“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.”
I took my toddler to the dentist this week. He did really well last time, so I anticipated an easy experience. The minute we walked into the clinic, he started crying. It was manageable at that point with intermittent moments of quiet. I was thinking, as long as he gets something to distract him, we will be ok. The clinic was great, they brought us back to our room within minutes, but as soon as we were in the room and the door shut, he started screaming.
This quickly transitioned into a full-on temper tantrum that had no apparent cause other than him being in a place he didn’t want to be. Watching this all happen as if in slow motion, his face changing as his agitation increased, I knew I had virtually no chance of doing anything to stop it.
As his behavior escalated, I felt the judgement of everyone in the office. The watchful eyes of the other parents, the pitying and reproachful looks of the office staff that were telling me, “you sad, inexperienced mother, learn to discipline your child.” I also started judging myself, thinking, if this were someone else, I’d be snickering to myself, “my kid doesn’t act like THAT.”
As my internal monologue continued, I became increasingly anxious, and started profusely sweating. Which just worsened everything. I was also trying my best to calm him down, but to no avail. I even considered (momentarily) doing the one thing I have vowed to never do, which is give him my phone. It would have been my ‘Hail Mary,’ a last ditch attempt in the hopes I could pull up a video that might quiet him down.
I felt like a total parental fail. It was awful. Fortunately the dentist was pretty nice and tried his best to keep a neutral demeanor. He quickly examined JP as he screamed, talked to me for a quick minute and let me go so that the tantrum couldn’t continue in his office.
I was mortified. I left the office feeling like the world was not only judging my parenting, but also my child, and neither were good.
Then I thought to myself, why do I care? I know my husband and I are doing are best to provide discipline and are working diligently to reprimand behavior that we don’t like. Other people’s judgments don’t matter, right?
In addition, children are totally unpredictable. To think that I have complete control over my almost two-year-old’s behavior is crazy. For anyone. I realized in moments like these, I have to learn to give myself a break.
Right now in my life I am personally trying to interrupt my own judgmental tendencies. I am also trying to stop feeling as though others are constantly judging me. In this endeavor, I have felt more free than ever before and recognize the constraints we put on life when we operate from judgement.
Despite my good intentions, adding my son into this mix made my efforts much harder and it was more challenging to dismiss other’s judgments. It was now my kid, not just me, and I became much more reactionary. Wanting to defend him, explain myself and stop everyone from thinking ill of my (normally sweet) toddler.
This experience has led me to also acknowledge that I’m feeling a lot of pressure these days around parenting. I’m feeling it from almost everyone I encounter, from parents of small children to parents of older children, friends of ours and mere acquaintances.
There is so much pressure and expectations. Pressure to have my son be potty-trained, pressure to have him in pre-school. Expectations that he be involved in swimming classes or soccer or music lessons. I feel pressured to have him dressed in a cute outfit, to take away his pacifier, to count the number of words he says and report it proudly to all who will listen. It is as if these things are a reflection of how much I love him or how much I will do as his mother.
I realize this is the state of parenting these days. Every parent seems to be afraid that their child will be average, so they do everything in their power to avoid that possibility. Teach them to read early, get them to learn a foreign language, encourage athleticism, etc. Hopefully the result is that they are ahead of their peers, and their parents are subsequently rewarded with other’s approval. I feel like it’s asking them to grow up really fast. So everyone can marvel at how advanced they are.
So much pressure. JP is not even two.
For me, the most important things right now are to teach him boundaries, respect for others, and hopefully to manage his emotions so he doesn’t have a temper tantrum every time he goes to see the dentist. I want to teach him to love, be silly, to laugh at things, to be infinitely curious.
I realize that the pressure I am feeling comes from other parents who are likely feeling unsure or inadequate about their own parental choices, so they project those anxieties onto whoever will listen. The more anxious the parent, the more forceful they will be about their opinions about pre-school, or potty-training or pacifier removal. I am learning to listen and nod, and read my audience before I calmly explain that I have no intention to enroll him in pre-school any time soon.
The reality for us as parents is that each child is different, and each will have their own strengths and weaknesses. It is not my decision what those will be, regardless of how many classes I put him in. I’m finding myself struggling with all of it. I mean, I want my kid to grow up with opportunities, too. I want him to explore his interests, learn what it feels to be successful and learn to enjoy the process of learning.
But. I don’t want to impose my agenda, my wants and needs, as I want him to figure things for himself. I want him to learn to be his own individual, to learn what he likes to do, what his passions are.
I am constantly asking myself, ‘Do I have to do anything right now?’ Will his future trajectory be solely decided whether or not he learns to play soccer at 2?’
Or can I let us continue to luxuriate in the ‘unplanned play.’ To use our imaginations, to let each day we have together proceed in the most organic way.
I have learned that for me, too much on the calendar is stressful. Could that be true for our children as well? Or am I being short-sighted—and the more chances they have to find passions, the more likely they will, which will set them on a trajectory for a purposeful life.
I think I am struggling so much because I realize it is just the beginning. We have years of this coming, and I think it is only going to get worse. Soon our lives will become more complicated and he will have his own thoughts and opinions about what he wears, what he likes and what he wants to do. Each of these ‘seasons’ of our lives are going to be met with many other people’s expectations, judgments and an enormous amount of pressure.
I think for now I am going to hit ‘pause.’ Take a breath, and not actually DO anything right now. We have lots of time.
What about you? Do any of you struggle with the pressures being placed by others?