Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Challenging Day in Parenthood

Before I had children I thought I knew everything about parenting. I watched a handful of Nanny 911 and Super Nanny shows. I took a few mental notes, and thought I was ready to go. When I saw other kids misbehaving at the store I thought to myself, "If that were MY kid, that wouldn't happen! I would do X Y and Z before I let my child behave like that!"

Then I became a mom.

I realized how little I actually knew about parenting. I realized yes, it IS important to stick to your guns, be consistent, and follow through. I've also learned that, on the other hand, sometimes it's okay to let things slide, pick your battles, and give in every now and again. Most importantly, sometimes you have to ignore the rule book and get creative when you're a parent.

For instance, yesterday I took Tralee to McDonald's. Something I swore I would never do when I became a perfect parent, because I didn't want Tralee to ever taste processed food. We don't make it a regular habit, but I'll admit, we've been through a Happy Meal or two. We mostly like to go to McDonald's, or any fast food eatery for that matter, for the the play place. Play places are especially nice on rainy or cold days when the park isn't as inviting. So, yesterday we traveled to our favorite McDonald's play place. Tralee got an order of hotcakes, orange juice, and fruit and yogurt parfait. As my mental Mommy Book of Rules stated, I made Tralee eat before entering the play place area.

Tralee played for over an hour, and then it was time to go. I gave her a five-minute warning (thank you Mommy Book of Rules for that tip). After five minutes I announced we had to leave. The answer I got back was a resounding "No! I don't want to!" I flipped through my mental notes of "what to do in this situation?" I settled on something I read in a parenting magazine. I got down to Tralee's level and let her know I understood her.

"Tralee, I know you don't want to leave. It's hard to leave when you're having so much fun, but we still have to go."

Again I received an adamant "No!" So I went back to my mental Book of Rules and moved onto another tactic. Counting to three.

Counting to three actually works remarkably well when we're at home. It only took a few times of putting Tralee in time-out after reaching the dreaded third number before she understood the concept. This is how it went down at the play place:

"Tralee, Mommy is going to count to three, and if you don't come here and put on your shoes and coat Mommy's going to come in and get you. . . One. Tralee looked up and studied my face to see how serious I was. Two. At least the little girl standing next to Tralee looked scarred, but Tralee just starred me down as if to say, 'I'm calling your bluff Mom!' Three!" Tralee then waited to see what I would do.

In all honesty, I wasn't sure what to do. Tralee was in a tiny little part of the play place not meant for adults, and I had Hunter in his car seat, so I couldn't really take him into the play place or leave him unattended. After a few seconds of staring at each other, Tralee turned away and kept playing.

"Crap!" I thought. "This is exactly what I shouldn't do. I need to follow through." Next, I riffled through my mental checklist and decided to count to three again, but this time I was going in to get her. . . even with Hunter in tow if I had to. We revisited number three. It went much the same as the first time. The same little girl looked at me with fear again. . . but not Tralee. Nope. Tralee just backed up further into the lair of the play place. Testing me. I was bound and determined not to fail this time. I set Hunter's car seat right outside the play place, and I crawled in to get my stubborn girl.

I grabbed Tralee's hand. She pulled it away. I reached for something else, and caught her shirt. I ended up pulling her out of the play place by her shirt, the whole while listening to Tralee's protests. I'm sure I looked like Mother of the Year. The good news is, we made it out, and Hunter was still waiting patiently in his car seat. However, I still had the nearly impossible task of getting both kids out to the car by myself. Keep in mind, Tralee is contorting in every possible position to get me to unleash my grip. At this point I riffled through my mental Mommy Checklist and drew a blank. Time Out wasn't an option. There was no place to put Tralee where she wouldn't ruin everyone elses' fun time. I thought, "Maybe Supernanny's idea of a portable naughty mat isn't such a bad idea. I could pull it out right here and sit Tralee on it." Then I realized there's nothing worse than having to sit through someone's child throw a tantrum when you're eating out. . . even if it is just Mickey-D's.

I kept thinking how in the world I would get both kids out to car, as I couldn't very well leave one of them unattended while I strapped the other in. I also couldn't hold Tralee and the car seat at the same time. This is where an extra set of arms would come in handy. I knew if I let go of Tralee, she would take off. I tried one more time to do as Nanny 911 taught me: Get down to Tralee's level, and give her a warning. She was too upset to even listen. I still tried. I was actually tempted to pin her down and sit on her, but thought we were already making a big enough scene, so there was no need to get child protective services involved as well. In the end, Tralee exited on my shoulders, where she's too scarred to move. Move, she didn't, but yell "No! I don't want to go!" she did. I held onto one of her legs with one arm, and Hunter's car seat with the other.

