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The Parenting Arena (Part 1)

Before I had children of my own, I did not understand what it was like to be a parent. And while I don’t remember specific instances of being a judgemental asshole, I am certain that I did form opinions of how I would be as a parent – specifically the laundry list of things that I had observed in other parents that I would never do. I can picture my younger self staring at a three year old who still had a nightly bottle. I would never do that. Or the tall four year old who still had a pacifier in her mouth at all times day or night. I would never. Or the two year old that said things like “Fucking Dog”, frequented the grocery store in her Hugh Hefner robe, and had perpetually messy hair. Nope, not my child. I would never be that mom

But here is the thing about parenthood and pretty much all other life situations. You have no idea how you will react to any chapter in your life until you are in the thick of it. Good LORD, my hypothetical children were so much easier to handle than my actual babies. My hypothetical parenting was calm, cool and collected, neat and orderly, tied up with a bow and a nice relaxing glass of wine by the fire after the kids were asleep. In reality, this was not the case. 

The three year old with a bottle? My son, who had severe colic as a newborn. If my sleep-deprived actual mom self (AMS) would have bumped into my judgy pre-motherhood self (PMS), the conversation might have gone something like this: 

PMS: “Wow, isn’t he a little big for a bottle? I read an article about how toddlers that have bottles when they are over the age of one tend to end up in jail for armed robbery. When I have kids, I won’t do that.”

AMS: “Well, Judge Judy, I read an article on how people with PTSD sometimes use coping mechanisms that are off the beaten path. (Please don’t ask me to source this as I would have made it up to be snarky.) When my son was 1 week old, he started screaming. Relentlessly. For 16 straight weeks. From 7pm to about 6 am straight through without mercy. My husband was in medical school and I went back to work when my son was eight weeks old. With literally no sleep. Everyone would ask me if I loved being a mom, and I lied. Because nobody wants to hear you complain about your crying baby. Everyone is supposed to love being a mom, right? I felt sad, stressed beyond comprehension, cranky, guilty for not loving my new role, not to mention I was trying to keep up with work so that nobody would think that I had changed. Even though everything had changed. It was one of the most draining and traumatic experiences of my life. I have never felt so much love for another human and so much fear. I would brace myself for the evenings. When the screaming finally subsided, life was so much brighter! He still loves his bottle on his little mini couch while we cuddle him and read books. He is happy, content and loving life – and so are we. So we just keep going with what is working. Sure, we know that we should probably make him quit the bottle, but we love our time together with him and are afraid to change it in any way. I would tell you to call me when you have children of your own, but I don’t really like you right now so please don’t bother. But good luck to you.”

The four year old that wore a size 6 and still had a pacifier in her mouth at all times? My boisterous, beautiful middle child who read full chapter books by age 3 and made her own bed every day from age four on. Strangers would say things to me about her pacifiers. Relatives would offer advice and tough-love solutions. “Just take them away. She will be fine.” “Remember you are the parent.” What strangers didn’t know and everyone else failed to recognize, was that in the grander scheme of what my daughter had gone through and already accomplished in her four short years, the fact that she cherished her nookies was not something that we cared to focus on. When my daughter was five months old, she had a four inch by two inch portion of her skull removed and was in the ICU for a week. She had IV tubes on each arm, monitors on her legs and toes and a huge tube draining bloody fluid out of her head right behind her left ear. She had stitches from ear to ear across the top of her head in a squiggly line that resembled the stitching on a baseball. Other babies in the ICU cried. A lot. My baby sucked on her pacifier and weathered that storm like a champ. She never had a favorite teddy bear or a blankie. Her nookies were her comfort. And, it’s not like she didn’t take them out so that we could understand her as she read chapter books to us each night. I let her keep them as long as she wanted to. 

As for the two year old using colorful language and refusing to wear anything other than her pajamas? Third. Child. I could just leave it at that, but I will explain. By the time our last baby came around, we realized whole heartedly that we somewhat knew what we were doing. We actually enjoyed parenthood. We laughed more. We let more roll off our backs. We overreacted less. We didn’t try to form her (or her siblings) into “good kids” – we knew that we already had them and our job was to focus on their unique gifts until they clearly see them on their own. 

With this being said, our home is not a free-for-all. We don’t encourage our toddlers to swear and avoid real clothing. As they get older, if they do choose to swear, we try to teach them the artform of a well placed cuss word. We let them screw up. We mess up in front of them and show them what it means to own our mistakes. We don’t aim for perfection – we instead strive for the best that any of us can do at any given time. We say sorry. We forgive each other and ourselves. We are striving to raise kind, loving, empathetic humans. We want them to see the value in a deep belly laugh, working hard, and true friendships. Our choices and actions may seem off the beaten path, but here is the point – it is on our path. It is our path

I can’t help but think of one of my favorite quotes by Theodore Roosevelt:  

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” 

If you are not in the arena, getting your parenting ass kicked on a daily basis, you don’t get to judge other parents. You just don’t. 

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Kari Shideman

I'm Kari...

and I am a Scorpio of Italian, German and Irish descent who feels things deeply and has shit to say about it.

I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a cynic, a dreamer, an encourager, a believer in unexpected blessings.

I believe that life is both amazing and brutally hard at times. To be human is to connect with others, and to fully accomplish this, we need to live in the REAL. Life is not meant to go through on the surface level.

My hope is that somehow I will inspire people to dive a little deeper, to laugh a little harder, to live a little more connected.

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