The joys of parenting are many, except when your child is four. Terrible twos? Trying threes? Oh, I can think of a word for the fours.... it's just not polite. During those previous ages, there were trying days, yes. But they were separated by enough time so that I could feel love and affection for my child again. These days, there is not often a long enough span for recovery in between bouts of insane frustration.
Plenty of days, I feel like I'm walking on eggshells, not sure what thing I say will set him off or what object I'll lay at the wrong angle. He is so demanding that I do things exactly his way or there's a twenty minute stand-off between us, involving screaming, hitting and door banging (this is usually him) leaving us both exhausted (in different ways) and in need of a vacation (me) or at least a serious snuggle (him). However, I ask him to do something for me and you'd think I just asked the Pope to consult the Koran. Seriously. He will not: pick out a book for us to read, answer simple questions, move closer to a swing so I can lift him onto it, walk to the car, walk down the stairs in the morning, stay in a room without me even if it's just for 30 seconds! Of course, for these things, I do not give in and do what he refuses to. He just has another fit.
So. There you have it. The real, honest-to-goodness truth about what my life can be like these days, fairly regularly. And there are many times when I wonder what in the world I'm supposed to do with this kid.
All of this really calls into question my parenting values and style. There are so many ways to parent, discipline, teach: listen to your child, hit your child, give time-outs, never give time-outs, love and logic, positive parenting. With all that out there, I can get indecisive and inconsistent. Inconsistencies are never helpful to a child. All the information is not always helpful to me.
In my heart, I believe it is my job to support this human being in who he is. I believe he already is someone and that he is learning who that is as he grows. I believe it's my job to help him learn about himself and trust himself. Also, I think it's my role to teach him about the world around us; it's expectations and quirks, etiquette and rules. Along the way, I do not want to: break his spirit, make him blindly obey or feel powerless and angry, stop listening to him, make him into who I want him to be instead of who he wants to be.
This, my friends, is the nitty gritty work of parenting that makes it so exhausting. As much work as it takes to mold a child into the behaving, obeying, mindful, fearful sheep that we sometimes so desperately want to experience, it takes even more work to teach a child to be self-disciplined, self-aware, conscientious, empathetic, moral, to trust himself and to be able to make good decisions because of that.
So, back to the literature that remind me to stay calm, set firm limits, choose alternatives to punishment, be present and aware: How To Talk So Kids Will Listen, ahaparenting.com, Connection Parenting. Away from the crazy anger that rises in me when my child won't completely obey me and into a more helpful approach. I'm not saying I'm always there. But I am trying.