It started out all frayed nerves and tested patience. It turned into fighting regrets, wavering self-trust, and lessons learned.
I’ve always been fairly confident in my parenting abilities. I have a mother who, while raising us in a home that doubled as a daycare, provided us with more education on parenting than average. We saw, come and go, dozens of children over the years, all of differing behavioral dispositions, receptiveness to discipline, even levels of intelligence. And my mom was and is a fabulous parent and daycare provider. She has always treated her charges as she would her own kids – no better, no worse, no more or less attention, and the rules that applied to us, applied to them and vice versa. And the kids were (and are) always there. They arrived before we were awake in the morning, and didn’t leave until dinner time.
Like I said, this meant I was involuntarily enrolled in a 26 year course in parenting before I had my own. At the time I was living at home, when I was still a kid myself, this was a burden at times. Just at times, not always. We benefited from always having someone to play with, nevermind the fact that our mom was always home; a privilege, no doubt. We constantly had fresh baked cookies or muffins, a hot lunch at home everyday, and a parent always present for anything we needed. But this also meant we had to share her for the majority of the day with other people’s kids. We had to share our toys with other people’s kids. We had to share our home with other people’s kids. By the time I was in my teenage years, I was ‘over it’. A little bit of quiet would have been nice.
All of this is just to say, in theory and on paper, I know about this parenting deal. I’ve been witness to pretty much any challange a child can throw at you and I’ve seen an expert deal with it appropriately. But, as we as parents all know, in theory and on paper is dramatically different, like worlds apart, from having to put the knowledge into practice. With a real, live child.
Eirinn was tough this morning. Not the worst she’s ever been, but she had her moments. She begged me for oatmeal (as a second breakfast) and after I made it she insisted she “No Like It.” She ran up the stairs when I asked her to sit on them to get ready. Nothing horrible, just naughty.
And then she hit me. Smacked me square in the nose with her finger, hard. It certainly didn’t hurt, but she meant it to.
So I slapped her hand.
This is where I have been fighting with myself. One moment I regret it deeply. I have always said “how can you teach a child that it’s wrong to hit by hitting them in return?” And really, how can you? It’s all fine to say do as I say, don’t do as I do, but a two year old won’t ever understand that. All she knows is that she did something Mommy didn’t like, so Mommy slapped her. So, if she were to learn from this lesson, if someone does something she doesn’t like, she should smack them. Not exactly what I was hoping she’d learn.
Yet in the next moment, I’m ok with what I did. She has to know why we don’t hit and that’s because it hurts*. And we don’t want to hurt people. After the hand slap, we had a long, heart-felt discussion, which she understood so well it brought tears to my eyes, about how we shouldn’t hit people, that we should be friends and we don’t want to hurt our friends. We discussed how if she doesn’t hit anyone, no one will hit her. We discussed how much Mommy loves her and how it hurts Mommy’s feelings when she is mean to Mommy. And in the end, with no provocation, Eirinn said “Poor Mommy,” apologized, and gave me a huge hug and a big kiss. It was all I could do to not stay home all day and hug my precious little baby.
It’s so hard to remember, as an adult who has mastered all of these basic theories, that starting out, we have no idea. How is she to know, without being taught, that hitting is wrong, or that we shouldn’t throw toys at the dog, or that food belongs in the bowl or in our mouth? So we have to be patient. She has so many lessons to learn, all at the same time, that I can see how it would take several mistakes before she fully grasps all of these new concepts. But it’s so hard to remember. After all, I’m new to this parenting thing and parents have just as many lessons to learn. The difference is, as a parent, we have to learn these while acting like we already knew them. We have to be instant experts. Or incredible actors.
Looking back now, I don’t know if I would do anything different. I know in an ideal world where children only needed to be told once and their parents kept their cool under any circumstance, I may not have raised my voice and just given her a time out and all would have been peachy. But my child isn’t like that and neither am I, so I slapped her hand to get my point across, we had our discussion about why I did what I did (because she did what she did), we apologized to each other, and if you ask her now, she knows not to hit. So under the circumstances, I don’t think I could have done anything differently and still come out with the same result.
But I’m still beating myself up inside, and why is this? Because there’s always self-doubt in parenting. We can’t escape it. No matter how much training we had before our kids came.
* I most certainly did not hit her hard enough for it to hurt. Absolutely not. She was shocked, for sure, but not in pain. I would never, ever purposely hurt my child. Ever.