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The Struggles of Being a Mama Bear

Innately, we all know that a person isn’t “bad” because they are different in some way. We are taught from a young age to treat others the way we want to be treated. Bud we don’t always model that for our children. Kids watch you. And they do what you do not what you say. A mom makes a catty remark on the phone to a friend about another soccer mom. At the game on Saturday, she sits with the woman she was gossiping about and acts like her best friend. Her daughter overhears and observes this. What did she just learn? What mental pathway was just formed in her brain, that will serve as a foundation in her relationships with others? Because Mommy is love. Mommy is right Mommy can do no wrong, so it must be okay to talk about people behind their backs. It’s okay to be fake and disingenuine with people. Because mommy does it

Parenting in our current society has become too easy. Going to dinner and want your child to behave? Give them their tablet. After all there are some learning apps on it right? Need to get the dishes done and the laundry folded? Throw a show on the TV. It’s PBS so they must be learning something. So maybe we skip books for tonight and she’ll go right to bed. I hope she doesn’t keep waking up again...I’m so tired. We woke up too late for breakfast again. It’s fine she can have a granola bar. They didn’t have the organic ones for this shopping, but they can’t be that bad for her. I mean I had these as a kid and I’m fine…

There are so many rationalizations you can make in a day to justify your decisions. But the reality is parenting isn’t supposed to be easy. You are aiding in the development of another human being. That is a daunting and incredibly important task. We all know the difference from when we grew up to now. We played outside. We didn’t have cell phones and TV, board games, and gaming systems were for rainy days only. Now kids have phones by 8, some even sooner than that! Each child has their own tablet, water bottle, and snack when you leave the house. The kids don’t have to learn patience because we live in an age of instant gratification. Don’t feel like cooking? Use GrubHub or UberEats. Don’t know how to write a thesis? Google it. Heck you can even buy the whole paper these days!

There is no more learning the Dewey Decimal system so you can check out books for the week. Kids who do read primarily do so digitally, which is also supported in the ongoing effort to integrate technology in education. There was no such thing as social media when I was a kid. When you made a mistake there weren’t thirty phones at the ready to capture your embarrassment. Kids today can’t afford to make a mistake without the world knowing about it. Some parents even publicly shame their kids on social media for breaking rules like sneaking out, drinking or putting up an inappropriate post. By documenting our children’s errors and by their peers capturing, commenting, and sharing these things we are holding out kids to a higher standard in this instance, then we were ever held too. We want them to be perfect, responsible, and happy all the time. I was never held to that standard. Hell I’m still not that person. When I was young my parents praised in public, and disciplined in private and they used our mistakes to help us learn. There are so many parenting tips, styles, values, and guidelines, which seems silly to some degree because the old ways of doing things worked just fine!

I played soccer and learned how to be art of a team. My dad was my coach and that fostered family bonding, mentorship, and playdates with like-minded parents. I played outside, swam in my neighbor’s pool, and go a talking-to by any parents in the neighborhood who caught me in the wrong. And then they told my parents. And I got another talking-to. I was taught that TV is rationed and we all agree on what to watch or we watch nothing. This taught sibling compromise pretty quickly because I mean, yeah, I wanted Maya the Bee, but if it was Ereka’s Castle or nothing, I’m picking Eureka every time. We didn’t all have our own Tv to watch what we want. And I was the youngest! There wasn’t a of Maya the Bee playing.

I was taught that reading is important and it’s a requirement. Much to my gall, every summer my parents gave us reading and math assignments. Did I mention it was summer? And those assignments had to be done before we could go out and play. It taught us that learning is important, that school is important, and that success takes hard work. I have a BA, MA, and Ed.S and I still foster my love of reading. I just force myself to throw some growth and learning books in with my “treat” books. And I’m always happy that I made time for the growth books.

This lifestyle, this parenting is nearly impossible to achieve because the world is radically different now. We are instantly connected to all people and all knowledge everywhere. Always. Think about that. There is nothing you can’t learn from the internet. The number of “how-to” videos on YouTube is staggering. Heck you could even just ask Alexa. Instant answer. Instant gratification. How do we temper that kind of power while still instilling the values that many of us want our children to possess.

Much to my mother’s amusement, I have declared that my daughter (four years old) will not have a phone until she’s 16 and no social media until she’s 18. That’s a hard and fast line to draw. It’s based in the fair reasoning that I don’t want her to be held accountable for her mistakes prior to her being an “adult.” That concept needs to be changed as well. 18 does not constitute being an adult and taking on the responsibilities that the legality of that entails. I wouldn’t want people to see and have documented all of my “mistakes.” I’ve made age-appropriate, but unflattering posts. I was half into my twenties when I got Facebook and I still took down past posts when I got my first job in education.

