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Monica Bielanko
A chronicle since 2005 of my marriage & move to Brooklyn in my twenties; becoming a mother in my thirties; moving to Pennsylvania and learning to amicably coparent after divorce in my forties while living 3 doors down from my ex-husband in a small country town.
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Tuesday
Sep252012

Psychological Warfare

Instead of getting easier as they get older, as I had so stupidly anticipated, parenting is getting harder.

I don't know why I assumed it gets easier, in retrospect, that's just crazy talk. I suppose it was because the first months, the first year, really, of parenthood is just so life-changing and physically challenging that I figured that it could only get easier once they got older and started to figure out how to do shit on their own. Deep in the first year parenting trenches I guess that, much like poor bullied children the world over, I had to believe "it gets better."

Recovering from giving birth - which, don't let any phony-ass Hollywood celeb (with a handful of staff on hand to assist) fool you - recovering from evacuating a human being from your body takes an entire year, at least, and even then your body never feels the same. I'm not saying that to scare those contemplating parenthood (if I wanted to do that we can get into my version of the vagina monologues) it's simply true.

Not only are you dealing with your recovering vagina or sliced open stomach, but weight gain, loss of muscle, shifting bones and your feet might've even gone up a size (I went from size 7 to 8) and your skin may have changed, your hair could be different. Even if you lose all the baby weight your clothes fit differently, that old pair of jeans just doesn't hug your curves in the same places, feeling as foreign as if you borrowed a friend's ill-fitting pair.

And when I say "physically challenging" I'm not just referring to body changes. The difficulty of maneuvering through life on little to no sleep, figuring out how to master formerly simple tasks like visits to the doctor, the grocery store, hiking your favorite trail, not to mention how to rearrange your time between children and work which may involve daycare. You have to develop a new way to do it all. A new way to live life, really. So you can't blame me too much for mistakenly thinking it would all get easier, because what could be more difficult than figuring out a new way to live life?

Well, in my experience, figuring out how to sort out time and slogging tiredly through those first sleepless nights of newborn-ness is nothing compared to the psychological challenges that are suddenly presenting themselves now that my daughter is sneaking up on 4-years-old. She isn't just something I need to physically deal with in the vein of giving her a bottle while still watching my favorite TV program and waging war with Mr. Sandman or letting her crawl around the backyard and explore while I read a good book. She is a demanding, little human being who seeks my attention, who desires conversation, who wants to play hide & seek, who gets pissed when she doesn't get her way and likes to demonstrate that anger with an unparallelled passion for theatrics. Look out, Meryl Streep.

Oh, I realize all of you with older children are snickering at my naiveté of believing this parenting gig would get easier but you can see why I believed in the fairytale. I was so focused on accomplishing amazing feats like teaching my kid how to feed herself, how to talk, how to use the potty, that I neglected to anticipate that all this teaching would result in developments that might just be a lot harder to deal with than shoving a binky in her mouth to stop the crying.

Now I am required to use my brain. To impart wisdom, even. To teach her the ways of the world. Stuff like cause and effect: if you bite your teacher again you will sit on "time out".

If you whine at the grocery store you won't get ice cream on the way home.

If you hit your brother again you won't get dessert "uh-zurt" after dinner.

And then parenting etiquette requires that I follow through with these threatened actions instead of just giving her the damn ice cream or dessert to keep her quiet, as would normally be my sanity-preserving instinct.

MAKE CRYING STOP AT ANY COST.

And the child, she has upped the ante and presented me with psychological warfare the likes of which I had previously not known, not even during particularly epic battles with her dad.

ME: Violet! If you hurt your brother again you will go on time out!

VIOLET: (With a slight tilt of the head and a sly expression) Can I go on time out Mom?

ME: Wha? Time out is bad. You don't want to go on time out.

VIOLET: Yes I do!

ME: (Muttering: Oh for hellsakes.) No you may not go on time out! Now stop hurting your brother or... Or... Oh, for the love of...

She doesn't need to say it, with the sly tilt of her curly head the Checkmate, motherfucker is implied.

