My Mind Goes Blank When I Parent with an Audience

5 years ago

There was a time, before I had kids and when Miss was very small, when I believed I knew all there was to know about disciplining a toddler or preschooler. I watched other people do it with their own kids, and sometimes thought to myself all the reasons they weren't doing it right. I didn't get all caught up in judgment, but did have passing thoughts like, "My kid will do what I tell her, when I tell her," and "Wow, I would never put up with that kind of behavior," or "Geez, that mom is so rude to her kids!" I thought I had all the disciplining answers. I am a psychologist, after all. I had studied Skinner and Watson and Hull and Thorndike and could rattle off all sorts of stuff about behavioral principles. I used to teach seminars about the use of these principles with kids and adult patients. I had it all figured out.

To be clear, I never went so far as to think another mom was a bad mom, and there were many times I watched other moms in action and marveled at how awesome they were.

But yeah, I really did think I knew how to handle discipline.

Then Miss hit toddlerhood. She turned two, and then three, and Lass started walking and talking, and she turned two, and all of a sudden I had two little people with two very different personalities, sometimes seeming to be coordinating a mutiny, and all the stuff I thought I knew turned out to be crap.

I thought I knew all about disciplining a toddler and/or preschooler.

Then I had one.

Now I have two.

Nowadays it is not uncommon for me to have many moments in a day when I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing.

When Miss flatly rejects something that I've asked her to do or looks me in the eye and deliberately does exactly what I've just asked her not to do.

When Lass has a super meltdown and nothing seems to calm her.

When the two of them are at each other's throats and Sis is crying and holy-crap-I-can't-seem-to-think-of-a-single-effective-way-to-respond-to-this-what-the-heck-is-the-matter-with-me?

Usually I come up with something that works well enough, but sometimes I don't. I realize my limitations and imperfections on a daily basis.

And all of this feels horribly multiplied when I am in a situation in which I am parenting for an audience. This happens pretty frequently, especially with all the traveling we do, visiting family and staying in the same house with others for a week or sometimes more (as we have been for two of the past two-and-a-half weeks).

I really don't love disciplining my children when other people are observing me. As much as I may sometimes lose my grip and feel out of sorts when disciplining at home, it all feels so much worse when others are around. Not really because of anything that other people do, but because it seems like almost always one of two things happens:

1. I respond calmly and in a way with which I feel comfortable and good, but second guess myself because I think other people might be looking at me and thinking, "Geez, why doesn't she do something with that kid?" (because of course none of my children always do just what I say when I say it).

2. I totally forget all the strategies I have learned for handling difficult situations with my girls and end up growling and crabbing and yelling at them, and then I feel even worse than I usually do when I lose my temper with them, because not only have I not responded to my kids the way I want to, but someone else has seen me act like a total jerk too.

And of course also because I remember the things I used to think when I watched moms in similar situations. Oh the irony. Now I know how much easier it is to watch from the outside of a parenting dilemma and come up with a good solution, when as a parent, caught in the emotion of the moment, with others watching me, my mind goes totally blank.

Sometimes it seems there's some sort of cosmic payback occurring as I flop and flounder as a mom in front of others.

Oh, how I wish I could take back all those moments when I was the audience, and I thought I knew better.

Because the thing is, when you're watching another parent and not in the heat of the moment, of course you can think of all the good effective ways to handle a melting-down or defiant child. But when it's your own kids, the stakes are higher and emotions are intense and oh, it can be so hard to come up with the right thing to do or say or sometimes just to keep your cool. And naturally, my kids push boundaries way more with me than they do with anyone else.

I know there will always be lots of times when I feel like a total failure as a mom, both in the privacy of my home, when with family and friends, or out in public. I've been the mom in Target with a screaming baby and two preschoolers hitting and scratching at each other, just pushing my cart as fast as I can to get. the. heck. out. I've melted down or crabbed at my girls in front of family members and felt so embarrassed about it afterwards. (I am cringing thinking about a few examples from the past weekend.)

But I know that the most important thing is that I try my best to be the best I can for my kids. Judgments from other people, real or imagined, will never be as important as those from my girls. As long as they know I love them and will always do the best I can for them, I can handle the embarrassment of sometimes missing the mark in front of other people.


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