Advertures in Babysitting… er, ParentingThe trials and tribulations of child rearing through the eyes of writer Lana Leeper.
By: Lana Leeper, Living North Magazine
Nevaeh was standing in front of the television today messing with the buttons when she farted. It was so loud she jumped and looked behind her for the culprit. I laugh as I write this, but I’m sure when Nevaeh gets to an age where she can read and understand, she won’t laugh. But at 1-year-old nothing bothers her much. I’d like to think she gets this from me.
Annasty, on the other hand, was not pleased as to the answer I gave her last month when I was writing this column. “What are you writing about, mama?” she asked me. So I reminded her of the time she purposely peed the bed. Instead of the laugh I expected, she was dramatically upset. “Isn’t anything private?!” she demanded. This, I know, she got from me.
But with my newly found Nevaeh-Zen-like-calm I simply replied, “Don’t give me material” and shuffled off to do the dishes.
My daughters are a reflection of me. Having Annasty as young as I was, at a time when I was hardly suited to take care of a self-sufficient cat, is evidenced by her behavior. It was not uncommon for me to throw a fit or sulk when something didn’t go my way. I was still a kid; raising a kid.
Annasty, now 9 years old, will on a whim crumple like an accordion and drop to the ground and flail like a fish at even a glimmer of impending disappointment. She is also quick to beg for a second chance. I don’t do second chances. As I informed Annasty this past weekend, “Your ‘second chance’ is when I warn you not to do it again.”
There are many battles in raising children, but as with any relationship we have to pick and chose which ones to fight. The biggest battle I face is two dads, two homes, two sets of rules, and two different philosophies on discipline and boundaries. “A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time,” Annie Dillard once wrote. I have relationships with my daughters, and each is their own, but I’m not their friend. I am their mother. I figure there’ll be plenty of time for friendship in the future.
But I’ve discovered being a single parent with physical custody is a huge responsibility, not only to the child, but to the other parent as well. And in the state of Minnesota if a child is born out of wedlock, sole physical and joint legal custody are automatically granted to the mother. Generally without any court proceedings.
I learned the law a little too late the first time around, but it protected me the second go-round. After many frustrating debates with Annasty’s dad, I lost. And so, we see each other when we can and that has to be enough. But the most valuable lesson that came from that first custody experience was how I approach my relationship with Nevaeh and her dad. It is our responsibility to work together. It’s a privilege.
Doing what’s convenient for the parent is not parenting, and out of frustration at the lack of parenting skills I often see demonstrated, I’ve been known to comment, “There should be a standardized test of some sort people have to pass before procreating,” knowing full and well were this the case I would never have been allowed to become a parent when I did. Sure I know a lot more now than I ever knew going into it, but how do you prepare for something you’ve never done before? Of course you can read the books, take a class, or probably rent an instructional DVD, but none of that prepares you for the emotional equivalent.
And despite the social experiment parenting is, I enjoy it. Most times. Listening to the stories other parents tell is always a great way for me to secretly compare myself on the Par-Richter Scale. (Don’t bother to Google this, I made it up.) But I’ll bet I’m not the only parent who does it. Of course to openly, creatively criticize another person’s parenting would be rude and socially irresponsible, so we don’t do that. Instead we compare ourselves and use our great parenting skills as a consolation to our “inability” to affect anything outside ourselves and our own families.
Though every now and then my disdain overwhelms my manners and something will slip out. The eyebrow raised in disapproving judgment and the cursory glance at the father who lets his preteen son jump over the booth at the McDonald’s playland. Or the “Never!” that escapes my lips in horror as I eye the no-more-than-10-year-old-fully-decked-out-in-a-clown’s-makeup-bag as she stands next to her mother at the check-in of the local clinic.
One place where stories of child rearing are commonly swapped is the workplace. In my case, working primarily with men, it’s interesting to hear their perspectives. One dad was talking about his little girl and her aversion to imperfect sandwiches. If the burger in question was even “slightly askew” as he put it, then she pleaded with him to fix it before she would eat. Once she began to eat, if she spilled on her shirt she would insist she needed to change it. I listened in awe as he found this cute. He and his wife have two kids, approximately a year apart, and I was instantly glad I didn’t. I had always thought it would’ve been nice to have stairstep babies, but having my kids eight years apart gave me the time and experience I needed to grow into the parent and person I am today. I’ve determined the faster you learn the better off you and your kids will be. If you never get it, chances are they won’t either. So it is with as much patience and calm as I can muster that I approach my parenting, no matter the cards I’m dealt.
I just try to picture what it would be like to have me as a parent – and that helps to keep me balanced.