I have found myself looking forward to the days when she's in elementary school and not prone to so many tears and tirades... But then I caught myself and realized that there is probably some unknown element of difficulty involved in the elementary years that I, as a parent of two toddlers, can't possibly be aware of yet. But it's there, lurking on the horizon like a thunderstorm, waiting to dump on me and prove to me that yes indeedy, parenting gets harder with each year that passes, not easier. I should've seen it earlier, I mean, as the kid grows so do the size of the problems presented, right?

I mean, day-umn. It's only been in the past week or so I have made this startling realization that shit ain't getting any easier, that parenting is really hard for reasons I hadn't previously understood. This baby, these babies of mine, are turning into human beings with thoughts and emotions and will have homework and might have to deal with bullies and navigate the landmine that is high school and first love... I mean, I obviously knew my kids would grow up and experience these things but, what with being preoccupied with the stuff of babyhood immediately confronting me, I don't think I ever really thought it out and realized my own role in it all and how difficult, emotional and heartbreaking (and yes, rewarding too) it's all going to be... and, well, it's just so overwhelming. I'm staring down the barrel of seventeen(ish) more years of hand-to-hand combat parenting so much more difficult than the notoriously horrific first year of a child's life? Is this what I'm saying? I guess this is what I'm saying.

H E L P M E.

Reader Comments (28)

It never gets easier--every stage is a damn challenge. My daughters are teens. I'm dealing with them missing the bus, crying over acne, teaching them to drive (OMG) and drama over getting asked (or not asked) to the school dance. I think I have selective memory but I'm feeling nostalgic for those younger years when I felt I had more control over their lives.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWendy P.

My daughter is the same age - on the cusp of four. And a shiny new baby is arriving around New Year's. You have so eloquently described my own life and thought processes at this whole shocking parade of children growing up. Some things get easier, and some things get harder. And I'm doing this AGAIN. Help.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoberta

I know conventional wisdom is that the twos are the worst, but that's not been the case with anyone I'm close to -- threes and fours were so much tougher. They really know how to push your buttons by that age, they're not napping, they can just get so angry and stubborn sometimes, and you can't always reason with them!

The good news is that, at least based on the experiences of the folks I know, you're kind of at a local nadir. At four there were so many times I called my best friend asking for reassurance that I wasn't raising an honest-to-goodness psychopath, and times I just left the moment my husband walked in the door because I just had to get away. (It probably didn't help that I was still working from home at that point.) At five the lows are a little lower but they're fewer and farther between, so they're a little easier to tolerate.

Mine is seven (almost eight) now, and for the last couple years she is a funny, pleasant, agreeable creature probably 98% of the time. Definitely the easiest parenting stage since that tiny window of babyhood where they're sleeping regularly but not yet mobile :).

I guess this is just to say, do what you have to do to get through the next little while, because it does actually Get Better (tm).

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commentervictoria

Sister, it gets harder in the way an earthquake gets stronger. I'm not knocking the newborn/early years, they are ass kickers for sure. But that psychological warfare goes from handheld muskets to stealth missiles. Mine are 19, 15 and 8. I count myself lucky to even be breathing at this point.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHeatherC

Monica, sorry there is no good news on this one. Each stage is more difficult than the last. Driving my 15 year old to school this morning he asked me if I would drive him and a buddy to see some offbeat films on Friday night. I mentioned that I might like to see it with them. The horror on his face! He informed me that I would not enjoy said films. I informed him that I was attending boring Robert Wilson plays and performance art in lofts before he was a twinkle in my eye and that's probably where he got his interest in these types of things. He insitsted that it was probably from his dad. I reminded him that his dad likes Bruce Willis movies. Loving son said "mom, we share no similarities, not even on a cellular level." Way to cut a mom down. Yes, I love this little shit, who has many redeeming moments, and I wouldn't trade the experience of parenting him for anything, but the teen years have little in the way of reward, in my experience. Good luck! Your kids are adorable.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterminky

"I count myself lucky to even be breathing at this point."

Sing it sistah!

