Recent days have been exhilarating – we’ve hit a sweet spot of bliss. I’m having so much fun and so is Tokki, as evidenced by his new cheeky, grown-up grin. He has perfected his puffy-bum waddle, letting me know he wants my help by pointing at me (another brand new skill) and lifting his eyebrows like, “Pleeeease!” until I come over, at which point he will deftly hook each of my index fingers into his chubby fists and pivot, to lead me who-knows-where. I used to be his human pacifier. Now I am his human walking stick.
Tokki is no longer a blob. He is now someone with whom I can practically have a conversation. After all, he can point (a total game-changer) and he can woof, which he does when he sees a dog (or a cat, or a big black slouchy bag on the floor that may resemble a lying dog or cat, plus random wild card moments motivated by criteria known only to him – but mostly dogs).
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All this back and forth communication has me wondering whether I am being strict enough. He has entered his sponge phase and every moment is ripe for being a role model to him, for teaching. When he tosses food from his high chair, I always say, “No thank you – food is for eating. Do not (insert finger wag) throw food on the floor.” Tokki responds by simply wagging a finger back at me, as if he is the star of his own Real Housewives of No Thank You. So what am I supposed to do? Naturally, I laugh. Uh oh. Not strict enough.
The zeitgeist in parenthood is strictness. It’s the new old thing. There was the recent French wave of parenting memoirs and then this book review of Madeline Levin’s “Teach Your Children Well,” in the NYT Sunday Book Review, which I read with great interest (and the accompanying Motherlode post). Plus, of course, this recent terrifying essay in the New Yorker, entitled, “Spoiled Rotten – Why Do Kids Rule The Roost?”
As the kid of parents who took strictness to an Olympian level, this does not bode well. I always envisioned myself as a parent who would undo all the strictness I chafed against when I was young. Now that I’m actually a mom, in charge of a little man who has taken on shrieking and dropping food and wagging his finger at me, I wonder what I ever thought was so wrong with being strict. After all, it worked for me.
When the teacher left the room, she put me in charge. I got the highest grades possible, report card after report card. My mom loved parent-teacher conference day, when she could bask in compliments from my teachers. Now that I have my own child, one that has graduated to non-blob status, this doesn’t sound so bad.
The trick will be in gauging the balance of strictness and freedom. I myself was an uber-responsible kid who could have dealt well with more freedom. When I really consider it carefully, though, the freedom I craved was more of a teenage thing. For the early years, it doesn’t seem like the strictness was stifling at all. On the contrary, now that I see it from a different point of view (that of a mom), I see that strict parameters helped me thrive and succeed. And the more I received positive affirmations in school, which I received because I was so well-behaved, the more confident I became (I was quite shy early on). That’s not to say that I didn’t crumple into a mess of arguments over make-up and boys once adolescence hit because I did. That’s where a little loosening of the reins would have helped matters.
Tokki isn’t there yet. We’re still working on woofing for the appropriate animal. I know I’m just making it up as I go along but so far, I’m inclined to be the kind of mom who sticks steadfast to a schedule, with flexibility for special occasions. I’m much more beholden to rules, already, than I imagined I would be. My reading material may be nudging me further into the strict zone, as I respond to his burgeoning knowledge of how he should behave.
No one wants to be a strict mom. To wit, all the knee-jerk backlash against the Tiger Mom fracas (my own knee jerked hard, I admit it). But equally, no one wants to be at the mercy of a kid who is unmanageable and unable to control their own emotions. No one wants to raise future I-hate-working-with-this-guy kind of adults.
I’m not sure yet how to properly calibrate my level of strictness on the strict-o-meter. Making my child cry will always set off alarm bells but who can really say? After all, the first time I gave Tokki my “No! Food is for eating” spiel, in a perfectly even tone I might add, his face crumpled into tears. It’s enough to make me want to shower him in cupcakes and let him live in a ball pit with Boo puppies for life. I just want to help him with everything that will make him happy forever but perhaps his long-term happiness requires stand-offs along the way.
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