I was brought up in a home where one parent (who struggled with mental health issues) created a world of instability, lack of boundaries, and confusion. The other parent was my rock. He was strict, but I knew I was loved. I was given clear boundaries by him and was expected to follow rules. I know without this structure my life might have turned out to be such a different one so I appreciate that it was there. This has obviously guided my own parenting - what not to do and, of course, what I think I should do.
There was also a time when I was sure I wouldn't have any kids. I had a number of reasons, but mostly because I didn't really feel I had it in me to be a parent. I worried a bit that I never received the motherly guidance I deserved to show me how to be a good mom and I figured it was better off not to bring a kid into this messed up world (cynical much, Jo?). Time passed, I realized that I did want a kid, but I still doubted it was the best choice (actually I went through a long phase of wanting to want to have a kid that eventually turned into genuinely wanting a child of my own). It wasn't that I was insecure about being a mom and it wasn't that I thought I would be like the mom(s) I had (I was lucky to find some other female role models). I just knew me. I knew I could do it, but I also knew it would be hard for me at times.
Everyone assured me that I would be a great mom because I have lots of patience and am a good listener. It's what makes me good at my job. It's why friends come to me to talk. But being a mom is different. I can go home after my work is done to refuel. My friend who needed an ear to listen? She lives elsewhere. But my child lives with me. She is my responsibility and it is my never ending job to show her what it means to be a good person.
So while my parenting style includes my best attempts at patience, I often lean towards a need to create boundaries. She needs to know clear rules. She really does, but sometimes I wonder (especially since the husband and I don't always see eye to eye on parenting skills) whether the boundaries I want to set are too much for her.
So the other night when Riley was in bed and started crying (when all I wanted to do was shower and eat some food) I felt frustrated. "Why is she crying?!" She's been doing this a lot lately - crying after we put her down. She's usually fine. Jesse and I take turns and head upstairs to hold her or sing some songs to her and she's fine. We've been working with her on removing this so-called second bedtime ritual (by creating some structure and clear rules) and it was better until the other night when she screamed fairly hard shortly after she got in bed. This was more than her usual whiny cry. Jesse went up first, but couldn't determine if anything was really wrong. He thought she was fine, but shortly after he came downstairs she cried again.
I went upstairs, walked in the room and gruffly said "what's the matter, Riley?" She mumbled something in her whiny voice (which usually drives me nuts and makes me even more impatient) and I was ready to tell her to stop her mumbling. "Stop whining. Use your words!", I wanted to tell her. I pulled her onto my lap, perhaps a little rougher than I should have.
And then I stopped.
I took a deep breath and I remembered that she's only 2 years old and something is wrong. I remembered that I have a duty to guide her (whether she is genuinely upset or just trying to avoid going to sleep). I remembered that I didn't get much of this as a child and would have loved it (it's a whole other story about if this made me the loner I am today).
I held Riley close to me and said "take a deep breath, sweetie, and when you can, tell me why you are crying". She took a moment and then squeaked out that she heard a noise.
She was scared.
And I had been impatient with her. It's not the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last. I'm not someone who actually thinks there is a perfect parent, but I know I can always work on being the best I can be for her. And I hadn't been even close to my best when I walked into that room. I was making it worse. Luckily, we can recognize our actions and choose to try something else. So I tried to think about what she really needed at that time.
It's not the first time we've heard "the noise" complaint, but she really sounded genuinely scared this time. We talked about all the different noises we hear (airplanes, dogs, showers, wind, creaky house noises...). I tried to assure her that mommy and daddy were nearby and nothing would happen. I held her, and when she cried again as I laid her in bed, I stayed by her side. Eventually, I moved to the floor, but still didn't leave because she cried again. Sometimes it's hard to know when your kid is ok or not, but I stayed with her because I felt she needed it.
Eventually I left and unfortunately she started crying again, but I have an awesome husband who went up to console her so I could shower. In the end, she fell asleep in his arms. And, in the nights since then she's gone to sleep without a peep.
Parenting is hard. I constantly have to be mindful of my actions, the words I use, the looks I give... I hope for all the moments I don't quite have it together I have far more moments that I do. And if I ever have any doubt about parenting, I remember moments like this morning when Riley, unsolicited, told me "I love you, mommy".