Thanks Self-Help Books, But My Child Is Actually My Parenting Guru

Children don’t come with a rule book, however, if we look closely enough and pay attention more clearly, we’ll see that the rules are embedded in the child. It certainly doesn’t take a parenting expert to tell us that our busy lives are busy or that sometimes our own needs overshadow the needs of our children. And most of us don’t require an expert to remind us that we may occasionally miss these emotional cues because they happen at inopportune and wholly inconvenient times. You’ve been there, right? I know I have. The test of course is what we do in the moment despite how lofty our expectations regarding the outcome of what an ill-timed parent-child exchange “should” look like.

For example, last month, one March Break day began like any other day. Except my 7-year-old decided that she didn’t want to take a bath before spring Adventure Camp and felt that the most effective way to communicate that to me was via a hysterical meltdown. Only, her mother — that would be me — wasn’t having it, so I gently insisted she take one. For the following reason: The day before she and her sister had spent the entire day with their camp friends at the zoo. If I had my druthers they would have taken baths the previous night before bed but they were both very animated and stimulated from the day’s events so we scrapped that idea. But this morning, I wasn’t wavering. “It’s bath time,” I repeated. My daughter, confident and bold, emphatically stated that she was not going to take a bath. My response was to calmly reply that oh yes, she was.

We went back and forth for about one minute; both of our tempers rising and both of our voices rising as well. And then I took a step back and laid out a few options for her to consider. I told her that she had the option of staying at home and not going to camp, or she could take a bath and we could all get going. She refused the bath, again, insisting however that she would still like to go to camp. Our disagreement escalated, and I restated my position for the 15th time — which in my books is five times too many. Meaning that I’m totally cool with repeating myself 10 times. I then left her alone to catch her bearings, reflect on her behaviors and either get herself bathed and organized so we could go to camp, or to stay at home and pout. Her choice. Her decision. She eventually conceded and drew herself a bath, but, Oh.The.Drama!

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  • The Mommy Psychologist

    Yep. I didn’t find any relief until I threw out all of my parenting books. Kids just aren’t mathematical formulas. Even if you do everything “right” things can still turn out “wrong.”

    “The child psychologist who thought she had all the answers to parenting until she became one herself.”

    • xobolaji

      well put! if nothing else, it certainly helps to be practical.

  • k.

    Very impressive parenting, there!

    Your article made me laugh out loud–partially because I remember reading “Freakonomics” and they made the point that people who read parenting books tend to be better parents (they had a far more scientific way of saying “better parents, but I can’t remember it)…But not because of any content in the actual books. It was merely the correlation of the fact that because you were the TYPE to go off and buy a parenting book, then you probably stood a better chance as a parent. Whether you followed said books’ advice or not had nothing to do with it.

    And I’ve always found that the one guarantee about parenting is that above all else, no matter what you do, you will have a starring role in your kid’s therapy sessions twenty years from now. At that point, however, you’ll probably just shrug and say (as my (very loving) parents grin and say to me now), “Well, we’re human, we did our best, we’re off to play golf. Have fun at therapy, sweetie!” I prefer to get all my parenting wisdom from grandparents, rather than contemporaries for that reason–hindsight does bring a certain calm wisdom.

    (PS: I too, received “What to Expect…” when I got pregnant, read a few chapters and then marched straight out to the bookstore and came home with “The Panic-Free Pregnancy.” And then merrily drank a cup of coffee while I read it.)

    • xobolaji

      ha! this is great. and i agree about listening to the wisdom of elders.

      i’m so hyper aware of the psychological ramifications of my parenting and truthfully it freaks me out a little. at the same time i remind myself and my girls that i’m doing my best and i give my best, and that’s all one can hope to achieve. i think they get it. god knows we talk enough about it in our house!

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