I want to tell you about the lovely weekend that my family spent camping at the river. I want to show you cute snapshots of my family and paint a picture of our time together. I want to pick out the sweetest moments and serve them to you on a pretty social media platter. I could tell you how our daughter made new friends and (mostly) shared her bike and ball and had the best time. I could tell you how we went for a walk down the dry creek bed until we found a pool of water where we sat and tossed rocks, laughed, and played. I could tell you these things and they wouldn’t be lies.
But the truth is that I was sort of grumpy and spent a decent portion of our weekend fighting feelings of frustration toward our head strong 4-year-old. She’s loud, mouthy, and opinionated in a weird mix of independence and neediness. And so am I. So that’s fun.
This has been building for a while and I’m afraid that in my efforts to steer her in the right direction, I’ve been unclear, inconsistent, and bullish. I want her to behave because it’s the right thing to do and not just because I’m whispering half baked threats into her ear about what will happen if she speaks to me that way again. But how exactly do you do that? Well, not the way I’ve been going about it, that’s for sure. What I’m noticing is that the tone she uses to speak to me is hateful and sounds an awful lot like the tone I use with her when I’m frustrated. Oh, hello mirror. That reflection isn’t flattering at all.
What I want is for her to listen to me, believe me, and behave appropriately for the simple reason that I said so. You guys, that’s such a terrible parenting plan. Seriously, unless I plan to follow her around every moment for the rest of her life and tell her when and how to breathe, that approach just isn’t sustainable. But I was too far in it and the tension was building and I couldn’t remove myself from the storm… until we went camping this weekend.
You know what happens when you step away from friends, family, television, phones, iPads, and a life full of distractions? There is no buffer to cushion the blow and you might just go toe to toe with your preschooler. And I hate this because I HATE BEING MEAN. You guys, I really hate it. I don’t want conflict. I don’t want to be mean. I don’t want to yell and wave my finger around like some deranged mommy dearest. And I don’t want my kid to behave because she’s afraid of me. But I had had my fill of back talk, arguing, whining, and disrespect and I was done. Over it. Finito. Bye Felecia, I’ll be having no more of your hot mess.
And so, sitting around the campfire, my husband and I talked about what changes we needed to make. We talked about what was working (short list) and what was not working (long list). We talked personalities, boundaries, and consequences and then we reorganized in a united front. AND THERE WAS PUSH BACK. The words we’d been saying (or yelling or whisper threatening) for much too long suddenly had real meaning and our kid was not impressed. Truth? She spent a fair amount of time reaping the consequences of acting like the world revolves around her and her every whim. We were consistent and clear. There was a lot less heated reaction and a lot more reasonable response. There was also a fair amount of time out.
Gosh, even writing this I want to let you believe I deserve some sort of credit for this. We’re in this together, but the truth is that my husband deserves most of the credit here. He’s levelheaded and better at letting things go. He can discipline one moment and then move on with normal, healthy, loving interaction. It takes me longer to recover after a conflict, so those time outs are as much for me as they are for the kiddo. He can enforce a rule, maintain a boundary, and carry out the consequences without getting all riled up. He can put that mouthy little girl in time out, take none of her attitude, and ten minutes later they can snuggle and look at the stars. He has composure in plenty when I find it lacking. What a gift that is.
It’s not been smooth sailing and that’s been more tolerable because we acknowledged it during our “how can we raise her to be a good human” campfire conference. We had already noted that there would be discomfort all around and that the next few days would likely be frustrating- and boy were they frustrating- but we’re taking the helm, turning the rudder on this big ol’ ship, and it’s slowly changing course.
Camping isn’t for everyone, but it sure is for us. It’s our thing. We unplug and reconnect. It gives us opportunity to address the things that are easily pushed aside or placated in the daily hustle of life. We are together and we set aside that time to just be. Oh my goodness, you guys. Time to just be. Be together. Good, not-so-good. Easy, not-so-easy. I’ll take it all.
Between the time outs and tears our daughter caught her very first trout all by herself and her daddy beamed with pride. She fell apart with aggravation over trying to ride a bike with a wonky training wheel, but she squealed in delight over tossing rocks in the creek bed. We fussed in frustration, but we ate together in contentment. And it was good.
The inaugural camping trip of the fall season wasn’t perfect, but it was, in fact, lovely. So I’ll serve these cute pictures on a pretty platter and be thankful for it all.
For more stories on standing happily in the awkward middle of life, love, and parenthood, follow Happy Like This by Mandy McCarty Harris.