All hands on deck

One of the simplest truths about parenting is that the bigger person needs to be the bigger person. Simple. But not always easy.

It’s also true that I can be a bit sensitive at times. And while it’s easy to reason with yourself when your toddler looks at the lovely dinner you’ve prepared and goes eewwww, there are other times when the reasoning takes a bit of effort.

Like many stay-at-home parents, the bulk of the weekday shuffle is left in my moderately capable hands. Monday to Friday I’m the cruise ship captain of our family vessel, trying my hardest to be chipper and cheery as I muster my slowpoke passengers from the poop deck (so much poop deck) to our daily activities. Sometimes, most times, all goes well. But other times, there’s a mutiny.

Lately, our oldest daughter has been a little…fiesty. With our crazy September schedule and the ever-evolving experiences she confronts on a daily basis, I can hardly blame her. I’ve also probably failed at being more ‘Mom,’ and less ‘Captain Get Dressed for School, We’re Late Again.’ I’ll admit, as the oldest child she’s the one I expect the most from. But I could also afford to give her a break once in a while. Because now she’s pushing back, and I’ll admit, it’s a little hurtful.

What’s important, however, is that I don’t react as someone who is hurt but as someone who hears what she’s really saying. For example, we’ve entered into a pattern where she hops off the school bus and blurts out some ‘constructive’ observations about my failings. You forgot to pack my spoon! You were supposed to sign this form! You sent the snack in the wrong bag! Almost immediately, I can feel my defenses engage.

Instead of, ‘How was your day?’ or ‘I missed you!’, I’m tempted to say, ‘Weren’t you proud to bring in the snack for your class, whatever bag it was in? This form isn’t due until next week. And look, here’s your spoon, in the front pocket of your lunch bag.’

But we’re not really talking about a bag, or a form, or a spoon. (Although a spoon does go a long way when you’re eating soup.) I think it’s her way of showing me that she’s overwhelmed. And she needs my help in other ways. And that her shirt is stained with tomato soup.

It’s sometimes hard for me to keep my defenses down and really hear this, because (surprise) I’m overwhelmed too. It’s hard to be the parent, the Captain, the cook, the deck hand and the lifeboat, all while operating completely without a compass. (Luckily my husband has an excellent sense of direction.)

Our daughter is navigating new paths too. And while she still needs me to do all the logistical things that parents do, she also needs a safe port in the storm. Which is important to establish now, when the waters are relatively calm. Because in a few years from now we’ll have three tween-age daughters all under one roof, and I have a feeling it’s going to get rough. Or as my husband likes to put it, “Man overboard.”

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