Parenting did not come easy to me. It was hard. It’s still hard. It’s humbling. It turns out raising another human is not so simple. Unlike some other things I’ve learned, this was not something I could just power through. This was a skill that was going to take some time, not something I could acquire overnight. This came as a shock. I like “getting” things. I consider myself a quick learner and resourceful. I like being able to do things and to fix things. But, parenting is not so easily “done” and children are not so easily “fixed”. Trust me, I tried.
Well, it wasn’t always so challenging in fact. There was a time when I was a great parent. It was before I had kids though. Then, back then, I was such a good parent. I was the best parent. I really was, in my mind at least. I could solve any parenting issue you could throw at me. Admittedly, I was a bit of a one trick pony. Most of my parenting knowledge and skill set revolved around being tougher and firmer…controlling kids. You know, just control your kids. Boom. Done. Next question.
I suppose if I had asserted enough control over my own kids, if I had really dominated or manipulated them enough, parenting could have been easier for me, in a certain regard. My kids might have listened obediently to me for a few years. If I had been particularly good at being scary, I could have stretched it out for a while. But, at some point, it would have all fallen apart. Not only would my kids eventually stop listening to me, they would eventually see me for the jerk that I was. Loose/Loose.
I realized another thing. I wasn’t really willing to go the distance, to be the tyrant, to alienate my children so much so that they would do exactly as I asked when I asked. It’s not like I didn’t try though. I yelled, threatened, and physically hurt my kids. I likely would have used an intimidation style of parenting had it worked. But my situation was, I believe, unique. I have never seen the will, the strength, the perseverance present in anybody, let alone such a little body. My son is something else. Full of strength and love, this powerful combination brought me to my knees.
I remember one particular night of trying to break my son’s will. We wanted him to go to sleep on his own. He cried and screamed and never gave up on the idea that he didn’t want to be alone. Four brutal, brutal hours later, at midnight, bleary eyed, full of confusion and sadness, I asked myself and my wife, “why are we doing this”? With other kids, this would not have happened. After 10 min, 20 min… and hour, they would have just gone to sleep. I was told that if I stuck with it he would just go to sleep. I was told that eventually he would go to sleep. I believed that this was the right thing to do, so I kept going. I was told I needed to do this. So, my resolve was strong, he needed to go to sleep on his own.
But, it was his will, his strength, and his undying desire to be close to us that forced me to come face to face with what was happening, with what I was doing. “Why I am willing to cause such pain and distress in my sweet little son to do this? Whose idea was this? Why do we do this? This is when all the questions started percolating up…and they haven’t stopped since. The veil was lifted. Any conventional parenting practice is up for debate as far as I’m concerned. If crying it out is an example of good parenting, then what else are we doing in the name of good parenting?
My experience with cry it out taught me something important. I was parenting in a way that didn’t care about what my son wanted. I was mostly just concerned about me and my priorities…to be honest. In this case, I wanted him to go to sleep on his own, like he was supposed to. It became so clear that night, in that small apartment, at midnight. But, this didn’t feel right. This was not the parent I wanted to be. Surely, I could do better than this?
What else was I forcing him to do because he was “supposed to do it”. How else was I hurting him to get what I wanted? Thank god for this night, for the madness of that night. This madness forced me to reevaluate, to ask why. Why am I doing this?
I couldn’t think of a single good reason to continue parenting as I was parenting. It didn’t feel right at all. I could feel the tension in my body. I decided to trust this moment of truth and to trust my feelings. I needed to become the parent that I wanted to be, not someone else’s idea of a good parent. This is the night that he taught me more than he’ll ever know. I can’t tell you how glad I am that he did not give up. I’m a different parent, a different person now because of him, because of that night.
I finally realized and have never forgotten that all he wanted was to lie with one of us. So I lied with him. As soon as I did that, he was asleep in 20 seconds. And my life as a parent changed forever.