The other day my 3-year-old did something — I can’t remember what it was specifically because each day serves up a buffet of deviant behavior I could dish out for you — and I responded by raising my voice. “Raising my voice” is really just a nicer way of saying I was yelling at my kid. Because I was. Yelling at my kid. He’s at that age, you know? One minute he makes my heart thump wildly with his declarations of undying love for me and the next he is winging a toy at my head in response to me asking him to clean up his mess. Or he’s screaming in a store because I won’t buy him Superhero nesting dolls. (Yes, they’re a thing.) It was when I was yelling, I mean raising my voice, this most recent time that it occurred to me that I have no idea whether I’m an amazingly patient mom who goes out of her way to do nice things for her sometimes badly behaved children who loses it once in a while … or if I’m a jerk who needs to learn patience and understanding because I’m doing this parenting thing all wrong.
I really have no clue. I see other parents who seem to have it all together. And yes, while I realize they probably act differently behind closed doors, I can’t envision them losing their minds like I do. Because, I mean, I cry sometimes. I’ve actually cried over a messy bedroom. Just sat down on the floor and tearfully said, “I’m so tired. I can’t do this anymore.” So while I picture women I know maybe raising their voices (not a euphemism for yelling, in this case) with their kids when nobody is around, I just can’t envision them freaking out the way it feels like I do.
There’s this article on The Huffington Post listing 15 Things Parents Should Stop Stressing About in 2015 which tells us to stop stressing about “picking up their toys when 10 mins later they dump them again” or worrying about a messy house because “at the end of the day my children aren’t going to remember if the house was spotless or not. What they will remember though, is that I was too busy obsessing over floors to play with them. Instead I’ll sit down and play with them.”
While the tips are solid (I’ve read similar tips a handful of times in other places on the Internet) this time the notion that other parents struggle with things like picking up toys, stuff that causes me to lose my damn mind and even cry, made me feel a little better. If only because maybe it means I’m not alone in my extreme frustration (that’s a nice way of saying “losing my mind”) and impatience with seemingly small things like picking up toys.
It sounds like such a small thing, doesn’t it? Picking up toys is no big deal, right? But the other day I got off work, picked up my kids, got home and made dinner, and then spent the next two hours cleaning up after them. First I cleaned up the dinner mess and when that was done I wanted to sit on the couch and watch TV. But I realized they’d strewn toys and other madness all throughout the living room and I wouldn’t be able to watch TV with such a mess everywhere so I cleaned up that mess. While I was returning toys to their bedrooms I realized their room was a mess. After an exhausting attempt to get them to clean the room, I ended up doing it myself. After cleaning their room for them I realized they basically had no clean clothes left so I started a load of laundry and went back to try to watch TV. But the living room was a mess again so I started to clean it up and while I was doing that I heard my 3-year-old dump the entire box of Legos I’d just picked up in his bedroom back onto the floor. It was at this point that I realized I had spent nearly two hours since dinner just wandering around the house cleaning up crap and I hadn’t even had time to make my own dinner and I was so hungry and I just lost my damn mind and told everyone “IT’S TIME FOR BED. I’M DONE! THE DAY IS OVER! GET YOUR PAJAMAS ON AND GET IN BED. I’M DONE!”
It was in the middle of shouting that last bit at surprised children who were just trying to get their Lego on that I wondered if I’m the worst parent ever and I just don’t realize it because who has a Real Housewives-style freak-out over toys? I’m probably ruining them forever, I speculated. But maybe I’m awesome, I thought to myself. Because I’m constantly stressing over how much TV they watch and if I read to them enough and if their day was active enough and did I have special bonding, eye contact-y one-on-one time with each child and maybe we should go to the library again, everybody! But what does all that mean if I’m constantly freaking out over stuff? Stupid stuff, too. It’s hard to know, you know? If I happened to be walking by someone’s home and heard the mom inside freaking out on her kids the way I sometimes lose it with mine, I’d probably think she was a terrible mom. And if you told me she was shouting over the mess her kids keep making all over the house I’d think she was even worse. Chill out, lady, I’d think. It’s just toys.
But how can the spectrum of parenting be that vast? When one minute I’m genuinely wondering if I’m truly awful and the next minute I feel like maybe I’m at the top of the parenting pack with all of my savvy knowledge and laid back attitude. That’s a huge spectrum, no? Am I insane? Maybe that’s it. Parenting slowly steals sanity. That’s probably it. It has to be.
Image source: Monica BielankoMore On