Sunday, January 11, 2009

totally winging it

I know this is totally cliche, but I find myself often wishing for a parenting manual, one in which all the tricky questions are answered. This manual needs to be very specific, though, addressing all the particular needs of each of my children. I am just so sick of feeling completely clueless at this parenting gig. Every time something I try works, I feel this enormous sense of relief, like I have dodged a bullet, but I am sure that someday everyone is going to realize that I am a complete parenting fraud. I have no idea what I am doing.

I have read a multitude of parenting tomes, books by Dr. Phil, the Super Nanny, Dr. Spock and Dr. James Dobson, not to mention all the SPD books and articles I could get my hands on. Still, I have yet to find a book or expert who really helps me with my kids in all the tricky, daily situations. People have told me that trusting my instincts is the best, which I for the most part I subscribe to, but occasionally my instincts fail me. Like in the instances where my instinct is to throttle one of the kids, or to run away from home and never come back, or in general when following my instincts would result in arrest or at least being reported to DCFS. Then, there are times when I just have no instinct at all. I have absolutely no clue what to do.

For example, all of a sudden, Charlotte hates baths. She refuses to get into the tub, when 4 months ago, baths were a treat to her. I have tried all kinds of bath foams and tub markers, all to no avail. For a while letting her wear her bathing suit worked, but no more. Now, I have to forcibly hold her in the tub while I frantically suds her up and wash her hair--all while she screams as if I were boiling her alive. I have no idea what to do about this. And the worst part is knowing that while I might receive some inspiration to induce her to bathe, it won't last. Sooner or later, that idea will fail, along with all the rest of them. Either that or she will just move on to a newer and more difficult battle. And I guess I am just getting a bit frustrated and tired. When will it all just click? Will I ever have just one day where it all went well? Where all my parenting decisions were stellar and without reproach?

What has really got me thinking on this topic is the incredibly difficult morning we had with Danny today. Everything went fine until we had to get dressed for church. All of a sudden, Danny refused to take off his pajamas and he kept insisting that he wanted to stay home. We haven't had this problem in ages and it kind of blindsided me. I thought this was one mountain we had surmounted, never to return to again. I tried everything I could think of to convince Danny that he needed to get dressed and nothing worked, not bribery, not threats, not yelling, not begging. I didn't know what to do. We were, by this point, running quite late and getting desperate. Bil offered to stay home with him, while I took Charlotte, and he and Danny would come a bit later when Danny finally got dressed. I didn't like this idea because I had a feeling that Danny would never cooperate and they would both just stay home, locked in a battle of wills. To me, this would be a reward for Danny's bad behavior and I knew that if Danny figured out that he could stay home if he acted up, we would have these problems forever. Who wouldn't rather stay home in his pajamas than attend three hours of church?

I sat on the couch crying a bit, just wondering what the heck I should do. Then, as is my habit, I started catastrophizing, wondering how I would be able to handle the teen years if I couldn't even get my kid dressed in the morning. How would I handle three kids, when the two I have now are such a handful? What was God thinking, really, to give ME, of all people, kids and not just regular kids, but one who has developmental delays and SPD?

Finally, I decided to take charge. Danny was going to church, even if it meant he went in his pajamas. So, I gave him a deal. If he wore his pajamas to church, he would not get to play computer games or watch a video after church. We had already put all his cars into timeout because he wouldn't cooperate, so we had pretty much pulled out the big guns, punishment-wise. We finally got everyone in the car, Danny still clad in his dinosaur pjs, because of course, on this day, of all days, he couldn't have been wearing pjs that remotely passed for regular clothes, oh no.

