Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Conflict

Parenting is relentless. Richer or poorer, sickness and health, good times and bad, you never really get a break. Of course, there are innumerable amazing moments that make it all worthwhile and (most of the time) we feel immensely grateful for the gift of children. But there are the other times too - exhaustion, illness, boundary testing, conflict. And through it all, trying desperately to do the best job you can because the outcome matters so very much. It can feel like a weighty responsibility.

Lately, I've been struggling with this because it seems there is constant conflict between the boys. Ari pulls Riker's carefully constructed train tracks off the table and he lashes out and hits him. Ari picks up a toy and Riker immediately decides that's the one he wants and he yanks it out of Ari's hands. Ari then pulls his hair AND bites his arm. And so it goes, all day long. I want so much to manage these conflicts well so that they learn to regulate their emotional responses and develop a close relationship. But it seems that nothing I do is even remotely effective. Which is of course extraordinarily frustrating and often leads to yelling. Which, aside from also being ineffective, just makes me feel like a rotten parent.

Since I spend so much time in conflict resolution mode, I feel as if neither of my children are getting much positive individual attention or age appropriate structured activities. Before Ari was born I'm pretty sure I almost never yelled at Riker or felt angry at him. And poor Ari has had such a different life to baby Riker whose early days were quiet, peaceful and showered with attention.

Growing up as the only child in the house, I knew that I would have two children. And we planned to have them close in age so that they would grow up with a chance to be close and have some compatible interests and abilities. So when it was tough in the early days, I reminded myself that in providing a sibling, I was giving my children a gift. I still try to remember that sentiment but it often pales in comparison to bite marks on an arm or a chunk of hair clutched in a tiny fist.

I realize all of this is probably perfectly normal for two strong and active little boys who explore and experience the world in such an intensely physical way, but it still feels like I'm muddling through right now. I know I can't control their behavior and I'm also aware that the prefrontal cortex, where reasoning, logic, impulse control and forethought take place, is highly immature in toddlers and preschoolers and actually doesn’t develop fully until the late teens or mid-twenties! Yikes.

To cope, I'm working on embracing the "good enough" perspective on parenting. I show up every day and I care an awful lot about how I engage with my children. They don't need me to be perfect (and I try to remember not to expect more from them than is developmentally appropriate). They just need me to keep showing up and meeting their needs with as much love and patience as I can muster.

Despite lots of conflict every day, one can occasionally find the boys having pleasant moments together. This one courtesy of Peppa Pig.

Stay tuned for some further musings on embracing the "good enough" attitude towards parenting and dealing with my own perfectionist tendencies.

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