We finally made it to the car. I set Tralee in her car seat, and she immediately popped out and climbed to the front of the car before I could buckle her. I told her to get back in her seat and I got another "No!" I told her she better be back in the seat by the time I put Hunter in his. She refused. I counted to three again and threatened time-out. I got to three and put her in the back of our VUE. I held onto her so she couldn't climb around again. All the while people where exiting and entering McDonald's. Wouldn't you know it. . . I parked right in front so this spectacle was for all to see. After time-0ut, and showing an increase of love (that parenting skill came straight from the scriptures), Tralee still refused to sit in her seat. If you're thinking "So, what! Just force her in!" Then, you've never tried to strap in a 40-pounder who's doing everything in her power to NOT let you strap her in. I was tempted to yell. . . to be THAT mom. The crazy one you see yelling hysterically at her child in the parking lot. It was getting close to that. I stopped and thought, "What would Supernanny do?" I know she would probably keep giving time-outs until the child eventually complied. Well. . . I just didn't want to spend the rest of the day in the parking lot, and Hunter was starting to fuss, so I finally chucked my Mommy Book of Rules to a corner of my mind, and tried a new tactic. I prayed it would work.

I took Tralee out of the car, sat her on the sidewalk by the entrance to McDonald's and said, "Fine. You can stay here and play all you want, but Mommy said it was time to leave, so I'm leaving." I then got in the car and started the engine. I knew my new tactic worked when I saw the look of horror on Tralee's face. She was so scarred that I might leave her, that she ran right up to me, and let me buckle her right in her car seat. I felt a little bad about using a scare tactic on her, but it worked . . . thank heavens!!!

On the way home I picked up, and dusted off my mental Book of Rules, and decided to give some positive feedback. I remember reading somwhere, "even if your child only does ONE thing right, make sure to give praise for that one thing so they want to keep it up and do more good things. Children thrive on positive reinforcement" I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw my little three-year-old, with tears running down her face, sitting quietly in her car-seat. She was defeated, but at least she was sitting still and being quiet. I said, "Tralee, you're such a good girl for sitting so well in your car seat! I know it's not always easy to leave a place when you're having fun, but we can always go back and play another time. Thank you again for sitting in your seat." I thought now might be a good time to ask her if she had fun playing. The sniffled answer I got was, "No. . . Tralee sad! Tralee not want to leave." I let her know I was sorry she felt sad. I let her know I loved her, and I hoped that Tralee wouldn't forget all the fun she had, just because it had to come to an end. I was relieved when Jim came home. He asked her "What did you do today?" Tralee's eyes lit up as she remembered, "Go to play place. Play piano. Play violin. Play basketball game." (These are all things at the play place.) There was never once a mention of how mean Mommy was. Thankfully my parenting skills (or lack thereof) didn't completely damage her.

All I know for sure is, whatever I THOUGHT I knew about being a parent is so different when I'm in the midst of it. I know I was blessed with a stubborn child. Tralee's stubbornness makes me want to rip my hair out some days, but when I'm not doing that, I know her strong will is what makes Tralee who she is. She NEVER gives up on ANYTHING, and I don't think she ever will. That's a pretty great trait to have. I also remember how easily I used to cast judgment on other's parenting skills. Maybe I jinxed myself by doing this, but I now know, until you're the one dealing with a child throwing a tantrum in public, you don't realize how hard it can be. I know the tried and true rules work well. . . but on some occasions they don't work. These are the occasions when you write your own rules. The rest of the time you just gotta pray and keep your fingers crossed that your child turns out okay.


Nana said...

Leslie, I felt so sorry for you as I read the McDonalds incident.
You did the right thing by telling Tralee that you were leaving without her if she didn't get in the car.
That way she knew you meant what you said and when mommy asks her to do something she should do it, not when she's ready but right after you ask her.
I think that incident she will remember and do as you ask. I sincerely hope so or you might have to pull another "I'll leave without you if you don't mind me"
She will eventually understand that you mean business. She can't pull things like that in school. She must learn now before she gets to school.
When the teacher will ask to stop doing something she'll have to understand, because all the other children will obey.
Gosh, I hope all goes well for you from now on.
I wish you the best, Love, Nana

Boom said...

Whew!!!!! I'm glad she has you for a MOMMY!

Love, Mom

Jim said...

What if she called your bluff?

Was that your last shot??

Considered a stun gun???


Audie said...

We always say we're leaving and then if the girls don't respond, we say "Okay, we're going. You can stay. See you later." We walk away and Jovie always follows. Oakley's a bit of a turd though.

Loved the story. I felt all of the emotions as I read it!

Amberly said...

we have a rule at our house that happy kids get to ride in my car. if you're not pleasant, you're welcome to get out! I have left scared children on the sidewalk while I pulled away slowly more than once. it works though! I'm proud of your follow-through, it will show her you're serious. nice handle of this sticky situation!

Teri said...

Aren't toddlers so wonderful!??!
On the bright side, that stubborness will be a blessing when she is a teenager right? Nobody will EVER make her do something she doesn't want to do.
That's a blessing!! Just kinda a pain right now. ;o)
You're a great mom!