.
I planned a relay race as part of a spiritual object lesson. The idea came from a wonderful book, of course. The activity was supposed to be fun and lead to meaningful discussion. However, Kaia twisted her ankle on the relay (three days before leaving for a trip), and Tim got angry at me for instigating the whole idea (he didn’t think our living room was big enough for relay races, and he was right). The evening ended up in tears, accusations, ice, and foot elevation.
Principle #7 — Make your child feel like a queen on her birthday.
Four-year-old Audrey was convinced she had royal blood by the time she got done decorating her Cinderella castle cake, donning her satin-and-lace ball costume made by Grandma, and making princess crowns and fairy godmother wands with party guests.
During the gift-opening, she went from box to box, tearing off the wrapping. She barely had time to draw a royal breath, let alone say thank you to measly peasants who’d lavished their gifts upon her. At least she let them eat cake, but so did Marie Antoinette. I had to excuse the princess from the party twice to give her the Queen Mother’s royal decree—no thank you, no gifts.
Principle #8 — Keep your family healthy with proper nutrition and avoid junk food.
Not always possible, but I tried. One thing we didn’t allow was soda pop, except once a week or on special occasions. That’s it.
When six-year-old Kaia got an infection, I had to give her the worst possible tasting liquid medicine. I tried everything to make her take it, stirring it into orange juice, milk, yogurt, applesauce . . . But she sniffed it out. And there was no disguising the taste. Terrible. She put up a huge fuss daily.
Then at my parents’ house, my sister grabbed the medicine and poured it into a glass of Dr. Pepper. Kaia drank it right down! It went against every grain in my body to give her such an unhealthy drink that would eat out her insides and rot her teeth, but from then on, Kaia had a dose of Dr. Pepper twice a day with her medicine.
Principle #9 — Be a role model to your children; more is caught than taught.
A friend of mine always told her kids: “I expect you to talk and act the same way you see me talking and acting.” This I never dared say. Not because I didn’t try to be a role model, but because I’m so incurably human that I hardly wanted them to emulate my shortcomings, which they undoubtedly witnessed regularly.
Did I want my children to cry in front of the bank teller when they find out the bank mistakenly deducted money from their accounts? Did I want my kids to unabashedly accuse the bank teller (as representative of banks everywhere) of being Robin Hood in reverse—robbing from the poor to give to the rich?
Principle #10 — Expose kids to the arts—great literature, music, theater, and films.
We truly have. But the kids hear other things, too—things that stick in their minds even more.
Only Elvis fans could appreciate four-year-old Audrey crooning in the grocery store, “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog,” which she and Papa danced to at home. Nobody was impressed when two-year-old Jeffrey publicly quoted lines from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail. (Overheard from his papa.)
Principle #11 — Encourage your child’s imagination with fantasy.
Distinguishing between fantasy and reality is one of those fine lines that Tim and I stepped over. Six-year-old Kaia was frustrated that the tooth fairy kept forgetting to bring her money. That doggoned tooth was still under her pillow even after a week. She had an inkling about the tooth fairy’s true identity, though we never let on.
Tim got the bright idea of calling the tooth fairy to remind him to drop by (yes—Wisconsin’s tooth fairy is male). He called his friend, who immediately caught on and played the part.
Tim put Kaia on the phone. The tooth fairy assured her that he’d be there that night, and for being so tardy, he’d quadruple the payment! (Okay, we deserved that.) When Kaia got off the phone, she burst into tears. She knew we were pulling one over on her. Man, if you can’t trust your own parents, who can you trust?
For every example above, there are dozens more. I comfort myself, though, knowing I’m not alone. My friend once told me about her family’s ultimate trip to Disney World. The Magic Kingdom—a dream come true.
Except that the Magic Kingdom wasn’t so magical. One of her two sons was less interested in amazing rides and life-size, white-gloved rodents than in going swimming—in a cheap motel pool, mind you. Not even a Disney resort! Gripe after gripe after gripe. For hours.
My pregnant friend was beside herself and yelled at her son. “All this money, all this saving, all this planning, and all you can do is complain? We can go swimming any old time. This is Disney World, for goodness sake! You should be having the time of your life, because after this baby comes, we won’t be going anywhere for a long time!”
She excused herself to the bathroom to cry. At least she didn’t get arrested by Peter Pan or Mary Poppins. Didn’t she know that everyone is supposed to be happy at Disney World?
What family flops, flubs, feuds, and foibles are you experiencing? Past or present.
If you dare to share . . .
Please add your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!