The Day My Kid "Broke" Me
My daughter runs through mood cycles. A few weeks good, a few weeks bad. I know this. And yet it's weeks like the one we've just had that I can't help but start to doubt myself as a parent. Usually my kid does an abrupt turn-around right before I write TWP which helps me to gloss over the lesser parts. Not this week. I swore when I started MinkFlamingos that I would write about parenting with HONESTY (something I thought was utterly lacking in the resources I had going into becoming a parent myself.)
My child is rude. My child is violent. My child is insolent. My child is selfish. My child is... [gulp, maybe] a spoiled brat. My child is utterly lacking in empathy.
Logic tells me that's she's just going through a bad spell. She's coming down from that nasty virus. She's tired a lot (she has been, more than normal), to the point that she'll actually ADMIT to being tired and wanting to go to bed. She's barely eating so maybe she's coming down from a growth spurt. She's just being a toddler and this is what toddlers do. I repeat all these things to myself as my child acts out YET AGAIN. If you're not a parent and you're reading this, I'd like you to try to get a glimpse into the incredibly delicate parenting tightrope my husband and I walk every day:
We Must Instill Discipline In Our Child.
A Strong-Willed Child Makes for a Strong-Willed, Independent, Leadership-Embracing Adult.
Provide Your Strong-Willed Child With the Illusion of Choice.
If You Let Your Child Run Things, They Will Be Narcissistic Shithead Adults.
And so on, and so on.
If I'd been left to my own devices as a parent, I would dote on my child. I'd give her everything she ever wanted and lavish her with praise and affection. Daphne made it VERY clear early on that I could not be THAT parent with her. I told myself that my child was molding me into the parent I HAD to be in order to raise a better kid. Toddlers test boundaries? My kid invents new boundaries to test. Not just as a toddler, as a frickin' NEWBORN when every book tells you babies aren't capable of being manipulative. Every Day. And you can't cave, not even once, or you have to start all over again from the beginning. I've been strong, I've (tried) to be consistent, I've tried to pick my battles, but y'all...
My kid broke me a little Monday morning.
I don't mean that she broke me in, like the hubby and I jokingly say we need to do to our Wild Stallion Toddler. My kid pushed my personal boundaries so far that I cracked open and just wanted to completely throw in the towel. It was short-lived, but it terrified me. I haven't felt like that since she was a week old and I was in a hormonal, exhausted, blood-loss induced haze of emotions I couldn't get a handle on. So what pushed me over the edge?
Yes, I know, the straw that broke the camel's back. I wasn't even fighting her about it, not really. This is pretty much how it went down:
Me: (after just getting her other clothes on her) Ok, D, it's a little cold out this morning so we need to put this jacket on for the ride to school.
D: (SCREAMING) NOOOOO! I CAN'TTTTT! NO JACKETTTT!!
Me: D. Please. It's chilly. You don't have to wear it long. Just for the car ride.
D: (the sobbing starts now) Nooooooooooo NOOOOOO NO JACKETTTTT I CAN'T WANT THAT I CAN'T WANT THAAAAAAAAT!
Me: D. Mommy is asking very nicely. Please. It would make Mommy happy if you wear your jacket for the car ride.
Cue Epic D meltdown.
It was at that moment, as I gently tried to coax my child to wear a jacket, not raising my voice, that I saw the future play out in front of me: I'd cajole. I'd threaten. Finally I would forcibly shove my daughters arms into her jacket while she screamed as if it were made of lava. I'd leave her to melt down in her room. She'd rip off the jacket and march out to me. It would all start again.
Was I suddenly Nostradamus? No. This was the story of how every single request I or my husband made of my child had been going lately. A lot of times I'd only ask her to wear the jacket once, she'd say no, I'd bring it with us. But so frequently lately we've been picking NO battles with our kid. I get complaints from her school that she is pushing other kids, refusing to participate in group activities, being obstinate. I sat there, seeing the years flash in front of me: EVERYTHING is going to be a fight with my kid. Every. Single. Thing. Fighting with my kid over every single thing is the exact opposite of who I am and who I WANT to be as a parent. I stared and her flailing limbs and her self-righteous screaming face and I became... Resentful. This is not me!
