Monday, October 26, 2009

The Apple and the Tree

I believe all mothers have feelings of inadequacy. We wonder if we're doing everything the best way we can for our kids. We are riddled with doubt and fear. Here are a few questions I've been asking myself lately:

Am I handling my child's tantrums appropriately?

How best should I discipline my child?

What can I do to get my child to eat more vegetables?

What can I do to get my child to eat more of anything other than candy?

What can I do to get my child to eat anything at all?

Am I providing enough of a stimulating environment?

How can I give more one-on-one time and still get the dishes done?

How can I suppress the desire to yell "Shut up!" at my kids?

How can I balance my attention-giving so each child has his/her needs met?

Am I permanently scarring my child by the way I'm (fill in the blank)?


What children don't realize is that parents don't have all the answers. We are not the sum of all wisdom. We're not sure how to handle most situations. We just do the best we can.

When I was a kid I thought that my parents' word was law. I thought they knew what they were doing, and when it didn't happen to suit me (for instance, when my screaming reached such a pitch that I was ordered to go to my room) I felt that they were making me suffer on purpose. This belief urged me to scream louder to punish my mother for punishing me.

My mother says that I was a sweet and happy baby. I never made an unhappy sound. Then she says when I turned two I started screaming and never stopped.

I now know how she feels. I have a two year old who has started screaming.

As a child I strongly identified with Beverly Cleary's character Ramona Quimby. Ramona was the little sister. Ramona suffered many injustices in the world, at least in her eyes. Ramona was always making great big noisy fusses. I learned from her how to make my noisy fusses great and big. She taught me, for instance, that when exiled to one's bedroom, the tantrum need not end. In fact, it must escalate in order to serve its purpose. However, a tantrum taking place in a closed room is much more easily ignored by the supervising adult. So the effort channeled into the tantrum must increase.

Ramona's greatest teaching moment for me in this regard is when she put on her Sunday shoes (because they had that hard heel) and laid on her bed sideways so that she could kick the wall. The heel not only make a louder sound against the wall than if she kicked it with tennis shoes or stockinged feet, but they also made rather satisfying black scuff marks as well.

I know I followed Ramona's example on more than one occasion. I don't know if it served it's purpose in making my mother suffer as I was suffering, but now that I'm a mother suffering at the hand of my toddler, I assume it did. Mom never mentioned the wall-kicking though. She probably didn't want to draw attention to it. That gave me permission to keep doing it. And I did. Until my mother kept ignoring it so long that it felt futile. What was the point of destruction if it didn't get me anywhere?

I feel empathy for my daughter. I remember what it was like to be so full of dissatisfaction, frustration, and unmet needs and desires that I was always on emotional overload. It doesn't feel good, and I needed an outlet. My daughter clearly does too.

Jenny screams and whines at the slightest provocation. She never behaves this way in front of extended family. No auntie or grandparent privy to her whining has ever heard what those little lungs can really do.

When Jenny throws a tantrum there is much screaming and mucous flowing. As I remain unmoved by her histrionics, she elevates them. Her screaming becomes strained and forced, to the point that I know she's hurting her throat.

"Good!" She probably thinks. "That'll show mom!"

Ah, poor girl. If only I could explain in toddlerese that these tactics will not prove fruitful. They will only upset her and me both, resulting in neither one of us getting what we want.

Someday I will be the grandparent. She will be the mother with the hysterical toddler. She'll get hers, poor kid.


Jennifer & Nathan Kay said...

Maren, I think you are an amazing mom with an amazing and gifted little girl. She adores you and is just trying to figure this out along with you. Somebody is spreading this vicious rumor that we're to do things perfect the first time around. Don't listen! Yes, pray constantly for help and direction because Heavenly Father knows Jenny better than you do, but be forgiving with yourself. You are incredibly loved and it will all work out!

Mama B said...

We are in the same boat. My two year old can throw a tantrum like no ones business. I calmly remind her that I invented those tantrums and they have no power over me and i put her in a time out...after 6 mo they are becoming less frequent and less intense.

Remember, like all childhood stages this too shall pass...hopefully quickly!

Susan said...

If I had it to do over again, I would send you to your room to cry it out WAY less and hold you WAY more. I loved you then, I love you now. I love the tantrum-thrower, too. Someday you will miss your darling/vexing two-year-old.

Gramma Dora said to my mom, "These are the happiest years of your life." And Mom thought, "THIS???" And, of course, it was true.

JaeReg said...

Just like Grandma Dora, all the sweet old ladies of my ward look at my children swirling around my feet, get this far-off look in their eyes and advise me to "Enjoy every minute. These will be the best years of your life."

And I think to myself "take them for an hour and see how many of those sixty minutes seem enjoyable."
But of course they know exactly what they are saying. They had more children than I, with just as many responsibilities, less modern conveniences, and husbands who might not have been quite so modern (i.e. helpful) as my own.
These women know what goes on inside my house and my head, and still they are firm in their declaration that it doesn't get better than this.
Kind of strange, but it helps.