Sometimes it seems as though parenthood is expressly set up to knock us down, as rosy expectations inevitably collide with stern reality. We talk about that phenomenon to 13 Is the New 18 author Beth Harpaz.
Get Ready for Surprises
“I was not prepared for the suddenness of the transition between childhood and adolescence,” says Beth Harpaz, whose sudden encounter with teenage sulks and sullens prompted her to write
13 Is the New 18: And Other Things My Children Taught Me—While I Was Having a Nervous Breakdown Being Their Mother. “I thought I would be cool—I’ve been to the Grateful Dead! But I was wrong, and knowing what was going on doesn’t make it better.” As Harpaz looks back over the various smackdowns she encountered as a mom, it seems clear that surprising us is what kids do best! Read on to discover her discoveries from each phase of parenting. You can also check out an excerpt from her book, about raising boys.
Managing Labor and Delivery
Expectation: Labor will hurt, but how bad can it be?
Reality: Root canals without anesthesia are a comparative jaunt through the park.
You can do all the breathing exercises and yoga you want beforehand, but the only way to correctly visualize the pain of labor is to have a baby. “I went to all the classes and had a natural birth,” says Harpaz. “I really loved having the midwives and no doctors, but there is no way to prepare people for how painful it is.” Harpaz emphasizes that she is not advocating any particular type of birthing process. “The health of the baby is the most important thing, and you do what you need to achieve that end,” she says. But no matter what choice you make? “At the end of the day, it will hurt like hell.” Judging by the number of couples who go on to have a second child, it’s well worth the pain.
Training Good Sleepers
Expectation: We’ll be able to put our baby on a reasonable sleeping schedule by the time he’s 3 or 4 months old.
Reality: Will I ever get a good night’s sleep again?
True, some babies are champs in the sleeping department, but even the best sleeper will cause plenty of wakeful hours. There are so many X factors involved in sleeping, from diet to birth weight to genetics, that you never know when your child will finally reach the coveted eight-hour threshold. And that doesn’t even take napping into account. “I had pretty wild little boys who didn’t want to take naps and wanted to stay up late and get up early,” says Harpaz. “The assumption is that your child will nap and go to bed early, and that’s when you’ll have private time. But when they go to sleep at 10 PM, who knows how late you might be staying up with grown up chores like bills?” And just when you’ve got a routine going, an earache or stomach bug will hit!
Being a Veteran Mom
Expectation: The experience and parenting techniques learned with my first child will help with the second.
Reality: It’s amazing how completely different siblings can be.
The giant burden of anxiety is gone the second time around—you’re prepared for the sleep deprivation, and you know that eventually your child will get toilet trained. But don’t expect your second child to respond to the same cues and tactics that worked the first time out. “My children are so completely different that I sometimes wonder if we got the wrong baby,” says Harpaz. She tells of taking her outgoing older son to the playground and showing him how to walk up to another child and ask him to play. “Off he went—he found some kid to play and that was it,” she says. “But when I suggested the same thing with my younger son, he looked at me and said, ‘I’m not doing that,’ and he sat down on the bench with me. With him, I had to play with him or set up a play date with a kid he already knew.”
Running a Calm Household
Expectation: You’ll cook a healthy and nutritious dinner while the tykes quietly draw, read, do homework, or otherwise engage their brains.
Reality: The hour prior to supper is know as the Witching Hour for a reason.
While we all face the daily juggle of homework, dinner, social time, and housework, working families can face additional stress. “That hour is the worst hour of the day,” says Harpaz (though morning madness has its challenges too). “It’s the crisis hour, where you hear all the daily drama of your kid’s day.” She found that taking 20 minutes to sit and snuggle with her kids really helped defuse any brewing emotional explosions. “When you get home from work, so much needs to be done—dinner, baths, homework, walking the dog. It’s hard to just plop down on the sofa for some snuggle time, but you may both need that the most,” she says.
Raising Good Students
Expectation: I loved school, and so will my kids.
Reality: Your child may well be made miserable by the very things you loved.
If your kids have a completely different experience at school than you did, it can be difficult to adjust your point of reference to their reality. But try to remember that when your daughter vocalizes her enduring hatred of short-story writing, telling her how much you loved to write poems in third grade isn’t really going to solve the problem. It may, in fact, make her feel pretty dumb. “Don’t shame them; become their advocates,” says Harpaz. “Looking back, I wish that I had stood up more for my boys. Figure out why school isn’t working for them, and try to make it a place where they can succeed on their own terms.”
Enjoying the Tween Years
Expectation: Adolescence is a gradual process.
Reality: One minute it’s Hannah Montana, the next it’s full-on cell phone immersion.
When you think of the tween years, you think the operative word is years, giving parents and kids a chance to ease into the new reality of huge physical changes and social tumult. But many parents have discovered that the process seems to happen in a snap. “I felt like overnight I went from having this cuddly, sweet goofy kid to having an physically large person challenging everything,” says Harpaz. “It completely freaked me out because I wasn’t ready for it.” The key is to remember that at this age, that goofy kid isn’t buried too deep. Yes, they don’t look like kids any more, but look for the child inside.
Expectation: I’m not my mother, and I’ll know how to talk to my teens.
Reality: You may not be your mother, but you’re still their Mom. Prepare for the Earbud Wall of Silence.
Even though it feels as though you are talking to yourself, don’t give up. “Sometimes they’ll stick earbuds in their ears or walk away or will even yell at you, but they are listening,” says Harpaz. “Eventually, what you say will be incorporated into who they are.” The trick is to know your values and communicate them in a calm, nonthreatening manner. “You need to tell them, ‘These are my rules and values about smoking, drinking, sex, etc.,’ and you need to do it early and often,” says Harpaz. “The first time you have the conversation it’s awful, but it gets less painful the third or fourth time around.”
Mothering for the Long Haul
Expectation: Parenting will have its ups and downs.
Reality: That’s right!
You may be at an early stage in your motherhood and the teen (or even toddler!) years seem a lifetime away. But one of the truest cliches in the world is the one about parenting: “The hours are long but the years are short.” You’ll have challenges and triumphs as a parent, sometimes over the littlest things. Hopefully getting insight from those like Harpaz who’ve been down the path already will help light the way.
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