June 7, 2013 by Julia
If my parents paid good money in order for me to go buck wild at an amusement park, you’d better believe I got their money’s worth, even if I was on the verge of vomiting or passing out. I don’t think “over-stimulation” was a real thing, back in my day.
Just kidding! No doubt at some point I put my foot down and declared, with the worst possible timing, “Nope! I’m not going to have fun today.”
I’m fairly sure kids of every generation have said, “The money you spent is meaningless to me. Your exhortations to ‘just try it!’ will only backfire. This is going to go one of two ways. I can shut down and retreat, or throw tantrums that will singe your eyebrows off. Either way, I will have made my point: I won’t have fun until I decide it is time, and there is nothing you can do to force the issue. The end.”
Fiona has refused to watch a circus, has declared “I will NEVER go to see the ponies!” at my Grandma’s house in the country, has suddenly decided she is scared of every single ride at an amusement park geared specifically toward young children, and sobbed through an entire treasure hunt that I was leading.
On the days when I passively let her say NO to fun, I sense that some people are thinking, “Who’s the boss, here? Just make her [watch that movie/ride that pony/whatever], and she’ll thank you in the end. Sometimes a parent has got to push their kid into the deep end.” Which I agree with somewhat…but are we supposed to force the issue with fun? We’re not talking about non-negotiables like school or doctor’s appointments, here. And fun is so subjective. One person’s good time is another person’s nightmare. That goes for kids, too.
(Also, I have five years of experience with Fiona’s stubbornness, and I can tell you, there is no magical phrase that will change her mind. You may think you’ve got it figured it out, from the outside, but I know the depths of her need to stand her ground. So, respectfully…I’d like to see you try and make her. Good luck with that. I’ll be…somewhere else.)
So what to do, what to do, when your kid absolutely refuses to play along and have a good time? It’s not easy to pressure your child just the right amount. We want them to quickly process their negative feelings, and then participate in the fun. We want to show respect for how they feel, while continuing to offer encouragement and suggestions and optimism. Um, yeah. Has anyone been able to walk this fine line, yet? Can you message me, if so?
It’s easy to shift too quickly from the “respecting his feelings” mode right into wanting them to buck up, be grateful, make an effort, stay with the group, stop bringing the mood down, etc. We’ve all seen the ugly side of that coin: the parent angrily whisper-yelling into their child’s ear to stop crying and blow out their freaking candles RIGHT NOW! …while everyone watching is thinking, wow. That parent is making things ten times more awkward and bad here.
We probably all have that impulse inside of us, whether we act on it or not. It’s rooted in discouragement that no matter what we do, we can’t guarantee our child will have fun. Even if we spend a million dollars. Even when we play our cards right, and work our asses off. Even after we search for parking for half an hour, and have given up our own ideal Saturday…for what?! So they can scream at us some more?!
On bad days, I become the harried, yelling mom you see in Walmart that everyone leaves a wide berth around, while sending wide-eyed glances to one another. I never knew I had that Walmart mom inside me. Before I know it, I’ll also be wearing sweat pants that say “Juicy” across the buttocks and displaying six inches of peppery roots in my hair.
But on good days, I remember that Fiona requires a lot of space and time to process whatever it is that’s holding her back. She will not pretend to be okay until she actually feels okay. I like that in a person. So I breathe, and I don’t let it bring me down.
And after a while as a parent, you naturally start to accept that you win some, and you lose some. You’re just glad you made it out of the house, got some fresh air or socialization, and then made it home in one piece. Really, we have so many more wins than losses, don’t we? Even on the days that feel like a loss overall, I can always pinpoint some good moments. Chances are, lessons have been learned, and another colorful thread has been added to our tapestry of family memories.
For instance, when the kids are grown, I can tell them the story of when I took them both to the top of a super-high slide yesterday (the kind with burlap sacks), and they both began to melt-down for opposite reasons: Jack because he was so anxious to go down that he wanted to fly out of my arms and do it by himself, and Fiona because she didn’t want to go down anymore, once she saw the view from the top. Talk about being pulled in opposite directions…literally. While fifty feet in the air. Fiona ended up walking back down the metal staircase while Jack and I slid down. He was terrified and then ecstatic, and then angry when it was over and I wouldn’t let him try to climb back up the slide. I had to do the “grab him around the middle and carry him sideways on my hip” move, to avoid the flailing arms and legs. Meanwhile, it took Fiona about two years to climb down the staircase to meet us at the bottom.
See? It’s already funny to me.
Have I mentioned before that it’s kind of hard being a parent? I don’t know if I’ve ever written about that before.
Oh, I do enjoy the challenges, though.
And they’re just so cute.
And the good days are so good.
Man, I love them.