I have to admit I wasn't happy with this solution, mostly because it was embarrassing to me to have my kid show up to church in pajamas. Keep in mind that in our church pretty much all the women wear dresses and skirts and the men wear ties. Not a place where pjs will even remotely go unnoticed. I just knew people would say things and wonder why we let our kid wear his pajamas to church. They would think that we let our kids get away with murder, blah, blah, blah. And this is when I decided that I needed to quit worrying about what other people think, for once in my life. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that though Bil and I felt completely clueless in this parenting crisis, we actually had come up with a plan of action that was best for us. We didn't give in and let Danny stay home from church, which was the most important part for me. Also, though he went to church in his pajamas, he was being punished with no cars or computer because he wouldn't get dressed. So, in my opinion, we were addressing all aspects of the undesirable behavior. People at church wouldn't know that by looking at us, but let them judge if they wanted, right? I knew we were handling it the best way we could.

Anyway, despite a couple of insensitive remarks, (one woman actually thought we had overslept and just let Danny come in his pjs. Not sure why she thought the rest of us were dressed well. Did she think I just thought, "Well, we are running late, so I won't bother dressing Danny. I spent too much time on Charlotte's diaper and sparkly dress. I guess we'll just worry about him next week") church went really well. I didn't go around making excuses to people about our family's wardrobe choices, I forgot to worry about what everyone was thinking, and that was an enormous blessing.

Danny is now begging us to take his cars out of timeout, and though it is only 3:53 PM, I am counting the minutes until bedtime. But come Sunday next week, I have a feeling that Danny will cooperate with getting dressed for church.

I don't know. Maybe, just maybe, my instincts were right. Maybe I am not quite as inept as I thought.

Aw, who am I kidding? I still have no idea what I am doing, but so far the kids are alive and happy and that has to count for something, right?


Amy Jane said...


Just take a deep breath and repeat the following: "This, too, shall pass." You're doing a wonderful job, and so what if Danny DID wear PJs to church? The clothing battle is often one just not worth fighting, in my opinion. Now, as for Charlotte and bathing, I totally felt your pain as I read this, because Nick went through the exact same phase once! He had loved baths, and then one day, it was like someone threw a switch and he hated them, screaming and crying the whole time. What did we do? We just soldiered through - we gave him a bath as quickly as possible, and he screamed and cried the whole time. And then one day, a few weeks later, it was just over. Just like that. All of a sudden, baths were great again! I know that may be cold comfort for you, but at least it tells you that Charlotte is not alone, and that this phase is perfectly normal. It's not easy for you to give baths to a screaming child, certainly, but you just do what you gotta do, and she will get over it eventually.

Take heart, my friend. There IS no manual, and all we can do is the best we can. And you are doing just that.

Anonymous said...

Ess went through a bath-hating phase and, just like Amy Jane said, it passed and now she's fine with baths again. I find whenever I'm in the midst of a parenting struggle it's always the worst, lowest feeling. I too 2nd guess myself and question all my instincts.

Sometimes when my kids (especially Chee) don't want to do something I really, really want them to do, I will just let it go. I have found that letting them "win" once in awhile doesn't ruin them or create awful habits that now have to be undone. I think you handled it just the way you should have because it's what felt right to you. And Danny probably will remember next week. But, I guarantee you, it's not the last battle you'll ever have about going to church again. He's a kid. Did you love going to church week after week after week as a kid? I know I sure didn't.

Hey, by the way, when are you due??

Natalie said...

Patty, I can totally relate. I actually just wrote a similiar post on my blog last night. Our current battle is with teethbrushing. I feel exactly as you do that if I let Hannah win this battle then it'll set a bad precedent. My husband disagrees. I even mentioned in my post about needing a new parenting manual. I'll be praying for you that things start going more smoothly.

Lori at Spinning Yellow said...

I think your plan was brilliant and should be included in any parenting book. We've all been there and it does get easier. I think for us, sometimes, when the "normal" kid acts up, it is even more difficult, like, "well, you don't have issues, so get with the program." Except all kids go through phases. Last spring, Jane would not go to sleep, and I kept trying all the parenting book tricks. One day, she saw something at a store she wanted and said, "if you give me that, I'll go to sleep on my own." And she did. That very night. I was dumbstruck. Clearly, SHE had to be the one who decided.

