It’s one of the oldest games in the book , “Stop Hitting Yourself”. For anyone who isn’t familiar (ie: didn’t grow up with brothers or sisters) it’s fairly basic. You take the hand of your significantly weaker sibling, and then proceed to force them to smack themselves in the face with said hand until such time as the victim’s screaming alerts your parents to the fact that you are exhibiting early sociopathic tendencies. Good times.
Now this is the classic version. I have noticed, however, there’s a new version circling around. This one, however, is being played by the parents. Worse, it looks like in some cases the person taking the victim’s hand to do the smacking is the victim her/himself.
Case in point: last week I just happened to stop by a friend’s desk in another office and see how she was doing. For whatever reason, I seem to forget every time I see her that her child is no longer six months old. Apparently without my knowing, the child has inf fact reached two years of age. I’m going to chalk this up to lack of sleep and the fact that I’m pushing 40 myself, which pretty much means the end is nigh. Anyhoo, my friend just happens to be one of the sweetest, most convivial people you would ever wish to meet. At work, she’s someone I know I can turn to with any workplace problem in a heartbeat, and she will always find an answer. This is wonderful considering the fact that nary a day goes by that I haven’t managed to screw something up. She never judges. She simply diagnoses the problem, helps me correct it, tells me not to worry, and emphasizes that to err is human. She’s fantastic.
Unfortunately, she doesn’t take her own advice.
She shared with me how her little buddy hadn’t been sleeping. It didn’t seem to matter what she attempted to do, he would wake up in the middle of the night and proceed to destroy any hope she or her husband had of restorative slumber. She had tried everything – lullabies, stories, consistent scheduling, etc. Nothing seemed to be doing the trick. It was starting to take a toll. In fact, this lovely person, one of the most decent, forgiving people I know, had reached a limit. Tears started to stream as she recounted the difficulty she was having. It wasn’t just because her boy wouldn’t go to sleep. It was because SHE couldn’t get him to sleep.
Anyone with kids knows that feeling. That gnawing doubt that comes when you can’t get your child to cooperate with engaging in the basic necessities of life like eating, sleeping, or eliminating waste. “These are natural human functions,” you tell yourself, “why in the Hell is it so hard to just get the kid to eat a slice of banana?”. Unfortunately, the answer we quickly jump to is, “it’s me.”
Fatigue can play tricks with your mind, and this is one of the worst. Usually, with proper rest, we can take a step back and realize that’s crazy talk. Let’s face it, a starving velociraptor would be easier to train than a two-year-old (or a child of any age, for that matter).
Parenting is nothing more than making a series of mistakes until you finally hit a solution that works for both yourself and your child. No other profession in the history of man has consisted of more trial and error than parenting. I don’t care how many damn “What to Expect if You’re Expecting” or “Dr. Spock” books you read in a vain effort to prepare while your little one was in utero. The problem is that no one has ever written a book about YOUR kid! (also, that the Dr. Spock who wrote all those child development books wasn’t the one that could teach us how to properly perform the Vulcan Nerve Pinch to put those fussy little humans o-u-t!!).
Think about it – you go into a hospital, probably after you sat through a three hour birthing class, have a kid, and two days later are given a piece of paper telling you not to shake the child and wishes of “good luck”. CDL drivers get more training than parents. It’s like the old saying, “you need a license to drive, but anyone can have a kid”. So now you have this little thing that you’re pretty sure is going to break if you sneeze while holding it, and no clue what you’re doing. What do you do? Why, you look to other parents! Surely they have answers, right?
Too bad those answers are usually, “oh, you think you’ve got it bad now, just wait until later!” or “just count yourself luck you have less kids than I do!”.
And now someone else is taking your hand and smacking you with it. Yeah. This helps.
What it boils down to is that we beat ourselves up because we figure everyone else has their sh!t together when it comes to raising their own kids. That’s probably the funniest thing you’ll ever think to yourself. Here’s the unfortunate truth: NONE OF US KNOW WHAT WE’RE DOING. Know why parents are the quickest people in the world to give advice, or worse, harp on what you’re doing “wrong”? BECAUSE WE’RE TRYING TO CONVINCE OURSELVES THAT WE KNOW WHAT WE’RE DOING!!
It’s not always conscious, and it’s not that your friends are actively trying to crush your spirit. It’s just that they need some kind of reassurance that THEY’RE not screwing up. However, as someone who has (with great remorse) caught himself engaging in the same grotesque practice, let me assure you that this is not the case. It doesn’t matter if you held The Guinness World Record on diaper changing. It doesn’t matter how many “My Kid’s on the Honor Roll” stickers you have on your bumper. Somewhere, things aren’t going exactly to plan, and you’re still screwing SOMETHING up.
Maybe you’re overtaxing your kid with extra-curriculars. Maybe you can get them to eat anything, but can’t get them to sleep to save your life. Maybe they sleep, but taking them out into public is like reenacting “The Purge”. You’ve got all the answers on how to handle a two year old? Well, that’s because you’ve already lived through it and now you have a six year old you don’t know what to do with. Whatever the case may be, you’re not perfect, your kids aren’t perfect, and nothing will ever change that.
The good news is, that’s okay.
We’re humans. We weren’t designed to be perfect. All we can ever do is the best we can with what we’ve got. If something’s not working, we can always admit it (which I know is easier said than done) and try something new. Also, time is the great healer. As bad as things with the kid may seem right now, you’ll usually find that they get better with time. Eventually, the kid will sleep, eat, and poop at will.
So please, fellow parents, do not respond to a plaintive plea for hope with “just wait!”. That’s not what your fellow parents need to hear, anymore than you did when the shoe was on the other foot. How about instead a little affirmation? Something along the lines of this; “yeah, I know things are tough now. I’m happy to share what worked (and what didn’t) with my kid(s), but I can’t guarantee it’ll work for yours. Just trust in the fact that nobody on Earth loves and knows that kid better than you do. Things’ll get better. Give it time. Oh, and please STOP HITTING YOURSELF!”.
Author reserves the right to ignore his own advice. He’s an imperfect parent, too.