Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Oil and Water

Recently I saw a couple at the fertility clinic about to begin the IVF process. They were facing male-factor infertility and although they were both committed to going forward with treatment, the wife admitted to being only 50/50 about the prospect of having children. It was the husband who desperately wanted to start a family.

At the end of the session, the husband began questionning me about what it is like to be a parent. He wanted to know what the hardest part is and what about your life changes the most.

I was uncomfortable answering these questions honestly because I was worried I was going to push his wife - already on the fence about having kids - over the edge. Why? Because it is the most difficult job in the world and no matter how much you want it, it is still challenging.

There is no doubt you give up a lot when you become a parent and your life changes forever. Are there some people who regret having children? Maybe. I'm not one of them. But I won't sugar-coat it. It's tough. Tough on you physically and emotionally. Tough on your marriage. It can interfere with career goals, personal goals and financial goals. That's the reality.

Sometimes I feel so disheartened about my parenting abilities that I feel like just giving up and trying to not care. Of course that just isn't possible.

Yesterday was one of these days. After declaring that Big A had become less defiant, we had a morning from hell. She refused to brush her teeth. She refusing to get her shoes on. She refused to put her coat on. On the way to school when I asked her to stop swinging her umbrella because it was dangerous, she swung it higher and almost hit Little A in the face. When I responded by taking it away from her, she screamed the entire way and snatched the umbrella back 3 times from me. At this point Little A joined in to the fun and refused to walk or ride in the stroller and just stood on the sidewalk and screamed. We entered the school property with both of them hysterical and everyone looking at me like I was a totally incompetent parent. And that is how I felt.

Although Little A has her grumpy and terrible 2 moments, overall I find her a joy and we have fun together. But I still struggle to get on with Big A most of the time. I really worry we are always going to clash and that our inability to get along is going to leave her emotionally scarred.

When we went to the Ex a few weeks ago, I had envisioned us sharing secrets and jokes and giggling like best friends. Perhaps unrealistic, but I was still disappointed that this didn't happen. We got along, but she seemed to be in her own world most of the time, so I retreated into mine. I felt better when I questioned Adam and he said she behaves similarly when they are alone together.

But the real source of conflict is her sour demeanor when she is with Adam and I. What do I mean? She cries over EVERYTHING: spilling a glass of water, tearing her painting, stubbing her toe...on a pillow, having difficulty doing up a clasp on her sweater, etc, etc. She complains about everything: toothpaste is too "spicy", what I made for dinner, she's too hot, she's too cold, our weekend plans are boring, Little A got a bigger cookie, having to walk the WHOLE 3 blocks home from school, etc., etc. She needs us for EVERYTHING. She can't even watch tv herself. She needs our physical presence and our undivided attention 24/7.

And she is NOT like this for her teachers. She is not like this for her grandparents. She is not like this for ANYONE except Adam and I.

When I recently appealed to her teacher for help, she was perplexed. Big A is the OPPOSITE at school: outgoing, confident and mature. She eventually suggested Big A needs more individual attention from us.

Yes attention. This has been a constant theme in our struggles with Big A for a long time. Almost everyone thinks it's because of Big A's existance. But the thing is, a lot of this was present in her behaviour with us before Little A ever came on the scene.

So is it my parenting? Is it her innate personality type? Probably a bit of both.

I worry that neither of us is able to change and we are destined to butt heads forever. If she's oil, I'm water and we may never mix? Couldn't we add a bit of mustard to help us emulsify? Sorry...I naturally think in cooking terms...the truth is I continue to find that missing ingredient that can make us come together. Adam and I have made an effort to have alone time with her. My parents and Adam's parents share special activities with her and her alone. One of Adam's cousin's frequently treats Big A to trips to Canada's Wonderland, movies and live shows, which do not include Little A.

Is this not enough? Are we really ignoring her? When she does have our undivided attention, she ignores my efforts to strike up conversation, shrugging her shoulders if I ask her about her day, her friends or her thoughts.

Will we ever have the mother-and-daughter "best friends" relationship that I have always dreamed I'd have with the girls? I don't know. If we don't, is that okay or is she going to be emotionally damaged? Or is her behaviour now, at age 5, tell us little about how she will behave in another 5 years, or 10 years, or as an adult? Research in this area has few definitive answers.

So I guess I should have told my client that the easiest thing about being a parent is loving your children. No matter what, I love them more than I can express and would do anything for them and I never for one second regret becoming a mom.

The hardest thing about being a parent? Knowing how to parent. Kids are a huge challenge yet the come with no instruction booklet. Not only that, but what is best for one child is not best for another so it's not one size fits all.

It's a myth that there is such thing as a perfect parent. I guess I can only keep trying and keep caring and keep hoping that eventually things will even out.

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