A few weeks ago I saw this saying on Pinterest (rolls eyes at self):
It keeps coming back to mind because it is something that bothers me about a lot of current parenting philosophies. Philosophies based keeping babies and children from “getting in the way” of your life as much as possible. I could go a little rant about that, but I won't at the moment.
But I am most often reminded of this saying when I am feeling so inconvenienced by Juliana. Despite my lofty ideals, it's easy to see her as an inconvenience. When she is having a really clingy day and I have so many things to get done. When she collapses into a fit on the floor because I won't let her draw in books with markers. When she pulls out every single one of her toys and scatters them all over the house. When she is dead-set on walking the opposite direction of wherever we need to go. When I just want to check my email without her crawling up and trying to push all the buttons. When is quietly playing by herself but the moment I sit down to study she suddenly feels a pressing need to sit in my lap, on top of my book.
I want her to learn boundaries and that she can't do everything she wants. I don't want to give in to her tantrums. I want to listen to her and acknowledge her feelings. I want to teach her to be helpful without expecting her to be a little adult. I want to give her the attention that she needs while gently reminding her the world doesn't completely revolve around her.
But at many of these inconvenient times, I'm not thinking about those goals – I'm just thinking about how much I could accomplish if a small person wasn't singlehandedly working to destroy my efforts. I want her to be one of those kids people talk about who spend an hour playing in their room. I wish I had taught her to not need me so much. I wish I ruled with an iron fist. Because it would really make things easier, right this moment.
Then I step back and remember, I am raising a human being. Juliana is a small person, but she has big (very big) feelings that she hasn't yet figured out what to do with. Sometimes when I take away her precious marker, she truly feels that the world has turned against her. How can I respond to show that her feelings matter (even if she's still not getting the marker)? She watches everything I do and wants to be like me. That's why she wants to play with my computer and why she sits in the kitchen making a big mess while I'm cooking. Before I know it she'll be a teenager and want to be anything I'm not – and I'll really wish she still wanted to be with me all the time! Sometimes she seems so clingy, but she's still so very young. She's hardly gotten finished with being a baby. I wish she would go play on her own more, but I can't just expect her to turn into an introvert (something she is definitely not!).
It's easy to feel like I'm not accomplishing much in parenting since “play ring-around-the-rosy 10 times” or “pick up 35 crayons off the floor” doesn't usually make my to-do list, but in the end it will be more important than those things on the list. Right now, I have the opportunity to show Juliana that her feelings are legitimate, that her needs matter, that she is valuable.
It may not seem like much, but Juliana is learning patience and perseverance by dropping clothespins through a small hole, over and over again. She is learning responsibility and helpfulness by handing clothes to mama to put on the line or picking up three books to put on the shelf. When she's outside, she's observing the world and learning how to interact with others and how to speak Chinese. She's learning to love music and making a mess with 'art' and 'science.' She's learning that sometimes when you're really mad you still don't get your way, but sometimes when you're having a really bad day it's okay to bend the rules a bit.
And I am learning that it's okay to let go of some of my expectations, that “accomplishment” isn't what makes us important, successful, or fulfilled. I am learning that if the house stays too clean it probably means we aren't having much fun. I am learning patience by picking up the same crayons and blocks every day and by letting Juliana “help mama” even when it takes twice as long. I am learning that sometimes even when it would be so much easier, you can't let your child get what they are screaming for. I am learning that sometimes when you're having a really bad day it's okay to put on a cartoon so everyone can take a break.
If parenthood and China have taught me anything, it's that the best lessons are usually very inconvenient. If I embrace the inconvenience rather than resisting it, I'll probably discover the "inconvenient" is what's important after all.