I stood up and left her room. This, of course, incited her into much more massive hysterics. I went into the kitchen and packed her lunch. She eventually scraped herself up off her floor and came whimpering into the kitchen. "Mommy... *sniffle* Mommy I have hug?"
I did not pull her into my arms. I held out her jacket to her. "D, can you wear your jacket, please?" *Hiccuping* "NOOOOOO CAN'T WEAR DATTTT!" This here is generally where I cave, I stoop down and hold my hysterical daughter and whisper soothing things in her ear until she is calm, and then I resume trying to coax her into the jacket. Not today.
"No, Daphne. No Hug."
D flipped. She began clutching at my leg, pulling at my jeans, keening for a hug. I stared up at the ceiling CRYING, feeling my heart break, so mad that she had pushed me to this point (a point that hubby had been insisting for weeks would arrive, but I refused to believe). Finally I stared down at her. "Daphne, Mommy asked for a small concession from you. It is chilly out, you need to wear a jacket. It would have made Mommy very happy if you would wear the jacket, you still refused. You refused to do the tiniest thing that would have made Mommy happy, so Mommy is not going to do something to make you happy right now. I'm done. Enjoy your jacketless morning, I'm going to get you ready for school."
It was this chilly scene that my husband walked into after his morning shower. He took one look at me, scooped Daphne up, shoved the jacket onto her arms despite her screams and strapped her into the car seat. We drove her to school together, her still sobbing in the back seat (over the jacket, yes). Ian pulled her out of the seat and brought her up to the front to apologize to me (I have had more insincere apologies from my daughter than I care to count) and get a hug. I couldn't even look at her, but I told her I loved her and she whimpered her way to class.
I'm certain that morning marked a turning point in our relationship moving forward, and certainly how I'm going to parent. Again, my child has backed me into a corner and is forcing me to be the parent she needs, rather than the parent I want to be. I'm not going to fight her, I can't go that far. Instead I just refuse to rise to the occasion.
I picked her up from school Monday. "Daphne didn't eat her lunch." D scrambles into my arms with her happy cries of "Mommy mommy mommy!", full of smiles and kisses. Right on the heels of her teachers' announcement, she whispers in my ear, "Mommy I have Mac & cheese?" I smiled at her (Mommy dearest has SHIT on me), "No, sweetie. We're having soup for dinner." "Oh no, I can't want dat!" Thus it began.
The difference when we got home? I didn't try to press the issue. Though it went against every instinct as a parent, as D continued to moan and cry for snacks or food of any kind that was not the soup that I'd made, I continued to refuse nicely and offer her the soup. Eventually I announced it was bathtime. She protested, said she'd eat her dinner. She took one bite, held it in her mouth refusing to swallow. I refused to play this game, too. I reached into her mouth, plucked out the unchewed chicken, and dumped her into the bathtub. She continued to protest, to beg for food. I told her, gently (and for the gazillionth time), "Daphne, the only food you are getting is the soup. If you aren't going to eat the soup, you are going to bed." She sniffled hard at me, gears turning in her head, "Ok. I go bed."
To my knowledge, all my kid ate yesterday was a bowl of cereal in the morning, a little milk, water, and a couple of multivitamins. I put her to bed that way, too. She crept into my room at 5am. "Mommy? Tummy hurt. I has medicine?" I spoke into my pillow. "You're not sick. You're hungry. Because you didn't eat your lunch or dinner. No, you can't have medicine. Go back to bed." She whimpered and went back to bed. She crept back in around 7, still whimpering about her stomach and asking for milk and cheerios. I gave her milk but still refused to alter her routine (she eats breakfast at school).
When I dropped her off this morning she looked so sad, but she's looked that way all week. I'm still thinking (hoping, praying) this is one of those down slumps and she's going to come out of it my sweet, cheerful, vibrant girl. But this time I won't be changing my M.O. if (when?) she does. I'm not doing her (or me) any favors by giving in because I'm not up for a fight. To be clear, I'm never really up for a fight with my kid. Instead I'm just going to have to sit back and let her fight with herself. It's not what I want, but it's what she needs. I hope this doesn't "break her strong will," but (being a teacher) I CANNOT be a parent of a kid who tramples over everything (physically, mentally, emotionally) in her path with no thought to the feelings of others.
Now here's a picture of my kid being sweet and happy, because I haven't seen that for a while now.