Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Great Parenthood Fallacy Revealed

Perhaps I was a bit hasty in claiming to have realized the greatest fallacy of parenthood. All submissions ring painfully true, and could be - and may be - discussed in further depth. I think that all of us, no matter how much we babysat, helped raise younger siblings, carefully observed peers as parents, or otherwise considered ourselves prepared for the realities of parenthood, have experienced the shock of having our assumptions shattered, one by one. Assumptions that we were so sure were true that we didn't even know they were assumptions; they went without saying. But now we are saying them, and we call them fallacies.So without further ado, which is the greatest of them all?

That the parents are in charge

Responsible, yes. In control of many things, I'll give you. But in charge? Sadly, we are not.

This came up in conversation with my sister Maren when I was venting about the sudden chaos that has taken over what was formerly regular naptimes for both girls. Suddenly Hazel's not napping one day, crashing on the floor mid-morning the next, totally throwing off the nap zen she'd achieved over a year ago. And don't get me started on Ginger's "schedule." I was explaining each example, complaining about the illogical injustice of it - "What's going on here?" And this clever mom of three gave the only explanation that can be given: "You're not in charge." (Choirs, spotlight.) "As much as you want to be, you're not in charge."

By "in charge" I guess I mean controlling all parties - in this case, making the kids do exactly what I want when I want. I can suggest, bribe, persuade, threaten, tempt, request, beg and manipulate but in the end there are few things I can force them to do. I suppose this goes for all ages. I've got a little more control but less leverage with these little ones, and I assume (there I go again!) that those scales will tip the other way as they get older.

Of course my Mom has been telling me this for years, at least since my first "HELP!" phone call after Hazel was born. Each time it would half sink in, but then I would counter that when I was little I sure thought my parents were in charge.

"Right," she would answer.

Ah. So it was all an elaborate hoax, and I fell for it. I would feel like a schmuck except for two things:
1. Feeling like my parents were in charge provided me with a feeling of safety and security while growing up, and allowed me, as I got older, to develop independence over time, and
2. Now that I'm a parent, this bodes in my favor. Even when things are totally out of my control, if I can keep the kids believing I'm in charge, we may have a measure of familial harmony.

Kids are who they are, and meant to be free agents. Not to say we as parents can let it all go to pot; we certainly have to give it the ol' college try and teach them how to be responsibly independent, among other things. But with the very little ones who are constantly, and so quickly, developing and maturing, I at least need to stop wasting time wondering, "Why?" and start asking, "How can we make the most of this?" or at least, "How can we get through this?"


Jenifuz said...

Very true!!!

Therese said...


thanks for ending the wait for me. when luca was born, one of the first things my dad said to me was, "the kids rule the roost!" meaning, what you outlined in this post. this has been something i've learned a lot about during the past year, particularly with toilet training. no amount of incentive could motivate him to deliver until he was good and ready. it had to be in his time, in his way. good lesson to learn. hope i remember it!!!

Maren said...

Right on. I learned this lesson the hard way. With my first daughter, who came with an innate sense of following rules, I really felt right in thinking I was in charge. All that mental looking-down-my-nose at other parents was justified because my child was perfect.

AND THEN, I was very rudely awakened by the reality of my second daughter, who also came with very strong ideas, only this time they usually didn't match mine. She was definitely ready to be in charge and I had to eat all my mental words about parenting and start from square one.

You're right- we're the responsible party. As parents, we're in control of many things. But we can't control everything, nor should we want to.

The only parenting ideology that has survived all three kids is this: the hardest thing to do is almost always the right thing to do. Meaning, when you are faced with a choice in how to handle a situation or what to do for your kid, there's an easy way out and a hard way which requires more "x" (work, love, patience, sacrifice, self-control...) on your part.

Trying to control everything our kids do is usually one of the easy ways out (though obviously not the easiest). I want Torin to continue taking 3 naps a day, dang it, because it's really inconvenient for me if he doesn't. But I can't control that, so I have to let him be who he is, and maybe we can find a balance. As Therese said, it's toilet-training that really brings this home to most parents if they haven't learned it by then- and if they forget, then it's the teen-age years that reminds them.

Carol said...

I leave the deep thinking to you- my biggest parent fallacy was thinking I could get my house clean and that the kids would appreciate it.

Marie W said...

We are toilet training right now, and I HAVE to agree that my two-year-old is TOTALLY in charge on that one.

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