New Years typically inspires people to reflect on the year just passed. This holiday I found myself reflecting on two kinds of parenting moments that left an impression on me: 1) those moments that make you flinch, wince, or basically give yourself a big thumbs down, and 2) those moments that leave you smiling, proud, and with a sense you are doing something right as a Mom.
Here are some of both kinds of moments from my past year:
Thumbs down. The-Mom-As-Serial-Frog-Killer-debacle.
My intentions were good. I figured wee dwarf frogs in a cool eco-container would be the perfect first pet experience for my daughter (we live in a no-pets-allowed home). One minute we're naming dear Flicker and Farkle, giggling as they frolic and strike their characteristic "zen" pose. A week later, Flicker is floating in a distinctly non-Zen way and we're doing the classic toilet-flush memorial service ("he was a good little frog who loved to jump and pose -- now off to the ocean with you!"). While the surviving Farkle looked peckish too, we had high hopes for his longevity. But a frog family was apparently not meant to be. "But why did they die?" our daughter kept asking. Later research led us to believe the water temperature had become too cold. Foolishly, we told our daughter this information. Oh, the furrowed brows and tone that accompanied her subsequent interrogation! And always, the guilt for failing those wee froggies.
Thumbs up. Watching my daughter overcome a fear.
I have a vivid childhood memory of being too afraid to ride the Matterhorn on my first trip to Disneyland. In that young moment, I recognize the seeds of what I call my "wimpy streak." So when we took Maya on her first Disneyland trip, I related when she announced she was too scared to go on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. My husband and I both agreed that the dark setting, pirates, loud noises and water drop might be too much for her. But by nightfall, she had willed herself to push past her fear, announcing "I'll be brave." The look of pride on her face at the end of the ride was an amazing thing to see. I couldn't have been prouder of her. My 3-year old is inspiring me to be brave, too.
Thumbs down. The "cheering versus swearing" lesson.
This year I learned that when your favorite baseball team is finally participating in a World Series, it doesn't give you license to swear at the televised games like a bleacher bum. Did we cheer as our team kept rising up the ranks? You bet. Did our daughter hear us swear (repeatedly) and start parroting and/or asking questions? You bet. Lesson learned: Watch your mouths unless you want to hear "Mommy, what's a #($*# jerk?"
Thumbs up. When "Twinkle Twinkle" became "God Bless America"
Like a lot of little ones, my daughter loves to sing. In most every instance, we've taught her the song or she learned it in pre-school. So I was blown away one morning to hear my 3-year old playing in her room, suddenly belting out a slightly flat but word-for-word rendition of God Bless America. Apparently that intense baseball viewing season had exposed her to the song enough times -- but who knew? I can't stop prompting her to perform for all my friends and relatives. And she does, belting the big finish in the best off-key screech that only a mother could love.
Thumbs down. The "Mommy Just Needs to be Left Alone" meltdowns.
We want to think our kids have tantrums while we calmly and effectively enforce our disciplinary rules and restore order. But at least three times this past year, my daughter and I have mutually imploded in crying, hissy-fit scenes with each other. I didn't think I'd ever resort to putting myself in timeout until I could calm down and restore my parenting sanity, but it was the smartest thing to do, along with taking a few deep breaths. (Of course, I avoided the "one minute for every year or age" rule or she would have been waiting on me forever.) But the bottom line is, these incidents left me disappointed in myself for losing patience and raising my voice. I know I teach by example, and I want to teach the right things.
Thumbs up. She sings "our song" now.
When Maya was an infant, I made up this simple night-time song for her: "I love you high as the highest mountain, deep as the deepest sea, wide as the widest valley, that's what you mean to me." I still sing it at times to comfort her. Recently Maya saw me with tears in my eyes about something and she came up to me, climbed in my lap, and began singing the song softly to make me smile. And I did, ear to ear. Moments like that make the frog funerals and mommy meltdowns a whole lot better.
Just curious -- have you ever (a) put yourself in time out, or (b) created a special song with your child?
When not musing about motherhood and parenting after 50, Diana Dull Akers, PhD is an applied research sociologist. She writes and creates educational resources on a variety of health and prevention topics with a focus on gender, aging, sexuality and cultural identity.