Monday, April 14, 2014

How I Became the Perfect Parent

If you have come here looking for information about donating to the JDRF in support of my fundraising campaign, please click here, and if you want to read my manifesto about why I'm running 12 half-marathons in 12 months, click here. For those of you who are wondering, I have only two races left to run, and I am embarrassed to have fallen woefully behind on blogging about my races. To be blunt, my brain has been a little preoccupied by my family recently -- hence, the following post.  Thanks for reading, and donating if you have or will! 

In general, I am a fan of being a parent. It is absolutely common for me to gaze at my children and feel as though I am floating weightless in a garden-scented bubble bath while angels are plopping toasted marshmallows into my mouth and fairies are massaging my toes. They fill me with that much joy.

It's a hot mess of perfection around here.

Except lately, when I have had a six-year-old. We are starting to hear rumblings of the kind of girl-on-girl psychotic social behavior that we foolishly thought we had another half-decade to prepare for. We are starting to feel shriveled and foul-smelling under the weight of a disdainful brown-eyed gaze that burrrns. We are starting to hear a patronizing tone of voice and a level of resistance to our wisdom that is so convincing, even I am being won over to the idea that I am an idiot.

Where did I go wrong? I'm not going to be one of those moms who blames everyone else for my child's misdeeds; I'm here to take responsibility and figure out how I can improve. But the confusing thing is, I'm pretty sure I'm a perfect parent. I'm not just making it up as I go along -- I've done my research. I've read a good number of parenting books and a really outlandish number of highly opinionated blogs in my quest to not ever use my common sense as a parenting tool. I know all these other people can tell me how to parent. I've listened. Which is why it's everyone else's fault if I've done anything wrong.

Through all my reading, I have become enlightened to quite a lot of things. For instance, one of the biggest faults of American parents is that we are too permissive. We don't set enough guidelines for our children, we let them get away with murder, we don't take a stand against reckless, irresponsible behavior and disrespectful attitudes. Those are some of the reasons why our kids are so screwed up. They also are totally screwed up because we drive them too hard, we "helicopter parent," we don't give them enough free time and freedom to make decisions and mistakes, and we don't give them enough time and space to just be children. Because I have taken all that wisdom to heart, I know exactly what to do. Or not to do. The best solution seems to be to not do a thing, because one thing is certain: American parents are doing everything wrong.

I have also learned that I must give my children plenty of positive reinforcement. Praise, praise, praise when they make the right decision, because negative discipline (time-outs, lecturing, scolding, expressing any form of disapproval when they royally blow it) is not only ineffective but will also quickly harden my child's wiring into that of a serial killer. Except that I must be careful not to praise too much. I praise Elaine as sparingly as possible, ideally not at all, because I know that overpraising will make my kid a clingy, unable-to-self-direct, unimaginative follower. It's better to merely observe and reflect upon what she's doing, so she can form her own judgments and confidence about her accomplishments. So when my daughter paints a heart-melting portrait of my family holding hands in front of a white-fence house with a smiling sun overhead, I DO NOT do what is natural, including and especially if my impulses guide me to say something stupid such as, "Oh what a beautiful painting! I'm going to hang it up." I merely glance at it briefly and make a neutral comment such as, "That house has four windows," or "You drew something." This is crucial in my crusade to demonstrate for my child that humans do not naturally admire things or experience positive feelings of any sort.

I am extraordinarily careful not to comment on my daughter's appearance, since I know this will drill into her head that people are interested in her only if she's considered attractive, and also models for her that the best way to judge someone is based on their appearance. I will admit that this got a touch awkward recently when she tried on a dress I sewed for her (no small accomplishment; I am not a naturally gifted seamstress). As she twirled in front of me, I stared blankly until she finally said, "I think it fits ...?" and I replied "Good, then" before stalking off in silence, content in the knowledge that I had again masterfully navigated parenting.

It wasn't all that hard for me to withhold excitement about the dress, though, thanks to the fact that Elaine had chosen for it a fabric that was very pink-intensive. I am well aware that I must resist my daughter's impulses to surround herself with pink. She doesn't know (but I do) that pink, objectively speaking, is for weak-minded females who are waiting around for someone to do their thinking for them. If I allow her to wear pink all the time, play with pink toys, color with pink crayons, I'm obviously dooming her to an accomplishment-free existence. In order to make it clear to her that she must think for herself, I ignore her tastes and preferences, and I do not buy anything pink.

I feel like this is the right place to point out that I have selflessly stopped grooming adopted a very natural beauty routine as part of my campaign to demonstrate that it's what's on the inside that counts. I haven't blown my hair dry in years. I haul out my mascara not more than a couple times a week. My lipstick hardens and starts to smell weird before I ever use up a tube. My nails are chipped and my cuticles are like gravel. Inspired, my daughter races home from school every day and tears her clothes off on her way upstairs. Within 32 seconds or so, she'll be happily teetering around on one of my pairs of stilettos (she is forever unearthing ones I forgot I had), glamorously bedecked in one of a large number of shimmery dress-up frocks of hers. She is so cosmetics-obsessed that she has been known to compose entire songs whose lyrics consisted only of the word "makeup" repeated over and over. Determined to prevail on this one, I have stopped wearing clothes and shoes altogether.

One of the very first things I learned about parenting is that giving kids choices is the only sure way to get them to cooperate. Giving them choices lets them feel empowered and confident. It is a great way to manipulate them into doing what you want, without issuing threats. E.g., instead of saying "Wash your hands and sit down for dinner or I will dismember this dolly," you can say, "Would you prefer to wash your hands and sit down for dinner, or have me put your favorite dolly down the garbage disposal?" No threats, just a choice. Thankfully, my children are brilliant enough to detect the nuances of this method; they are able to differentiate the empowerment of having chosen not to watch a dolly get butchered from the belittlement of being threatened by the prospect of doll butchering.

I have also learned that if you are not wearing your baby/toddler, or did not wear him or her, you've missed an unrecoverable bonding opportunity, which will leave the two of you permanently emotionally estranged. But, and this part is important, if you use(d) a Baby Bjorn to do your baby-wearing, you have done even worse. You tortured your baby. You dangled them by their crotch, in abject pain and facilitating permanent hip damage, while you toodled about not giving a thought in the world to anyone but yourself, which is what all mothers are doing basically all the time. I was dismayed to learn this last part after both my kids had outgrown our Bjorn, which is stained and threadbare thanks to the countless hours my cooing or snoring infants spent in it.

Most importantly, I know that it is very important to teach your children to be self-sufficient. That is why I have empowered them to use the remote control unassisted, microwave themselves mugs of boiling water to make herbal tea, and hoist themselves onto the counter to get the chips and cookies on top of the fridge. This gives them a great sense of independent achievement and, conveniently, leaves me free to spend all day learning how to be a perfect parent (thanks, Internet!) and, of course, blogging and Facebooking so that everyone else also knows how perfect I am. You're welcome.