I always read about the mamas with toddlers who are seemingly stuck in the trenches, whether stay at home or working. They’re fighting a battle to remember their own identities while helping beautiful little humans find their own. They’re juggling sippy cups and missing socks and finger paints on the walls and mashed carrots on the floor and diaper cream in the most unexpected places… never mind the joys of potty training.
As I reflect on these mamas, I breathe a slightly smug sigh of relief and think we survived intact. I miss the cuddles and the mispronunciations. I don’t miss the temper tantrums, need for naps, and stubborn I can do it myself independent attitudes that mean everything takes 3 times as long. My kids are well past these stages when the days can feel so long, exhausting, and sometimes just hard.
And then I enounter a day like today, and a light bulb goes off as I realise I’m still chin deep in the trenches, staring parenthood in the face while fears and tears and situations escalate. Arguments about snow pants and breakfast choices and whether it’s necessary to brush their teeth. (It is.) Questions about why they didn’t have their backpacks ready the night before when they’ve been asked to do this every day of their school years thus far. Why didn’t you feed the dog? (“I slept in and then I forgot!”) Day becomes dinner and the battles over chores and meals and the sibling start again.
I lose my cool while silently berating myself on the inside for losing my cool. Threats are made and grow exponentially and I can’t cave because then the point is lost. Next thing I know my kid is ready to move in with Oma. (If he makes it to your place, Mom, pile on the chores and make him eat dinner and no junk food and go back to dial-up, k? He doesn’t believe we grew up with rules when we lived under your roof.)
So now my heart (and head) is pounding, a kid is crying into his soup, and the internet is gone. There’s a lot of disappointment festering from the kitchen table and I’m not sure my dishes will survive when the dishwasher is emptied. While I may have won the battle, I question whether I’m actually the victor. We’re living in a house that’s just happy, happy, happy…
Maybe one day he’ll be engaged in conflict with his own teen or pre-teen. He’ll recall the time that I made him eat healthy dinners and not live off of junk food; the time I reminded him that as a parent who has done nothing to betray him, I’ve earned his respect; that being a part of a family comes with responsibilities and love before it comes with privileges like screentime and sleepovers. He’ll understand and appreciate the importance of showers and face wash and being a contributing member of society.
Maybe that day he’ll be locked in a stare down and his kid will hold his own in a very vocal disagreement. Of course, said kid will be tall enough to stare him in the eyes. He’ll wince, dagger to the heart, when he hears that this kid wants to live with me instead.
Maybe that will be the day that he’ll realise parents never leave the trenches. That every day is a battle to find balance between stability and independence, freedom and frustration, while hoping our failings and frailties haven’t scarred them for good. Every day of parenthood we’re doing our best but sometimes our best is a little broken. He’ll remember the love and the purpose behind the rules and reasons. Maybe he’ll look back, feeling a little battered and bruised from this latest test of wills, and will realise that those toddler days really weren’t so bad…