I was not prepared for parenthood when I had my first baby … Not at all.
When she was just a year old, I thought I could train her to play with everyday objects rather than toys. The thought of a house full of noisy, plastic pieces strewn everywhere made me cringe.
Then her grandparents took us to a store to buy her a birthday present. They put a Fisher-Price bus in her hands with five little people to go with it. We told her that she could keep it, that it was hers. The look on her face was priceless. She looked as if she’d been given pure gold. It was as if she couldn’t believe that this treasure was actually hers!
Needless to say, we have purchased hundreds, maybe thousands, of toys since that day.
That was one of my first clues as to my lack of prowess in the parenting field.
I eventually signed up for a parenting course. I picked one that promised you would get your kids to obey the first time, every time with zero yelling.
I could only hope.
I studied those modules harder than I did for the ACT. I took diligent notes on the material I was learning and the experiences I was having at home. I called in every week to ask my questions according to what I’d learned. I was having problems with one child in particular. I was scared with how much I lost my temper with this little one and needed a way to fix it as fast as possible.
The parenting coach picked up the phone and I proceeded to explain my situation. The details are not important. The conversation went something like this:
“Well, why don’t you try this?”
“I’ve tried that. He then does this.”
“Well, then do this.”
“I did that, then he does this.”
And so on and so forth until the author of this course got so exasperated with her advice not solving my problems that she exclaimed, “Well, then something’s wrong with him.”
Logically, I should have been offended. But I was actually relieved and felt a wave of satisfaction.
My child’s behavior wasn’t my fault. This woman’s famous parenting techniques that she promised would fix all of my problems didn’t apply to me.
This experience was just the beginning of our journey down a road of getting my son the mental health care that he needed to succeed in the world.
But it taught me something else.
There is no silver bullet to well-behaved children or to good parenting.
And while some children are better at following the rules than others, that does not make them better or worse kids. It just makes them different.
I have two kids who are professional rule followers and two who are professional rule breakers. Their genders and ages have nothing to do with it. The rule followers are 12 and 6 years old. One is a boy and one is a girl. The rule breakers are 11 and 9, both are boys. It’s just who they are. And there are pros and cons to each personality.
The rule followers are excellent at trusting others’ instructions, they’re teachable and coachable. But they struggle trusting their own intuition and it’s hard to teach them whose rules to trust and when it is OK to not follow them at all.
My rule breakers spend a lot of time learning and relearning the importance of the rules around them. But when given free rein, their creativity and leadership abilities astound me.
The fact that I view one group as easier to parent than the other is my issue, not theirs.
I am so wary of products or parents who claim that they know how to fix someone else’s kid.
First of all, viewing kids as an object to be fixed is so damaging.
Second, I truly believe that there are little to no bad parents. Almost all parents love their kids and want what’s best for them. They may lack access to resources, not know how to love their kids in a healthy way or be misguided in what is truly best for them, but the desire and love is always there.
Yes, let’s share parenting stories and lessons learned, but for the sole purpose of each parent deciding for themselves if that tool will fit in their parenting toolbox.
Yes, let’s be free to be annoyed by other people’s kids. But remember that the annoyance is our issue, not theirs and it’s OK to set boundaries.
When it comes to the parents I interact with, I will continue to believe that they are good people who don’t need me to tell them how to help their kids, they have that power in themselves. But what they could use is a listening ear and a vote of confidence in their ability to figure it out.
Stacy Carruth is a mother of four in Arapahoe County