Kids today are under constant pressure to perform, achieve, and maintain an emotionally balanced demeanor. I can’t even do that, and I don’t have all the wild raging emotions coursing through my body that they do. It’s so much more important and valuable to teach out kids coping skills like yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and the power of breathing techniques. Let’s not ask our kids to be perfect, but rather give them the tools to cope with whatever comes their way.

A great example of this is a recent incident in my daughter’s pre-k class. She has extremely bad eczema on her hands and she often has cuts on her hands from scratching. A girl in her class (one of her favorite friends who she plays with every day) told her that her hands were disgusting. Now, no, that’s not a nice way to say it, but they are four years old. They are still learning the power of their words and that they can hurt people. So instead of indulging the Mama Bear instincts (trust me...the force is strong in this Mama!) I turned it back to my daughter. This was the conversation:

“Mommy Lindsy said my hands were disgusting at the playground today.

*Mama Bear takes a deep breath...practice what you preach*

“Really, why?”

“Because I have all cuts on them. She wouldn’t hold my hand.” The sad look on her face made Mama Bear unhappy.

“Well, what did you say back to her.”

“I just said ‘oh’ And then I went to the back of the line. Conner held my hand.”

*More deep breaths. In. Out. You may not slap a 4 year old. You may not yell at someone else’s four year old...Teachable moment Mama Bear.

“Okay, well did you tell Lindsy that it hurt your feelings when she said that?”

“No…”

“Okay, well she may not have meant to make you feel bad. Maybe that was just the language she had to describe your hands because of your boo boos. You and Lindsy are friends, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think she would want you to be sad?”

“No.”

“Okay, well just like you say things sometimes that hurt your cousin’s feelings, but that wasn’t what you were trying to do, maybe Lindsy wasn’t either. But if you don’t tell her it makes you sad, she won’t know not to say it.”

Now, as much as I wanted to tell that mom off and give her daughter a piece of my mind (eczema has been such a struggle and so it’s a sore spot for my family) my approaching them wouldn’t have truly helped the situation. (Plus the mom is actually really nice and I don’t think Lindsy meant it rudely. I reflected on this after I calmed Mama Bear.)

You see, talking to her mom is changing a situation to make something more comfortable for Kaylee. And is solves one problem for one day. By instead explaining to her that she can speak up for herself and say when something makes her sad or mad, now she can resolve her own conflicts with all of her peers. It’s the same concept of “Feed a man a fish and he is fed for a day. Teach him to fish and he will never go hungry,”….or something like that.

We, as a society, have shifted too far into the extremes as we often do. We have all kinds of special places, time-out, time-ins, reward charts, etc. We have to start understand that sometimes kids mess up. We’re not punishing them because they were “bad.” We model for them at a young and safe age that actions have consequences. Sometimes it’s poor behavior that results in a time out. Sometimes it’s awesome behavior and it’s rewarded with a hug, a magnet, or a trip to the park. We also have to find the will to side against our kids sometimes to side for who you want to be. As a teacher, I can tell you there were too many times to count where I was guilty until proven innocent with parents because their angel would never cheat. Or plagiarize. Or bully someone.

That kind of parenting reinforces the idea that only some authority figures are serving of respect and that they have some power because they can manipulate their parents’ protective instincts to get out of trouble. Often times with parents like this the power dynamic or hierarchy, so to speak, is out of alignment. The child is being given power over a situation where he shouldn’t have it. This, in a consistent upbringing leads to an adult who has issues with authority figures, often struggle in their career, and have a strong sense of entitlement. Because the world doesn’t really work the way they were raised, they are consistently disappointed and fall into two main patterns of behavior. The Victim and the Aggressor.

The Victim is able to manipulate the emotions of others because they are constantly experiencing disappointment and a lack of abundance. Any sympathy that they are able to wrangle, especially from family, only lends itself to validate that life is unfair and they are a victim of its cruelty. And the cycle continues. The Aggressor is always ready to fight. They don’t get their way, it’s someone else’s fault, and if they are going to be unhappy, so is the person who “wronged” them.These are the people we tend to avoid at work, school, and parties because even if you didn’t wrong them, they are always ready to heatedly “discuss” someone who has.

Whether we want the responsibility or not, the way we parent, interact with, and model for our children directly correlates with how they behave, how successful they are, and the value and quality of the relationships they have. It’s a huge undertaking. Vast. Never-ending. But it’s also awesome. On days when parenting is a day full of tantrums, elt-downs, picking up toys, doing last-minute projects, disciplining, and forcing to do homework, try to allow your soul to reframe your weariness and lack of patience Today, you withstood the battles that will win the war later. You didn’t make the easy choice, you made the right one. And twenty years from now, when you’re eating a healthy, home-cooked meal at your child’s home with their family, you will appreciate what you have achieved today.

From one tired (but grateful) Momma to another. Keep fighting the good fight.

Love,

The Hot Mess Mama


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