"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why are kids so difficult?

It's probably a comment you've heard before. Someone with one kid is telling you that she doesn't know if she will ever have another, because "Kids are just so difficult." This comment is likely followed by some story about her particular child throwing tantrums, destroying property, hitting other kids, climbing furniture, not listening, or whatever. Sometimes you'll hear this comment from a mother who has two young children, saying that there's just no way she could ever handle three.

I was thinking about this today when I ran into an acquaintance as I was walking to the library with Eva and Patrick for song & story. Her son is almost three, and, no doubt, he is difficult. In the few occasions our kids have played together, he has hit or kicked or otherwise attacked Eva in some form. Of course, I didn't like that, but I can forgive him because, well, he's a kid. But when she made the comment about being afraid to have another, I started musing about why kids today are so difficult.

Of course, there's always a tendency to romanticize the "good old days." And perhaps I do that, especially since I'm writing my dissertation on 1955-1975. Just recently I've been reading a book on the sacrament of confession that was published in 1969. Wow - the presumptions about family life are just amazing.
Anyway, why are kids so difficult? Here are some of my hypotheses.

1. They have too much attention. I remember hearing advice once that those first two kids should be 18 months apart, to take the pressure off the first. Patrick and Eva were 22 months apart, and that to me seemed pretty challenging. But I also understand the point, and sometimes, like when I was talking to this acquaintance today about how "difficult" her child is, I think to myself that maybe he'd be a little easier if he'd been forced to share attention early on and been given a permanent playmate. Between Maia and Eva there are 2 years, 9 months, and I remember by the time I was pregnant with Eva thinking that Maia was definitely showing symptoms of being "an only child." In my experience, I would say that two can be easier than one. And, yes, three can be easier than two.

2. Modern society has little room for children. This might just be my romanticization of the past, again. But, back when there were more children, people expected to see more children, and there were more accommodations for children. This is not to say that kids were welcome at the opera or the business meeting, but at events like weddings and places like churches, people didn't think it odd that there were children present. Nowadays, it can be hard to go from having a happening childless life to finding suddenly that many of the things you used to do are now off-limits with young children or at least bring you glares from strangers: things like flying on an airplane, going to a coffee shop, browsing in a bookstore, eating at a nice restaurant, seeing a movie in a theater, and so on.

3. Less family emphasis/people are more selfish now. Many parents today grew up in small families, where they got much of what they wanted and basically just worried about themselves. Even those who were raised with expectations of family service may have had self-centered single lives prior to marriage. Even people who think they are giving, service-oriented people (like myself), may find themselves fighting selfishness as parents. I know I struggle with wanting to keep my possessions nice, clean and in good shape (like I'd prefer the dining room chairs NOT to have holes poked in them with a pen). I'd rather NOT get off the treadmill to wipe a tushy. I'd like to set my own sleeping hours. My kids interfere with my desires sometimes, and that makes them seem difficult.

4. Isolated single-family homes. As parents, we often feel like we're simply on our own. We have to do it all ourselves, with our children. Or we have to pay someone to watch our kids or clean our house so we don't have to do it all ourselves. Kids will definitely seem difficult in this situation, but it takes some humility reach out for help, or even just accept help. But help is available... even neighbor kids can be a good help.

5. Medicalization/safety/bureaucratization issues. I should ask my mom if she had to go to 13 prenatal visits when she was pregnant with me, or take me as an infant for check-ups every two months. Now, I'm a fan of vaccines and keeping my kids healthy, and I think prenatal care is important, but let's be honest, it can make kids seem difficult. Especially when you're pregnant with your third and you have to tote the other two around to your appointments. Just recently I had a challenging time taking all three kids to a lab so that Eva could get a urinalysis to see if she has a UTI. Let me tell you, there's nothing like trying to get your 2-year old to pee in a cup while your baby's crying in a stroller and your almost-5-year old is asking when you can go home... oh, and there's a line outside the bathroom.

Also related to medicalization is safety issues. The paranoia about kids' safety has made kids seem difficult. Car seats, not leaving kids in cars alone, not letting kids play outside alone, choking hazards and so on... these are all great safety precautions that have no doubt saved many lives. But they also make kids difficult (and more expensive); anything is a potential hazard. And I've talked to many parents who have their "confessions" to make about the one time they ________________ when they knew they shouldn't have done it (fill in the blank with something like "left the baby in the tub to answer the phone," "left the baby asleep in the crib to pick up another kid from school," "let the toddler eat food unsupervised while I ran to the bathroom," etc.). Being so vigilant is definitely difficult.

