And other lessons I’ve learned from parenting.
We got back home this past weekend from North Dakota, where we spent two weeks. Bob was there working on labs he needed to complete for his degree at UND (only two semesters to go!), and the kids and I went out there with him. We were lucky and were given an apartment through Student Housing (last year we stayed in a cramped motel room; or should I say mohell room?) Still, I’m fresh off of two weeks almost continually spent alone with my children (they usually go to daycare while I work), and it’s made me reflective.
Usually, with very little prompting, people are decent
We were in the deep north, basically in the middle of the US. This is really far where we live in real life.
We weren’t in our community, or even near to it. Culture is just slightly different when you travel that far. Familiar things are a little less familiar. We were treated exceptionally well. The baseline was kindness. This isn’t something I had to have kids to learn, but it is something that got validated by having twin toddlers. Basically, if people can be kind to you when they see two tiny tornados following you, everything is going to work out. Kindness begets kindness. However…
Haters gonna hate
It’s a bizarre truth that people exist (in the vast minority) who will judge a parent for choosing to have kids even when that same parent respects the other person’s choice not to. Haters (or Judgy McJudgersons, depending on your region) are all around, but it stinks when they are taking aim at your kids. But it’s ok! Nuts to them; we parents have had experience as both parents and as non-parents. Advantage: kids.
Creative thought is hard
My kids are about 2 and a half. This is a challenging age for parents, because the kids start to think for themselves, but they don’t have enough information. Like tiny versions of Hold My Beer, they make bad decision after bad decision and insist on seeing them through (or almost as annoying, redundant decision after redundant decision). My kids are so used to hearing about “good actions,” “bad actions,” “good decisions,” and “bad decisions” they can identify them and will chirp that something was a “bad action” — but only at each other. The rules don’t appear to apply to the beholder. (For the record, we parents do follow the rules we set for the kids.)
But all this working-things-out-on-their-own is teaching them how to make decisions that will work for them. Think back to every time as a kid you thought for yourself. You may have been annoying your parents, but as a parent, I’ll take the frustrations of a headstrong son and daughter if it gives them a better chance of standing up for themselves as they grow up.
Now that they’re starting to make more decisions for themselves, they are experimenting with what can best be termed “manipulation.” While this can be annoying (they can be a little obvious), it also can result in some really fun games. They’re starting to come up with original ideas by thinking about something they want, and then finding ways to get there. It’s extremely interesting to see them develop these ideas and see how quickly they consume information, especially about other people – after all, the better they read someone, the better chance they have of getting what they want.
While the likelihood that they could get hurt is pretty high (well, depending on what they’re trying to do), it’s still important for them to get to make some choices because the more experiences they have, the better they get at it.
“Partner” is a really good word, honestly
This is a much more general observation and not that related to our trip, but since I’m reflecting, “partner” is a pretty damn good word. I don’t really know what “husband” or “wife” means, although I am a wife and I have a husband (same for “spouse”). I know that they describe relationship, like “sibling” is a brother or sister, but when you get right down to it, you don’t want just a husband or wife; you want a partner (too). I like the connotation of husband/wife (or husband/husband, wife/wife, love=love, etc) very much – don’t get me wrong. Once we had kids, however, we got a chance to lean on each other (because newborns basically torture you), and hey! I, for one, rediscovered that besides having a husband, I have a partner too. When you have twins, having someone else on your team keeps things man-to-man. Running zone is tough work, especially when…
You can’t anticipate life with kids, before kids
Right after the babies were born was both a really amazing time and a really dark time. It’s amazing now. It was dark then. For one thing, I had grown these humans inside me, so I Knew Them Best. But once they were born, they were strangers and strange. And demanding. And frightening. And relentless. It was hard to share them, but it was impossible to parent them because life was about surviving through each two-hour segment (we were on a two-hour feed cycle for the first four weeks). Having another adult was a godsend, but it was extremely difficult to not be excessively protective. It doesn’t make sense, but it was reality. Fortunately, we eventually were able to sleep more (co-sleeping worked really well for us), and we all adjusted to each other.
After spending the past two weeks with the kids, it’s still amazing how much they are still strangers. They have their own thoughts and their own ideas and they are absolutely not my minions (despite my best efforts).
Kind of the mental image you have of having kids (I had of having kids, I should say), is that they’re maybe toddlers, maybe babies, but you have a special connection and there’s a lot of love and trust. And that’s not exactly the way it works. I had a fierce protectiveness towards the kids when they were new. We worked our way up to love. The bond also happens, but it isn’t magically there – you develop it over time. I couldn’t process when they were born that they were separate (from me) humans who I hadn’t yet met, and that we would have to develop a relationship, just like all other humans. Aristotle wrote that humans, by nature, are political beings. By and large, we want to be in relationships. It’s why we have society – because we want one so we started it and have maintained it ever since.
Empty threats are empty
And threats in general are lame to the max. Spending a lot of time in a little pseudo-culture comprising my family, you find the things that motivate and the things that do not. We would joke about turning the car around, for example, but neither of us would ever reasonably throw that out there. Partly because it is a goat rodeo to get the kids into the car so going right back home would be frustrating. Partly because we have had so much more success by reinforcing good actions/decisions and trying hard to not give any extra attention to poor decisions (this can be hard when you get really angry at the tenth cup of water dumped on the floor). Something in here is making me think of those celebrities who crave attention via self-destruction. I won’t know until way in the future if this parenting actually helps raise rational humans, but it’s safe to assume I wouldn’t be putting my eggs into this basket if I didn’t suspect it to be the case.
Empty threats will be made
Sleeplessness will be blamed. You say stupid things when you’re at the end of your rope. Sometimes you say them really loudly to no one in particular but to the room at large. You’ll do better next time. Today’s spaghetti-face is tomorrow’s reminder to pack wipes.