Wednesday, May 25, 2011

You Can't Control Your Children.

Well, at least I can't control my child. I probably shouldn't have tried, but I guess a part of me still wanted this extension of me as some kind of reflection of my awesomeness.

I was a mediocre history student at Wellesley, and I while I was a student I daydreamed about having the admiration of one professor. I would compensate for my mediocrity in East Asian history by being outstanding in life. I would keep some nerdy colonial railway facts on hand (did you know imperialist Europe planned to make a killing with railways, but made railways with different size tracks across Africa? I have plenty more. Ask me.) to show that they and I, we were just the in-house railway geeks. They with their 500-page book on Manchuria, me with my honors thesis-on-the-railway-noone-had-ever-wanted-to-write-about-because-it-was-such-a-colonial-failure. And one day, I would return to the department, an accomplished humanitarian, possibly talking in fluent Chinese on my cell phone, with my astonishingly well-behaved prodigy toddler in tow. And it would show that, for all my mediocrity in history, I was exceptional. Now, it seems pretty awful when I write it down like that, but I'm counting on you to understand.

I thought about that stage in my life as I pick Noah up, kicking and screaming, from whatever I want to stop him from doing. He's reached the stage where it's really insulting and annoying for him to just be lifted out of whatever he's doing. But he's not yet at the stage where telling him about something else fun is very compelling. So it just seems like a lose-lose. He put my laundry in the toilet over the weekend. And was so proud.

But then, Noah got super excited yesterday when he could communicate with me by squeezing his eyes shut. Then I squeeze my eyes shut. Then we both laugh and give eachother hugs and kisses. I like to think we're saying something like "I love you", but I think he just thinks it's fun. He was so excited about communicating that he just ran around the house in circles for an hour or so. An hour in which Eug and I didn't have to say "no" once, we could just let him run and laugh.

I'm not sure that there's a lesson here, but just to say that outcomes-control doesn't seem to be a good focus point, in parenting or in life. Even though there are many, many times when I need to assert that I know more than Noah (I know when he's tired, for example), it can be less about controlling some distant outcome and more about being really focused on Noah, and whatever is needed from that moment, right then and there. It's a subtle difference but I've noticed it matters a lot. There'll still be times where I have to just pick him up (I'll bet there are entire parenting books dedicated to how not to do this) but the point is that Parenting with a Big P is just too big a concept. Just like eating healthy food for all time is too nebulous and daunting for me. Trying to be a Consistent Disciplinarian is also just too big (it involves remembering what's allowed and what's not). So I'm lowering the bar.

We just need to figure out how to do well moment-to-moment. Which is also big, but it doesn't involve holding future (possibly ridiculous) outcomes in our hands.


leah said...

Totally true! Turns out that children are people, amazing though that may sound.

I got through a rough patch when Harvey was around 18 months old by acknowledging that we're both people me and my child. I can't control him, but he can't control me either!

Seila said...

Wow! What a great post!
I don't have children yet, but I can completely understand where you are coming from and what you are saying. And I have to add, you and Eug sound like pretty good parents doing all that you do.

Seila said...

Wow! What a great post, Jo! I don't have children yet, but I can see where you are coming from and what you mean. And I have to add that you and Eug sound like pretty good parents! I love reading your blog, it's very inspirational. Keep it up!

Concrete Gardener said...

Seila, thank you so much for commenting. I really appreciate it. I'd love to hear more about what you're doing and how you're doing (Physics PhD?).