Last week, I was lucky enough to score passes to a sneak preview of a Star Wars event at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Westchester.
On Friday afternoon, we picked Detective Munch up from school, braved the rush hour traffic, and trekked up to Yonkers. For a few hours, he frolicked in the (atypically uncrowded) indoor playground thing, built and raced LEGO vehicles down ramps, watched a 3D LEGO movie, and generally had a great time, all while surrounded by a bunch of cool Star Wars stuff. There was even a guy walking around in a Chewbacca costume (Detective Munch was perfectly happy observing him from a safe distance).
Then, at the end of a fun night when we made extra effort to do something special we knew our son would love, something he did love, he threw a huge fit, collapsed on the floor, and screamed “I HATE YOU!” in my face.
So… You’re welcome?
I thought this phase would be over by now.
I thought that when Detective Munch turned five there wouldn’t be any more tantrums. I thought that now that he’s in school he would be less emotional and easier to reason with. But just because I want him to be doesn’t mean he is.
Yesterday I chatted with a friend about his five-year-old, and in sharing stories about our kids being terrible, we were able to give each other a small measure of comfort. We’re not looking for solutions so much as we’re looking for some reassurance. I want to know that his behavior isn’t out of the ordinary. I want to know that my kid isn’t a psychopath, or, at least, that he’s not alone in being one (He isn’t. Every little kid is a psychopath.)
Hearing from someone else who has the same issues helped me realize how much of parenting is about managing your own expectations, and that having false ones is no good for us, or for our kids.
I keep hoping my son will hit some magical age when everything will suddenly get easy – for me. When he’ll stop whining and stop throwing tantrums and stop being irrational and stop talking back and start taking us seriously and start listening to what we say and on and on and on. But that age doesn’t exist. There is no magical moment when parenting becomes a cakewalk, and expecting it to happen is not good for me, and it’s not fair to my kid.
It starts with the newborn stage, when you fantasize about your baby finally starting to sleep through the night and how much better things will be then. Next up is toddlerhood, during which you can’t wait for your kid to finally start walking and talking and understanding you and how much easier things will be then. Then come the terrible twos, when you start counting the days until his third birthday when the nightmare will finally be over and he’ll be perfectly behaved, followed by the fuck-you fours, and the fearsome fives, and then (I assume) the psycho sixes and the shitty sevens, etc., etc., and you eventually start to realize it’s never going to end.
Because it won’t get easier, it will just get different. We’ll continue to trade one phase for another, and every one will bring a whole new set of pros and cons with it. Some issues will be solved, but not much will ever truly be re solved. Things will just get hard in new ways.
This realization can be a challenge for new parents – and by “new,” I mean parents like me, with children five and under. When your kids are this young, when they develop so fast and things change so quickly and it’s one new phase after another, every few months, it can start to seem like each new checkpoint is bringing you closer to some kind of finish line.
Only there is no finish line.
We may spend a lot of time weathering storms, but there is no moment when the clouds part and we’re all suddenly sitting around the dinner table, one big happy family like at the end of every ridiculous episode of “Parenthood”. If you keep expecting things to reach that point, you’re just going to be disappointed, and that disappointment is going to make you frustrated, and you’re going to take that frustration out on your kid. It’s a gross cycle, and it trickles down.
Kids can’t control a lot of what’s happening to them, but we can control how we react to it. And that trickles down too. It will do us all some good to remember that.
It’s a dangerous thing to keep expecting everything to suddenly become simple, to keep expecting parenting to suddenly become a breeze. It won’t, and it never will be. But like it or not, you signed up for it; this is your life now.
The good news is: parenting is not about you. And the sooner you stop thinking that it is, the easier it will be. (Not really.)