Also, you get major props for not letting what other people think impact doing what you thought was the best decision for your family. That is always the "right" thing to do!

Quirky Mom said...

Patty, I think you did it perfectly. I know it doesn't always feel so perfect, but you really handled it absolutely the best way you could've.

As for Charlotte's baths, does she really need them? We used to do nightly baths with Apple, but now she's lucky to get 2-3 baths or showers each week. She stays pretty clean, and if she needs the bath, in she goes.

lonestar said...

Kudos to you for doing what you felt was best and letting go of the worry about what anyone else thinks. I think you're right that next week he'll be feeling a little more cooperative with getting dressed.

As for the bath - we are going through the same thing with Bitty. He used to love baths, now it's a big ordeal every time. He tries to turn off the water as soon as we start running it, then I end up having to literally force him into the tub and hold him with one hand while washing him as fast as possible with the other, meanwhile he is screaming at the top of his lungs and trying to climb out of the tub the whole time. I offer him bath toys, etc. to entice him in w/o the drama, but so far no luck.

Stonefox (otherwise known as Heidi) said...

Patty, I am so there with you! Most of the time I feel like I don't have a clue. I wonder how in the world my kids are going to turn out okay when I am so inept. What's so funny is that I just posted about our responsibility as parents to prepare our kids for God's plan for their lives. As a parent, I often feel so overwhelmed with the magnitude of my job that I just want to quit.

But James 1 says that when we lack wisdom, all we have to do is ask and He gives. We may not even recognize it as wisdom from God (like when Danny went to church in his PJ's, well I think that was wisdom from God), but it is there because He promises.

I think we as parents are all in this boat together. We can't see the big picture of what we are helping our kids to become most of the time. But we have to believe that with love and faith, it is going to be something good.

Kim said...

The manuel wouldn't help. The problem is that as we learn about our kids and how to get them to do what we need them to, they also learn about us and how to get us to do what they want us to. They are smart enough to realize we've outsmarted them on occasion, so they change their habits just enough to confuse us.

Have you tried giving Charlotte a shower? Maybe she is ready for that rather than a bath, at least for a little while. I have to do that with Meechi sometimes.

I think you handled the church situation well. I agree that if he had gotten to stay home he would have kept doing it every week.

beckbot said...

I think your solution was very elegant, dinosaur pjs and all. I know you have some thoughtless people at church, but there are probably just as many people thinking, "Oh, boy, I remember when we used to have to do stuff like that with our kids." (For me it was last week.) Danny's still a little guy. If he was 17 and in his pajamas, well, that would be a pretty big problem.
BTW, I totally do the same thing as you, where I project current naughtiness into the future (DREADED) teenage years. It freaks me out! I always just come back to the idea that God guides me now, He will guide me then, and we'll get through it.

kia said...

Oh, Patty. So much of what you've written here could have been written about my own kiddo. And my own puzzlement. And guilt. And self-doubt. Argh. There really SHOULD be a parenting book for OUR kids. I agree. Maybe we should write it together?

If it's any consolation at all, I sat and cried about my kiddo today. He was completely "off" from the minute he got out of bed. I, coincidentally, was "off" too. Not a good combination.

Hang in there! You're not alone...

Jackie said...

Hey Patty, just found your blog through the Demers. I sure miss seeing you! You are so amazing - I have a hard time even picking up parenting books because I'm so tired from parenting all day and I can't bring myself to using up my free reading time to do some more. I probably should or at very least I can learn more from you!
You are great, keep it up!

bernthis said...

I have told my daughter on many occasions. Either get dressed now or you will go to (fill in the blank) in your pajamas, the choice is yours. So far, she has never left the house in her PJ's. You're doing a great job.

Elizabeth Channel said...

I am so inspired by your decisiveness because you moved forward and truly did not care what "everyone else thought." You rock in my book! I've been trying to do this for years and years and years. This is encouraging.