Seriously, all the physica, logistical,l and financial aspects of parenting pale in the the face of the emotional toll it takes. Nevermind when someone doesn't like your kid or does something mean to them and it's illegal for you to kill them--it's the stuff you kids do directly to you that's the real killer. And, I know I was worse to my mom and we now have a very cool relationship so I know this too shall all pass, but man, it sucks sometimes.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterminky

Although I'm not sure he meant it this context, Wordsworth's line, "the child is the father of the man" comes to mind. My children are 10 and 13 and I am learning from them every moment of every day. They teach me when I am being a good mom. And they teach men when I am not. It is both easier and more difficult every day. It's a crazy, awesome but humbling ride, that's for sure.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSlove

I hope it isn't out of line to take you up on the "HELP ME" plea, but I just wanted to pass this along:

http://watchseries.eu/serie/jo_frost:_extreme_parental_guidance

If nothing else, I've found that it's a good way to inspire creative brainstorming re: tricky behavioral issues. And then it goes like this: new issue, brainstorm/research, implement structure, be consistent, experience loads of frustration, slowly see progress, celebrate briefly....cue new issue.

Hang in there. -<-@

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Ummm yeah almost four is prickly. Little sweetheart told me this morning my face was ugly like a monster. THANKS. I kind of do think it gets easier, though. His 10 year old sister is hard too, but not in the way that makes me crazy.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMartha

Mine turned 4 in July and...yeah. 2 1/2-3 1/2 sucked REALLY HARD. Potty warfare was the worst- I'm pissed, sobI will piss the carpet. Wha?!? Got a *little* better from 3 1/2 to 4. Now we're in 4 and...for me it is easier. Some days are not but....yeah. She gets herself dressed. She's chosen her own clothes since 2, but now, finally, does not fight the morning routine (up, dressed, teeth brushed). She likes to help in the kitchen. She still is opposite bunny some days. And will challenge me...but overall, it s easier.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

You feel my pain. Our kids are pretty much the same age. And I'm trudging through the exact same sinking realisation. This shit is hard and it's NOT getting easier. I don't think this is our fault - when I was pregnant people I knew and books I read all told me that the first year is the hardest and it gets easier from there blah blah blah. The first year with both my kids was easy. I mean it was hard, but far easier than I expected. I could pick up the baby and take her/him with me wherever I needed to go. NOW. Now my son is walking, getting into everything (and I can't get anything done) and my daughter is 3.5 and like Violet has a strong will of her own. I am currently completely overwhelmed at how relentless parenting is. Relentless. I'm right there with you.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteph

Since you did say "HELP ME". I will offer one bit of advice. Never take any of it personally. It's not you, it's them. If you have their best interests at heart, you're doing it right, regardless of how much they whine or what anyone else tells you.

Also, don't take credit for your awesome parenting when they are being wonderful and incredibly intelligent. 15yearoldboy is the last of 6 boys who were all pretty much raised the same and I've realized that they basically were who they were going to be when they were born. Not saying nuture doesn't make any difference, but as long as there isn't abuse/neglect, just not as much as most of us would like to give it credit for.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterminky

Everyone's comments are right on - I especially agree with minky in that the whole nature/nurture debate was over for me the minute I realized my 2 girls were completely different creatures - this was when the 2nd one was 6 months old and I couldn't give her any credit for planning to be the exact opposite of her sister. sigh. She continues to "teach me" how to be a better mom.

I have found, for me, that natural consequences and "Parenting with Love and Logic" work best for teaching kids to make good choices without getting your own emotional energy in the mix. See my comments yesterday about going to pre-school in your panties. This summer my 10 year old went to camp without lunch one day (see the first paragraph) and has managed since then to remember to get her backpack ready on time every morning. Given Violet's test of the time-out relationship to her hurtng her brother, the answer should have been Yes, Violet, you can go to time out right now. The point of time out is to give her a TIME OUT, not to punish her. Time outs give everyone a moment to breathe and collect themselves, and that includes you.

One more thing - our experience of kindergarten for both our girls was that it is a ridiculously hormonal time for girls. Who knew there was a developmental milestone for bitchiness in 6 year olds?

