Sunday, April 7, 2013

Scoreboard: Kids 1, Parents 0

Lately the celebrity news headlines have been buzzing with stories about stars that are getting pregnant or adopting children well over the age of 40.  There are photos of baby bumps and critiques of maternity fashions everywhere you turn.  Even in interviews these folks go on and on about their cravings, their sleep habits and the weirdly unique names they plan to give these kids.  Although at its core, these stories celebrate some wonderfully blessed events, I find myself staying clear of the all pregnancy hype just in case that stuff is contagious.  Don't want to accidentally catch the baby fever, now do I?  There is no cure when that fever hits you.  Once it develops, you find yourself laid up for months in a dizzying honeymoon of sorts, daydreaming about kissable chubby cheeks and soft cooing noises.  You become so delusional that you begin to believe sweet little bouncing babies actually stay that way long term.

They do eventually grow and start to talk...and talk back...and develop crappy attitudes...towards everything...especially you, the parent that cleaned the poop and wiped the spit up and lost sleep every time they turned over in the night.  Remember that series of pregnancy books we all read, "What to Expect When You're Expecting"?  I have been contemplating writing my own series of advice books and calling them something like "What to Expect When Your Once Cute Baby Boy Grows Into A Smart-Mouthed Slob That Constantly Wants To Go To Battle With You Over Every Little Thing".  Maybe I need a shorter title.  

It is not that I don't love my kids with all my heart, but it seems like the game of parenting has just stepped up to the next level for us.  Once we left the diapers and baby bottles behind, we felt like we had hit easy street for a while.  The boys reached a stage of independence without much drama that made us believe we were doing an okay job.  Our biggest headaches were making sure Santa and the Tooth Fairy showed up on schedule and that the food pantry remained stocked with marginally healthy after school snacks.  However, lately things have shifted.  My beautiful little tykes are growing into real people with real mood swings and real attitudes that can be a real buzz kill on an otherwise average day.  We go back and forth over everything from clothing to food to TV, and sometimes just over general bad vibes in the room.

I fully expected these changes to occur, but much later down the line when we reached the adolescent years.  My oldest son seems to have inherited his teenage tendencies several years early and his occasional not so pleasant attitude is taking up way too much space in this household.  My baby boy, a.k.a. the Caveman, is the slob that leaves his mark on every corner of the house without regard for cleanliness and hygiene.  If something smells or looks like it needs a cap full of bleach, it probably belongs to him.  Add to this the fact that they fight each other constantly just because they are complete polar opposites in personality, hobbies and general breathing habits.  The time and attention we give to redirecting and managing these two behavioral developments is dominating our every move in this house.  As a parent, you walk that fine line between being a good disciplinarian and being a domineering tyrant.  You want order and obedience, but you don't want to treat them like the family dog.  You want to cut out those smart-mouthed comments, but you don't want to break their spirit for speaking up for themselves.  You want to foster their independence and strength, but you still want them to know whose boss in your presence.

In the last few months, parenting just got really hard for us.  We have been second guessing our moves and our speech around the boys, wondering if their bad habits are normal developments or a reflection of our parenting.  Have we spoiled them too much?  Bought too many toys?  Babied them too long?  Spanked them too little?  Some days it feels like there is a giant scoreboard keeping an ongoing record of our back-and-forth and tit-for-tats.  In a way, they are winning and we are losing.  It is like there is a  battle for control in this house.  It started a few months ago and someone forgot to tell my husband and I that the competition was underway, allowing the kids to get an early upper hand.  Can I have a timeout, so I can plan my strategy or consult  a playbook?  It cannot go on this way for another eight or nine years, or can it?

At this point, I cannot say for sure what direction we will take in an effort to get things back on track. I might start trolling the internet for proper bolts and hinges to lock them in their rooms for a while until we gain control on the home front.  Too extreme?  Nope!  We will slide a tray of food and water in the room once a day.  Okay I am kidding (not really), but we have decided to give them more responsibility around the house in hopes that it leads to a little character building.  If you fight over a toy, we take that toy away.  If you cannot get your act together by the time we are ready to go somewhere, then you stay home.  If your room is not clean, then you sit there in the filth until it starts to resemble a human dwelling again.

Above and beyond all of this, we have vowed to no longer repeat ourselves when telling the kids to do something.  We used to bark out an order and the boys would not react right away because they knew we would allow a few more chances before we took action.  This probably made us look like chumps in their eyes, but it is changing for the better.  No more we will stand at the foot of the stairs begging people to do anything.  The hubby and I have cracked down on the discipline and have seen some improvement, but we won't rest on our laurels anymore. We have a few more tricks to try out before we resort to a full blown lock down. Stay tuned. Round 2 is still in progress.

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