Gray Matters – Suck it up, buttercup
Belfast — If there were an instruction book that came with our children on the day of their birth, I don't think there would be much in it, in terms of how to best care for your child.
It may be an ornately decorated folder, carrying a single piece of paper with carefully written script simply stating, “Being a parent is really, really hard. Suck it up, buttercup.”
That last comment is something I find myself uttering in my household at an increasing rate these days. You see, my son is eight, and he is beginning to show signs of an affliction that I'm sure many other parents can relate to — he knows everything, and as his mom, I simply cannot understand all the struggles a young person of his age must endure.
For example, he might traipse out onto the deck while I'm doing yard work and state, “Mom, I'm bored.”
“Yep,” I reply as I rearrange the deck chairs. “I'll bet I can come up with something for you to do. Maybe you could clean your room? It's been a while since we've seen the floor and I'm starting to forget what color the carpet is in there.”
All of you parents out there, I'm sure, can see where this discussion is headed.
“But Mom, I'm too tired,” he says, in the best my-mom-is-so-demanding voice. With an overly dramatic sigh, he plops down into the deck chair beside me. “And I wanted to do something fun. Cleaning my room is not fun.”
Fun? Well nobody said anything about that.
This is about the time when I inform him that life is full of stuff you don't want to do. Is it fun to do housework, laundry, pay bills, and work a full time job so you have money to pay said bills? No one I've ever talked to on the subject has ever associated those things with fun. The term “necessary evils,” however...
I remember when I was a teenager telling my folks that when I moved out and got my own job and my own place, I'd be styling and I'd do whatever I wanted. They would see.
I think we're all still waiting for that part where Tanya does whatever she wants.
I always try to make my explanation on this subject a bit more age appropriate for Shane, though (after all, he has no use for bills and jobs and all those adult things). Instead of those examples that have no meaning for him (as they shouldn't), I tell him he may not want to clean his room, but it is a must-do. If you don't put all your army guys where they belong, you won't be able to find them the next time you want to play with them. And because they are so small, some of that precious collection might become among the forever lost items that have gathered beneath the couch, under the fridge or in the vacuum.
And don't even get me started on those Legos. My previous suggestions about the army guy collection apply here too, but because I stand a pretty good chance of finding one of these pointed building blocks in the soft arch of my foot as I stumble to the bathroom at 2 a.m., I try to stress the importance of putting these away almost every time we have this talk.
After I try really hard to make him understand why being responsible for your things and keeping his room clean is so important, I then get another response with which parents everywhere are surely familiar: “But mooooommmmmm,”
That is almost always followed by my equally predictable response: “Don't 'but moooooommmmmm' me. Life isn't always fun, but you'll have more time for the fun stuff if you do what you're supposed to do. So suck it up, buttercup and let's remind ourselves about what color the carpet is in your bedroom.”
And after a bit more stalling and sighing, he yards himself, defeated, off the deck chair and shuffles inside, slowly starting the job of clearing a path in the war zone that which is his room.
These days I tend to go through these kinds of discussions a little more often, but for different reasons. Maybe he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed one day and decides he's going to do the exact opposite of what I ask him to do. Maybe he decides he's mad at me because I took away one of his favorite toys for misbehaving, after which he informs me that he's going to go live with his grandparents for ever and ever, then promptly goes to his room and slams the door for dramatic emphasis.
Parenting isn't always super fun. Sometimes it's the most stressful, heartbreaking thing you'll ever do. After all, it's hard to say no and stick to your guns, especially when the bad behavior disappears a few hours later. That's when they come over, give you a big unsolicited hug and tell you they love you.
“I love you too,” I'll often respond. “But you're still not getting your [insert video game, army guy, favorite die cast airplane] back until tomorrow.”
As hard as it is to be the best parent you can be in those situations, I guess I'd do well to remember the fictitious instruction manual for raising my son — particularly the “suck it up, buttercup” part.