I’ve talked with the kids a number of times about listening to that small voice inside, the one that pipes up when something feels wrong or somebody seems a little off. T-man brought this up just the other day as we followed a car into the neighborhood, commenting that it was P’s dad and he never did like him. Some folks might have a problem with kids talking like that, but again…the voice.
T-man’s opinion didn’t surprise me because the dad is a yeller. After I learned he’d scream at his kids in front of T-man and Bear I told them to stick to playing at our house with P, and that was almost two years ago. What did surprise me was T-man’s tone when he made the comment – like he could still remember the feeling of being in this man’s presence, and that feeling was clearly upsetting.
And that little anecdote right there, my friends, is why I didn’t become a mother until I was thirty-four.
Some of you might be thinking Whoa, Laura, that’s quite a leap. What’s the guy down the street got to do with your reproductive cycle?
Well, let’s play make believe for a moment. BrightSide and I got married at twenty-four (which was a couple of years earlier than he’d planned, but you know the saying – we make plans and God laughs). Let’s pretend that, like a couple of our friends, we were surprised within the first year with baby #1. If we use easy math then I can just say we would have been a family of four by the time we were twenty-eight.
Now, I know becoming a parent changed me, but that end result still came from the raw material available. I was an extremely different person in my twenties, so my younger mama would have been another person altogether. And while I’m certain she would have done her best, I know she would have struggled.
I was temperamental. Not in a passionate and artistic sort of way; it was more like an unpredictably volatile thing, and we all know how well that works with young kids. I was stressed out all the time, and I had no idea how to quiet my head when the minutiae got all jumbled up in there. I beat myself up for not being perfect, was terrible about apologizing when I was wrong, and doubted my instincts constantly.
I imagine if I’d become a mom in my mid to late twenties I would have been a lot more likely to micromanage. My temper would have been shorter, my beliefs about childrearing more rigid, and my ability to listen to my inner voice would have been sorely underdeveloped.
Fast forward to my late thirties and forties…my younger self would have worried about looking overprotective by telling my kids to play at our house and stay away from theirs. Now? I heard my kids’ description of what was happening, saw their reaction to the parent/child relationship, and listened to my instincts.
My younger self would have snapped over the endless stream of ridiculousness exhibited by children. Fussing about food, refusing to do chores, making an unholy mess in their rooms, leaving shoes in the middle of the floor – and on and on and on. Truth be told, had we started our family a decade earlier I probably would be on blood pressure medication by now.
But now? Kids eat when they’re hungry if food is made available, and they’re perfectly capable of feeding themselves. Kids need boundaries, so we set expectations and make it clear what consequences result from substandard behavior. Then it’s all about the follow through. There are some things worth blowing a top over, but the vast majority of issues benefit from a few deep breaths and a calmer approach.
Some of this is maturity talking…I’ve gotten older so I’m more comfortable in my shoes, and that changes my parenting. But some of it is learning to trust my inner voice. It’s a hard skill for a lot of older women to master; we’ve spent so many years discounting our own feelings to keep the peace around us. But listening to my instincts is what makes me a better parent, and it’s what will get us through the teenage years.
My instincts have been the safety net for a struggling child, tipped me to body issues and bullying, picked up on race and identity issues, and spotted emotional or physical ailments. Believing in these instincts brought me this far; I have to believe it’ll get me home.
So for all of you parenting day in and day out, regardless of how your family came together, keep fighting the good fight. Listen to that inner voice. Act on those parental instincts. Your voice will set you free.