This Isn't My Childhood

Mother and daughter (8-9 years) arguing
Mother and daughter (8-9 years) arguing

I have survived two decades of parenting by talking to myself. My incantations are my alter ego reminding me to put things in perspective, step back and take a breath and that things will probably be okay. So while the mom voice in my head is shrieking, at myself or my kids, there is a calmer quieter voice reminding me to count to 10 before I speak.

Well, at least no one was hurt. My kids have smashed walls (who knew drywall was so easy go through), cars (ah yes, well) and every toy of value they were ever given. Boys seem to have a seek-and-destroy mechanism that is programmed from birth so this was one of the first parenting phrases I learned to say to myself. I still say it to myself when they call and begin the conversation with, "Mom, there is something I need to tell you...."

He doesn't mean that, he really doesn't. The first time one of my kids railed at me with the words, "you don't understand anything, anything!" I had to repeat these words. My crime? I had scheduled a play date for a fifth grader without asking first. This refrain works in response to a wide variety of invectives from, "You are ruining my life", to everyone's favorite, "I hate you" to my polite child's "I don't really like you right now."

I am the parent, he is a child. This one usually requires much repetition because it is rolled out at the moments when we feel most unsure about our parenting. Some parenting decisions can find us sitting on the fence. Curfew stretched to 1 a.m. for a special occasion? Sleepover at a house you are not 100 percent about? When we remember the first rule of parenting is to trust our instincts and say "no," this is the reminder that if our kids' judgements were sound, they would no longer need to live with us.

Lots of people have baby vomit in their hair. I told myself this more than once while standing in front of the bathroom mirror in the bank at which I worked. It was not true, but my other option was to burst into a flood of tears over the way I must have smelled. And telling myself this made me feel better.

This isn't my childhood. While it would seem that such information is obvious, it is hard not to refer to our own childhoods and decide that what worked for us should work for our kids. It doesn't. The world has changed far too much to make many of our reference points relevant. Yet, it is really hard to parent without reference points. It doesn't matter that our kids should be able to roam far more freely or study for the SAT far less. This is not 1980 and the sooner I let go of notions from the disco era, the better. Sometimes I find myself starting a sentence with, "We didn't do this when we were kids and we turned out fine" and then I stop, and remind myself that this is not my childhood.

Punishment should be a learning experience, not an opportunity for payback. Punishing kids is hard, and, in the heat of the moment, the temptation is to take away food, water and oxygen. While resisting this urge, I remind myself that some of life's important lessons are learned when we err, if only I as a parent can remember to teach those lessons rather than simply shrieking into the ether.

There is plenty of time for everything. Dating in Middle School? No. Sixteen-year-old birthday party at a "teen" night club? No. Breaking curfew for this once-in-a-lifetime event that only goes on until 3 a.m.? No. Destination 12th birthday party? Are you kidding? No, no just no. Everything in life is better at the right time. Sixteen-year-olds go on dates, not 12-year olds. Destination events are weddings, not kids' parties.  And while my child might not know this... I do.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

What Should Kids Be Learning These Days?