I was going to be a parent. I was ready. (It’s so cute that I thought that.)
Parenting is hard. Single parenting can be torture. We make mistakes. We have no idea what we’re doing. We’re sure we’ve ruined our kid’s life — or kids’ lives — because:
“No one taught me how to be a parent!” Every first-time parent.
Maybe you just weren’t paying attention.
Unless you raised yourself in a desert or a jungle or an ice cave of Hoth and not even the wolves or wampas wanted you, parenting lessons were all around. Every waking moment.
There are lots of people who had way worse childhoods than mine. People who were truly neglected, abused, or unwanted. But none of us survive childhood unscathed. Everybody carries at least a Dolce & Gabbana clutch of baggage into Adulthood.
My childhood was filled with sisters, family meals, science experiments, trips to Disneyland, the zoo, the fair, birthday parties, Santa Claus, vacations, movies, TV, and music. My baggage wasn’t Dolce & Gabbana, but I took up residence in Adulthood with a train case Mom got me on sale. Probably at Sears.
I unpacked it one painful memory at a time, like broken bits of crayons, examining each with as objective an eye as I could command, imagining a way to turn those bits into a beautiful artwork of my life. A few pieces were from old friends. Mom added four chunks: one putrid pink, one angry red, one glowering black, and one slap-in-the-face fuscia (a story for another day — maybe). Dad gave me all the rest.
Growing up during the Great Depression, he had certain values I didn’t share. Having a job was important; you didn’t have to like it. Financial security was important; that’s where happiness came from. He was a very intelligent man with an empiricist’s approach to everything. Hence his career as an aerospace engineer.
His best advice to me was:
“Learn to take care of yourself. Never get married.” Dear old Dad
That wasn’t one of the broken crayons. That was a wall-sized coloring page that hung in my brain and remained uncolored till I was on my own.
I’m not sure how he expected me to follow that advice. He told me I never did anything correctly. My judgment of people was poor. My experience was meaningless. Nothing I did was interesting or important. I would never amount to anything unless I majored in math and got into computers where I could start at a decent wage and they couldn’t stop me because I was a woman. He was always right and I was always wrong.
Maybe being an introvert saved me. Instead of getting angry, pouting in my room, and vowing to run out in the street, get hit by a truck, and die — then he’d be sorry! — I tried to figure out why he was like that. How had his parents treated him? I made allowances for him to be who he was, but I watched my own progress to see who I was. Did my judgment about people prove to be accurate? Did I learn from my mistakes? I pulled the plug on my inner cassette player to stop the tapes my dad had recorded in my head. I would never treat a child like that. That’s an effective parenting lesson.
By the time my son was three, I had dealt with all that crap and was satisfied I had erased those tapes.
Three is a trying age. People talk about Terrible Twos, but they are little angels compared to the Threatened Threes. My 22+ years of child care support this. Every single three year old on Earth is lucky to make it to four. Two year olds will tell you, “No!” but it’s a game, and it’s easy to distract them. (Don’t bother to argue — 22+ years of experience here.) But three year olds mean it. They are testing you. If you show weakness, they will Eat. You. Alive.
Sometimes you have to yell at them.
Imagine my horror the first time I opened my mouth to yell at my three year old son, and Dad came out.
WHOA! I clamped my mouth shut so fast, I’m not sure my son heard me yell anything at all. (Fortunately, most 3 year olds are also selectively deaf.) But it shook me so hard, it changed me for the better; from that moment on, I worked to be a much more mindful parent than I had been.
No more whining. No more excuses. We spend our childhood learning how to be a parent. Do something worthwhile with all those broken crayons.