Wouldn’t it be great if we got along with our kids all of the time? Sometimes I want to tell my son, “I am ready to miss you now.”
What I’ve observed in my household and amongst my friends is that there are ages when some parents and kids shine, and others that are dull, for one party or another.
In one family I know, the dad was great with the babies. They slept a lot, couldn’t talk yet, and he could text, compute, and be on the phone while with them. Once they were toddlers, they interrupted his work. His wife, on the other hand, wasn’t so into the babies. They couldn’t do art projects or play games yet. They weren’t particularly engaging. Once out of infancy, however, she had a lot of fun with the kids.
Parenting through various stages of development feels similar to workplace advancement. You’re promoted out of the field and into a supervisory positions because you’re so good at your jobs. Only, the new duties don’t require the old skill set. It would be great if we were good at every age, but parenting a one-year old requires entirely different abilities than parenting a five-year old, or a teenager.
And somehow, when my son turned five, he entered puberty. He learned how to roll his eyes. He was able to speak in a sarcastic tone and ask rhetorical questions. He even puts his hands on his hips as if to say What did you just ask me to do?
It has not been my best parenting age. Parenting was much easier for me when he was an infant, and one, and two. He didn’t have colic or reflux or any food sensitivities. He barely stirred when he needed to breastfeed in the night, then he would nurse for five to ten minutes and go back to sleep. He was a good communicator and meeting his needs felt natural to me. It’s harder, now that he’s five, to remember how little he still is, especially when he can put on his own shirt but wants me to do it anyway, when he can use words like “assume” and “diversion.”
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t dislike parenting him now, or even feel like I’m a bad parent. I just get tired. Parenting him at this age isn’t coming as naturally to me. I get ready to miss him, in the hopes that a few hours at school or a sleepover at his dad’s will give me the opportunity to look at him with new appreciation.
I don’t know if this is a developmental phase, if it started with turning five, or weeks of two sleepovers at his dad’s, or the holidays (with more sugar and gifts as his birthday was followed by Christmas), or his dad moving into a new house, or learning new skills, developing neurological pathways I can’t see, or something else I have yet to notice or would never think to relate to this.
That’s the other thing about parenting—besides the ever-evolving job description—we don’t actually know what’s happening with these little beings. I mean we can observe the behavior, like how he suddenly won’t turn on the bathroom light even though he’s been turning it on by himself for over a year now. But why won’t he? Is it because he’s afraid of the dark, as he says (even though he didn’t used to be afraid of the dark)? Because he observed a cockroach outside said bathroom one time when he had to poop? Because of something at school, at his dad’s house, in a book, in a video, or maybe it’s digression that will be followed by a developmental leap?
We parents just get to observe and do our best. When he asks me to turn on the bathroom light because he “needs to pee really badly,” and I want him to do it himself because he can and I’m lying on the couch with a flu he generously shared with me, I get up because his little face is scrunched up near tears because he can’t, for whatever reason, turn the bathroom light on himself right now. He needs me to do it.
I get tired of this. Especially as a single mom. I am ready for him to do the things he can. So when he suddenly refuses to put on his own shirt, or he says, “Why did you give me the plate?” when I hand him his breakfast to take to the table on his own, I don’t feel like we’re getting along. I don’t want to fight all the time. I want it to be easier.
The easy days are what I call the Get Along Days. We hadn’t seen them in a few months, and I am slightly afraid to jinx myself by writing this here now, but we have had a week of Get Along Days. You know the ones, when your kids like you and you like them, when you say, “Hey do you want to_____?” and they actually do, whether it’s an arts and crafts activity, a playdate, or going to the grocery store. These are in direct contrast to the I Want to Miss You Days, which include your child refusing to eat chocolate because they will refuse to do anything you suggest, or when you or they or both of you wake up grumpy and it just gets worse from there.
Today, I remembered I hadn’t given Cavanaugh his vitamins as we were about to get in the car for school. I asked if he wanted to come with me to get them with me or wait for me, and he responded, “When I have a choice, I’m always going to choose with you.”
I said, “Because you like me?”
“Because I love you.”
That is a Get Along Day. I’ve been giving him high fives at night, saying, “We got along all day today. I really like it when we get along.”
Turns out he does too, even though he sometimes needs us not to. He needs to push back, to build those independence muscles for kindergarten next year, to test how I’ll react, to assure himself of my love, to feel for the boundaries, or something else …. Whatever purpose those harder days serve, I still love love love the Get Along Days.
Are there ages that have been easier for you to deal with as a parent? More challenging?