I know this is totally cliche, but I find myself often wishing for a parenting manual, one in which all the tricky questions are answered. This manual needs to be very specific, though, addressing all the particular needs of each of my children. I am just so sick of feeling completely clueless at this parenting gig. Every time something I try works, I feel this enormous sense of relief, like I have dodged a bullet, but I am sure that someday everyone is going to realize that I am a complete parenting fraud. I have no idea what I am doing.
I have read a multitude of parenting tomes, books by Dr. Phil, the Super Nanny, Dr. Spock and Dr. James Dobson, not to mention all the SPD books and articles I could get my hands on. Still, I have yet to find a book or expert who really helps me with my kids in all the tricky, daily situations. People have told me that trusting my instincts is the best, which I for the most part I subscribe to, but occasionally my instincts fail me. Like in the instances where my instinct is to throttle one of the kids, or to run away from home and never come back, or in general when following my instincts would result in arrest or at least being reported to DCFS. Then, there are times when I just have no instinct at all. I have absolutely no clue what to do.
For example, all of a sudden, Charlotte hates baths. She refuses to get into the tub, when 4 months ago, baths were a treat to her. I have tried all kinds of bath foams and tub markers, all to no avail. For a while letting her wear her bathing suit worked, but no more. Now, I have to forcibly hold her in the tub while I frantically suds her up and wash her hair--all while she screams as if I were boiling her alive. I have no idea what to do about this. And the worst part is knowing that while I might receive some inspiration to induce her to bathe, it won't last. Sooner or later, that idea will fail, along with all the rest of them. Either that or she will just move on to a newer and more difficult battle. And I guess I am just getting a bit frustrated and tired. When will it all just click? Will I ever have just one day where it all went well? Where all my parenting decisions were stellar and without reproach?
What has really got me thinking on this topic is the incredibly difficult morning we had with Danny today. Everything went fine until we had to get dressed for church. All of a sudden, Danny refused to take off his pajamas and he kept insisting that he wanted to stay home. We haven't had this problem in ages and it kind of blindsided me. I thought this was one mountain we had surmounted, never to return to again. I tried everything I could think of to convince Danny that he needed to get dressed and nothing worked, not bribery, not threats, not yelling, not begging. I didn't know what to do. We were, by this point, running quite late and getting desperate. Bil offered to stay home with him, while I took Charlotte, and he and Danny would come a bit later when Danny finally got dressed. I didn't like this idea because I had a feeling that Danny would never cooperate and they would both just stay home, locked in a battle of wills. To me, this would be a reward for Danny's bad behavior and I knew that if Danny figured out that he could stay home if he acted up, we would have these problems forever. Who wouldn't rather stay home in his pajamas than attend three hours of church?
I sat on the couch crying a bit, just wondering what the heck I should do. Then, as is my habit, I started catastrophizing, wondering how I would be able to handle the teen years if I couldn't even get my kid dressed in the morning. How would I handle three kids, when the two I have now are such a handful? What was God thinking, really, to give ME, of all people, kids and not just regular kids, but one who has developmental delays and SPD?
Finally, I decided to take charge. Danny was going to church, even if it meant he went in his pajamas. So, I gave him a deal. If he wore his pajamas to church, he would not get to play computer games or watch a video after church. We had already put all his cars into timeout because he wouldn't cooperate, so we had pretty much pulled out the big guns, punishment-wise. We finally got everyone in the car, Danny still clad in his dinosaur pjs, because of course, on this day, of all days, he couldn't have been wearing pjs that remotely passed for regular clothes, oh no.
I have to admit I wasn't happy with this solution, mostly because it was embarrassing to me to have my kid show up to church in pajamas. Keep in mind that in our church pretty much all the women wear dresses and skirts and the men wear ties. Not a place where pjs will even remotely go unnoticed. I just knew people would say things and wonder why we let our kid wear his pajamas to church. They would think that we let our kids get away with murder, blah, blah, blah. And this is when I decided that I needed to quit worrying about what other people think, for once in my life. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that though Bil and I felt completely clueless in this parenting crisis, we actually had come up with a plan of action that was best for us. We didn't give in and let Danny stay home from church, which was the most important part for me. Also, though he went to church in his pajamas, he was being punished with no cars or computer because he wouldn't get dressed. So, in my opinion, we were addressing all aspects of the undesirable behavior. People at church wouldn't know that by looking at us, but let them judge if they wanted, right? I knew we were handling it the best way we could.
Anyway, despite a couple of insensitive remarks, (one woman actually thought we had overslept and just let Danny come in his pjs. Not sure why she thought the rest of us were dressed well. Did she think I just thought, "Well, we are running late, so I won't bother dressing Danny. I spent too much time on Charlotte's diaper and sparkly dress. I guess we'll just worry about him next week") church went really well. I didn't go around making excuses to people about our family's wardrobe choices, I forgot to worry about what everyone was thinking, and that was an enormous blessing.
Danny is now begging us to take his cars out of timeout, and though it is only 3:53 PM, I am counting the minutes until bedtime. But come Sunday next week, I have a feeling that Danny will cooperate with getting dressed for church.
I don't know. Maybe, just maybe, my instincts were right. Maybe I am not quite as inept as I thought.
Aw, who am I kidding? I still have no idea what I am doing, but so far the kids are alive and happy and that has to count for something, right?