Also related is bureaucratization, for example, the 20-page long packet I'm supposed to fill out for Maia to start public kindergarten next year. Kids now require a lot of paperwork. And that makes them seem difficult.

6. Sleep changes. For thousands of years, mothers slept with their babies and nursed through the night. These women got much more sleep than mothers today. Kids can certainly be trained to sleep by themselves, alone in a dark room, and parents (tucked into bed cozied up with each other, I might add) can get a full night's sleep (minus the time they spent staying up late watching television or checking email or writing a blogpost or talking on their cell or writing on people's Facebook walls...which, by the way, is not their kids' fault). The normalization of the crib and separate sleeping has definitely made kids seem difficult. That's why parents of infants/toddlers spend so much time talking about their kids' sleep patterns/challenges. I can't tell you how many conversations about kid sleep I've participated in or overheard.

7. Formula. It may have seemed to make kids easier, and bottles (whether formula or breastmilk) do allow women more independence, which has its benefits. But really - spending money, sterilizing, mixing, warming, toting around everywhere. Not easy. Not to mention that formula-fed babies are more likely to get sick, so more trips to the doctor.

8. Technology. Television, computers, cell phones. Yes, they can keep your kid busy, even quiet, possibly even sitting still for extended periods of time. But they also rewire your kids' brains. And, as I've witnessed in regard to kids aged 10 and older, these pieces of technology become serious sources of tension between parent and child. Maia, who sees very little television (only ND football games and shows when she's at other people's houses), loves watching movies, and we've had various arguments about when/how much/for what reason (usually Sunday, 30 minutes, or if Mom's combing out lice) movies are acceptable...and which movies are acceptable. Technology may make kids seem easier. But I think it's possible that it actually makes them more difficult.

9. Giving kids "everything." They need nice clothes, good shoes, a great cellphone, a trip to Disney, a PSP, an X-box, an i-pod, a laptop, a portable DVD player, gymnastics lessons, trips to the beach, a Y membership, a beautifully decorated bedroom of their own, piano lessons, a cute haircut, elaborate (and expensive) birthday parties, sleepovers, a playroom, a fancy Easter dress, regular meals at Panera, frappuccinos from Starbucks, playdates, and one heck of a huge toybox. Yes, if you try to give your kids everything, that will be difficult. And they will become more difficult because of it.
One friend with a large family told my husband that it's not having nine kids that's tough - it's having two kids that's tough. I'm not sure about that (nor do I think I'll find out!), but I do think that part of kids' seeming difficult is societal expectations (formula, separate sleeping, excluding children from normal life, parental selfishness, the desire to give a kid "everything," safety paranoia, the normalcy of technology). On the other hand, kids can be genuinely difficult. We can accept those challenges and try to use them to make ourselves and them better people. Or we can decide to stop at having one kid and spend the rest of their childhood focusing on how difficult it is to raise a child.

The good news is that kids actually do grow up. They don't stay 2 years old forever.

1 comment:

Meagan Adams said...

Awesome post! I definitely agree with all points (except for point 2). Kids are soooo given too much attention, too many things, etc. - AND parents are way more selfish for sure. I did sleep with my daughter and nursed her at night, and whenever one of my friends gets pregnant, I am always sure to highly recommend it. It made nighttime feedings basically a non-issue, and I just slept with a towel under my chest to catch leaky milk.
As for point 2, I believe that today's society is actually TOO kid-centric to the point that parents EXPECT to be able to bring their kids everywhere, and get angry when they can't. Even when I was a kid in the 80's you barely ever saw anyone with kids eating in a restaurant, and if they WERE there, and were misbehaving, the parents were so mortified that the kids was usually taken outside and given a whack on the tush (we call it the reset button). Also, back in the OLDEN days, kids grew up more quickly and were thus more responsible at younger ages. So when they ran an errand for mom at the grocery store, they tended to behave instead of sitting in the middle of an aisle and pitching a fit because mom doesn't have enough money, or says "no" to candy. I believe that people need to stop expecting that their kids should be welcome everywhere. The last thing I want, when I pay someone to watch my kids so I can have one or two dates a year with my husband, is to sit next to someone else's bratty kid in a restaurant!