(Or part 2 in my little mini-series)
It's funny how parenting a toddler sometimes makes me feel like a toddler. When Juliana is having a bad day - whining and clinging and generally falling apart, my thought process goes something like this: "I have ruined her. It will just get worse and worse. I will lose all control of her by the time she is 5. I should have made her pick up her toys earlier. I never should have given her that cracker when she was crying for it. Now she's spoiled for life." (and I call Juliana melodramatic!)
When Juliana has a "good day" - playing well on her own, sweetly saying thank you, taking a good nap and actually eating dinner, I think, "She is such a great child. I'm such a good parent. Why do people parenting is so hard? Maybe it's just that their children aren't as delightful as mine. Remind me to tell them that if they just do exactly what I'm doing, their children will turn out great."
It's easy to get caught up in day-to-day moments of life and completely lose perspective. I don't know about you, but I tend to make a big deal out of little things. The other day a friend told me about taking her young barely-toddler boys to an event where they ran around enthusiastically. Nearby another family's six children sat quietly watching the other people, looking exceptionally calm and well-behaved. The whole way home she bemoaned what a terrible parent she must be that she hadn't taught her one year olds to sit still and quiet.
I tend to react similarly when I hear about people's children who sleep 12 hours straight at night or love to eat vegetables or play on their own for an hour at a time. I think (and sometimes they say), "If I just parented the right way, surely my child would do that too!" When we see a glimpse of those "perfect children," it's really hard not to freak out a little.
I remember when Juliana was 2 months old I started to become concerned that she wasn't sleeping well. Now I laugh thinking, "My goodness, she was only 2 months old!!" but at the time those two months seemed like a really long time. When Juliana was 8 months old and waking up an insane number of times a night, I was convinced she would never sleep well. Seriously, I was just holding out hope for the teenage years when I hear people say their kids never want to wake up. It sounded wonderful. Now Juliana sleeps really well almost every night. But when she has a bad night - usually because of a cold or similar disturbance - I instantly become afraid that this past year of sleeping through the night was just a ruse.
Similarly, I make a big deal out of my own parenting choices. I think that breastfeeding is great and I really dislike leaving babies to cry-it-out, but I really don't think these are the end-all-be-all issues of parenting. Some people get really, really passionate about these things. Both sides draw lines and become bull-headed. "If you don't breastfeed your child she will never get into college!" "If you don't let your baby cry he will never learn to sleep!" It’s important to think things through and make informed decisions, but these areas aren't quite as life-altering as people make them out to be.
Here is what bothers me: In America we argue about the ethics of “hiding” vegetables in our toddler’s food while millions of children go to bed hungry every night, some of whom never wake up. We are so busy judging others discipline styles that we miss the signs of the child in our church or school who is being abused. We are so embroiled in a “circumcision/no circumcision” debate that we don’t realize millions of girls worldwide are still undergoing female genital mutilation (“female circumcision”) a painfully unnecessary procedure that can cause severe bleeding, infertility, and childbirth complications.
The next time I am frustrated because Juliana refuses dinner once again, I want to pause and be filled with gratitude that I have food to offer her. When I am tempted to get involved in a petty debate, I want to save my energy and passion for the things that really matter. There are plenty of issues in the world that should make us angry, zealous, indignant, and grieved; most of them don't even enter our radar.
The fact that we have time to stress about the little things means that we aren’t facing the big things. We are so blessed.