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

You don't need one more person to say it, but maybe it is comforting to know that the crowd agrees. The emotional work of parenting is way worse than the physical and it only gets tougher and more complex as they get older. It gets more interesting and more joyous in some ways. And the sometimes occurring boredom and tedium of caring for young kids is replaced by watching fun, interesting people emerge. But it is never easy. Having said that, I like parenting more now that my kids (11 and 14) are rational, interesting, competent people.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

Sure Violet. take a time out...enjoy it because you will be doing a lot of time in when the other kids are OUT having a GOOD time. You'll be sitting by the window, watchng the other kids trick or treating...playing in the pool...having a popcicle. everythign you love to do all because of what? WILLFUL DISOBEDIENCE. That's where you purposely CHOOSE not to listen to your INNER VOICE telling you NOT to do something. You WILL pay the price with a nice TIME IN. Take a book with you, You'll be there for a while.

Hey...all kidding aside. Aren't you due for another baby? I hope all of this talk here isn't extinguishing the flames of passion which lead to all those precious butterfly kisses from sweet little babies to come. PLEEEEASE try to overlook all of this WORK which is SAPPING your patience. It WILL get EASIER. IT WILL. Ask your mother....Ask someone else. Keep asking until you get the answer which changes your mind.

And remember Monica...you can't HELP but be a great mother. It's WHO YOU ARE. The girl who is a great mother. Your kids love your firm approach. See she WANTS to be punished. She NEEDS to know that she is not in charge. It's a good thing. a good good good good good good thing. Have a popcicle and take a nap maybe. Feel better. PS. B6 and 5 HTP natural happy supplements.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergina

Three - almost four - is tough, man. I remember thinking that two was easy, and three...well, it was the WORST. But now that my daughter is almost six, that three-year-old year is a distant memory. She is a smart, fun, awesome girl almost all of the time, thankfully. We have our moments, of course, but she - mostly - listens and is a great kid. I'm sure this "nice" stage will end at some point, but I'm clinging to it as long as possible. I homeschool her (and work at home) so there are some frustrating days here and there, but as encouragement to you...I swear it will get better!

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHanni

Ugh! I definitely feel your pain! Psychological warfare is such a perfect way to describe this stage!
My curly haired girl is about a year older than Violet and I have already had bust out "calling Santa Claus" to report her behavior. To say she is "testing her boundaries" would be the understatement of the year!

Just this weekend I had promised her ice cream after dinner but then found her with a face full of my makeup. After telling her several times to stay out, I again found her reaching for the lipstick only minutes later. I proudly dropped the no ice cream bomb only to have her reply innocently and sweetly "that's okay, Mommy. I don't need any ice cream tonight" and continue to smack her lips in the mirror.
Um whaaaa?? Now what?!?!? This stage is way harder for us than the baby stage!!

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLolaK

Psychologial warfare: Your daughter's reaction to your Time Out also reminds me of my 21 year old nephew "with the Down's Syndrome". Althoguh he is a Bronze medal bowler in last year's summer Special Olympics and can out dance Micheal Jackson, the man throws barbs like. Okay,a few years back, we were driving to his psychologist when he told me that his doctor probably would not be asking me out The notion of dating his doctor had never occured to me, but evidently it was on his mind. When I asked him what his problem was, and why he thought his doctor would NOT want to date me, he answered flatly, " Just look at you, Aunt Gina, you;'re undateble." Undatable. How dellating it is to hear such hurtful words from your own family. Soon after the appointment, Dan decided that he needed an electric guitar and proceeded to ask me to buy him one. Feeling rather betrayed and used, I asked Dan why he thought that I would actually reward his insults with a gifting. Well you never saw such back peddling in your life. " well not actually.... I didn't mean that YOU were undatable....you see, when I said that I was actually looking out the window." ( meaning he spoke the words to some girl in another car). So I am datable, then. " Yes, Of course, my beautiful auntie is datable." Good enough, So off to the music store we drove.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergina

Yes, almost-4 is HARD. But it does get better. I have a delightful 8.5-year-old right now. I have no idea what awaits with the onset of puberty, but right now parenting is easy and wonderful and I love hanging out with my kid (usually :P).

