Sometimes good parenting feels bad.
Like when you take your baby to the pediatrician for shots. Or when you bring your toddler to preschool for the first time and the teacher literally has to peel him off of you, and the crying you hear as the door shuts behind you haunts you for the rest of the day. Or when you sign your child up for a survival swim class and the swim instructor tosses your crying child into a pool over and over again to teach him to turn, kick, and reach for the wall. Or when you cut off your drug addicted child because you know letting him hit rock bottom is the only way to save him. (This last one hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve seen it on television.)
Yesterday, I shared a moment with each of my boys that broke their hearts (and mine), but, I hope, will be remembered in the end as examples of good parenting.
It started at dinner with my in-laws. Because of Dylan’s sensory/food issues, he has a hard time in restaurants. It’s where regressions, whining, and bad behavior usually occur. I did what I always do. I reminded him that we weren’t just there to eat, but to spend time with our family, that we weren’t leaving until everyone had a chance to eat dinner, that he was not to cause a scene the precise moment everyone’s food arrived at the table, and that if he didn’t want to eat anything on the table, he was to simply say, “No thank you.” As you can imagine, things didn’t go as planned.
The idea that Dylan will spend his entire life avoiding food breaks my heart, and I’m reminded of it every time we share a meal at home, in a restaurant, or anywhere for that matter. We’re working hard to “fix” him, but the reality is that he’ll probably always have some level of food sensitivity. About half way through dinner (and his relentless mealtime antics), he turned to me and said smugly, “Mommy, even when I grow up, I’ll never eat new food.”
That was it. I looked him in the eye and said, “Dylan, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” He asked, “Why?” I said, “Because it makes me feel sad. The thought of you never enjoying food makes me want to cry.” (It really does.) He was silent after that, but a few minutes later, he burst into tears and said he wanted to go home. Was he just perpetuating his mealtime schtick? Probably. But I believe he also understood in his heart how I felt. When we finally got home, Dylan asked me if I was mad at him. “Not mad,” I told him. “Just upset.” I tried to explain the difference, but I’m not sure he understood.
As if surviving dinner with Dylan hadn’t depleted me of all my energy, patience, and the will to remain standing (Mike was at work, by the way), Riley proved to be my Kryptonite that evening. We came home to a massive toy explosion in the family room. This is not an unusual occurrence, but I was in an unusually ornery mood.
I told them it was time to clean up the toys. Not surprisingly, they didn’t want to. “All by myself?” Dylan asked. “Yes,” I said. “If you’re capable of making the mess by yourself, you’re certainly capable of cleaning it up by yourself.”
Editor’s note: I think when parents say things like this, kids are programmed to hear the sound the teacher from Charlie Brown makes: “Wah wah wah wah wah.”
In a brief moment of sympathy (and a desire to get the job done quickly so we could move on to more unpleasant activities like brushing teeth), I reconsidered. “I’ll help, but you and Riley need to help, too.” So, I started packing up the gazillion plastic bugs strewn all over the floor while both boys wandered aimlessly around the room staring at the bugs (and Hot Wheels and super heroes and Star Wars figures) and wondering if they might get away with wandering while I cleaned. When I was done packing up the bugs, Riley said, “But I was playing with the bugs.” Then he dumped the entire bucket of bugs back on the floor. Then he said, “I want to get a game from the closet.” He did a double “D” – he dumped the toys and then immediately deserted them for something else.
I lost it. I told them that no one was playing with anything until Riley cleaned up the bugs. That it was rude and disrespectful for him to dump them out right after I spent the time to clean them up. That there was a new rule – any toys that weren’t cleaned up before bedtime would disappear while they were sleeping. Dylan asked, “Forever?” I said, “Yes, forever.”
Riley burst into tears. He wanted me to pick him up, but I refused. He sobbed big three-year-old tears, but as much as I wanted to comfort him, I was also mad (not to be confused with upset) at him. As I walked out of the room, I heard Dylan say, “Riley, I’ll help you clean the bugs.” A few minutes later, Dylan came to my room where I was taking a timeout and said, “Mommy, come with me and tell me if you still see a mess.” He held my hand the whole way back to the family room where every toy was magically put away. Riley hugged me, and Dylan asked, “Are you happy?” I was.
Then Dylan asked if he could make a sticker chart for him and Riley for cleaning up the toys. And he wanted to add “put clothes in laundry basket” and “bring plates to the kitchen” to the chart, too. Sure. By the time we got the paper, crayons, markers, and stickers out, they decided to make pictures for daddy and their cousins in San Francisco instead.
Sometimes good parenting feels bad. Fortunately, it usually feels good again. (Until its time to brush teeth and go to sleep. Then it most definitely feels bad again.)
Do you have any good parenting that feels bad stories?