This is a hard post to write, because it’s a hard thing to admit:
Sometimes I forget to even try to enjoy my children.
On the one hand, this is good. I give myself permission not to treasure every moment, and it’s a relief not to feel guilt when I can’t feel joy. Some things just aren’t better with small children. (Stomach bugs, for instance.) Some stages are particularly challenging. That’s ok.
But there have been times when I’ve hardened my hearts to my children, just seen it as my work to shape these little people into likable humans (a task Jennifer Senior explores in the really fascinating All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood). It’s true they are my 9-5 grind, but seeing them that way means that they’re just obtrusive work emails, obnoxious take-home work, standing in the way of my real fun when the weekend rolls around. I end up like Marilla Cuthbert, vowing grimly, “But I’ve put my hand to the plow and I won’t look back.”
So it was kind of a wakeup call to me this winter, reading Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids — a book with a truly embarrassing title. (Peaceful sounds like hippie nonsense and happy doesn’t feel like it’s in my control, or necessarily the point.) Still, it was the only parenting audiobook available from the library at that frustrated moment, and something needed to change.
And the book doesn’t come right out and tell you to enjoy your children, maybe because, duh, everyone else is doing that already. But it reminds you that a kid can tell when he’s delighting you, and reminds you that connection builds a basis on which you can strengthen your relationship and influence in your child’s life. When a child can tell she’s pleasing you, she wants to please you more.
This is pretty self-evident stuff, but for me, it was revolutionary. Now when we argue, I try to return us to equilibrium, hugging or offering genuinely kind words or initiating an activity we both enjoy, like the 500th game of Octonauts UNO. I’m trying to remind us we like each other, and you know what? It helps. Good feelings encourage good feelings and soon we are both trying to say “yes” to each other more often.
There were other helpful things in this book — particularly parts where Markham points out that a lot of the anger we feel towards our children is motivated by fear triggering fight and flight responses — but the book, despite its occasional flaws and genre-typical ramblings, is worth it for this small epiphany alone: Enjoy your kids.