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

Well, it will get easier for a while. The 6-10(ish) years are great - the kids have got a better handle on their emotions, puberty hasn't hit yet....there are challenges of course, but toddlers are a particularly demanding group of people. It will pass, they will become cheery, somewhat self-reliant kids for a while. Then hormones! But yeah, good times are ahead. One day at a time.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLena

I dunno. Tantrums, angry non-nappers...this all sounds like coworkers/the job. I will have to remind myself to laugh at everything because everything is absurd. Thanks for the post. :)

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNina

I've found it gets easier from 11-15 years with boys. He was so nice and loving and eager to help. He hit 15 got a mans voice and a girlfriend and BAM! No longer easy.
Girls get easier around 9 until around 12/13ish. Then it happens. All the puberty things. Makes the laid back girly girls go apeshit mean girl.
This has been my experience with my older two.
I have two kids after those two. I'm hoping to learn from and remember the experience of the older two.
I doubt I will.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

I am mom to 5 kids (ages 17, 14, 12, 5, & soon to be 2), and I can honestly tell you that my older children require more parenting than my younger kids. For example, to prevent my little ones from getting into trouble while I make dinner I sit them at the table with crayons and a coloring book, which buys me maybe 20 minutes at least! Now, if my 17 year old and his girlfriend are in my living room and I need to make dinner in the kitchen, but can't because I'm too afraid of leaving them in a room alone together...then what? I mean, I was a teen once, and can vouch for the fact that a lot can happen in 20 minutes! Moral of the story, you think the little ones control you or monopolize your time now...wait until they are teenagers!!! The older they get the bigger their demands, the greater their attitudes, and the more confident they become, as they convince themselves that they are smarter than you! :)

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFlawed Mommy

As if I wasn't already scared about procreating... I honestly don't know how my mother raised seven children and kept her sanity. Although by the end, nothing could shock or upset her.

September 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpostmormongirl

It is never easy. But it does get easier. I lost my mind, literally had a mental health crisis when my daughter was four. Medical intervention. Then got my shit together. Like many have said the early elementary years tend to be delightful. Gets a little moody and dicey at the onset of puberty, but I'm actually finding the middle school years not too bad. In spite of the evening of sobbing a couple days ago lol. She is just so fun and interesting and weird at this age.You will be so excited to see the people your babies become. And you will eventually have time to work out and leave the house and do other things little kids keep you from doing.

September 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

Four was hard for me. It does change moving forward, in good and harder ways, but so will you. In the meantime, hold onto these words, they will remind you to laugh and to celebrate all that is the "THEM". You are the bumper pads. They are who are they are from the moment they come to us.

September 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLouise

I have been thinking about your last post for the last 24 hours and I have meaning to send you a PM but basically it does get better - we'll in the way that mile 22 of a marathon is better than mile 14 but it really does get better. I have to tell you the 4s was my hardest age - hands down. They are not called the frustrating fours for nothing - sometimes they are the "fuck me what was I thinking when I thought I could raise a child". Seriously, Four. Fucking. Sucks. I said it. It does. That's what they should warn you about in those stupid childbirth classes. Stitches, hemmroids... Whatever. But that toddler that could could just eat they are so sweet turns into to this psychological field would will break you down. But then they are five and delicious again so you will survive. It really does get so much better (until you hit 17 which is no bowl of cherries either - that's where I am now and it's not fun but I know it's a transition just like four and I can get through it. I feel for you I really do - but you are doing fine. You love her and she loves you. Call her bluff once in a while - you do have the upper hand (I would have absolutely put her in time out - she did ask for it!). But hang in there - you are doing great. Never doubt that.

September 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLove bug

I must be the only one who thinks it gets easier as they get older. Of course, it's never *easy* but the mental challenges that an older kid presents, to me, are nothing compared to the physical challenges of early childhood (ie no sleep, constant vigilance, etc). I just remember having to stand over him 24/7 so he didn't do something that killed him (exhausting), and now he can run up the street to play with his friends all by himself.Years 1-4 were really hard. 5-8 has been a breeze to me in comparison.

November 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermrg

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