I received some good parenting advice a few months back from none other than Jerry Seinfeld.
My husband and I went to see Jerry Seinfeld perform last November at the Fox Theater in Detroit. About halfway into his hysterical show he started talking about the gutter ball and how it perfectly relates to parenting. You know that thing that happens when you are bowling. That is the gutter ball I'm referring to here. He went on how kids today don't even know what that is. We as parents are robbing them of this!! We have put bumpers up in the lanes so they never have to see the disappointment of never knocking any pins down and getting the ever dreaded GUTTER BALL. He goes on to say if we really want to help our kids out lets remove the bumpers and add an extra gutter down the middle of the lane. I loved it!! We are the parenting generation of participation trophies and never letting a child miss on anything. This concept of the gutterball applies to every single thing in your child’s life. There is an endless list to pick from. Do we let our kids miss out on having to wait their turn, or not getting a turn at all? Do we let our kids feel sad that this time they didn’t get to go somewhere fun with their friends? Do we drive their homework to school if they forget it? Or do we let them hit the “gutter” and feel the disappointment so they can learn and grow from it? Or do we shield them from all of life’s disappointments and then wonder why when they are twenty-five they can’t handle anything that comes their way. I vote for building “emotional muscles” and letting our kids get “gutter balls” in life! I’m not perfect at it and sometimes I don’t do it but today I know better so I make an effort of practicing disappointment and my kids not getting their way in a variety of situations throughout the day. Not only that but when they do get what they want they are actually excited about it and not just expecting it.
Here is my take on parenting baby #1 (as in first baby born in birth order)
Each kid you have you learn more about parenting. It is like in school. When your baby is one you have one year of parenting education. By the time I had three children I had 4 years of a parenting degree so yes the third baby got treated differently. I knew more. I knew better. Like a senior in high school roaming the halls after the last bell rings compared to a terrified freshman. As Oprah says "When you know better you do better!" That was the truth!! (Side note I love Oprah!!)
Back to my thoughts. You see I didn't spoil my first child with toys. No I knew better. I didn't spoil him at night. No, we made him work out his frustration of not falling asleep in our arms or with a bottle. We practiced sleep training and held our own as hard as it was in the beginning. To hear my first born baby cry when I could so easily pick him up and make him happy again was tough in the beginning. Fast forward to baby #3 and I was like "peace out, this is the best thing you can do for a child". No guilt at all. I was teaching this kid to cope and I was proud of it.
If baby #1 was awake then I was playing with him. He didn't have a toy drop out of his hands without me being underneath to pick it up. If he spit food out of his mouth, I was close enough to catch it. I thought I was showing him how I would always be there. How he would never have to struggle when I was near. How I wouldn't make him have to do anything he didn't feel like doing. How I loved him always, no matter what.
Yeah, I was projecting some major emotional baggage of my own on this one.
If he was awake I thought it was my job to teach him and show him the world every waking second. You know those bouncy exersaucer toys people put their little babies in to sit there and swing at stuff. To entertain themselves. My ass sat down directly in front of him hitting the toys with him every second he was on it. Telling him the colors, the numbers whatever I thought I should be sharing. I thought I just had this time away from him when he was sleeping so I need to be a good mom to him now. I saved anything else I had to get done for when he was sleeping.
In reality what I did teach him was, "You are the center of the universe and never need to learn to entertain yourself!" Ha, ha ha...yeah great parenting!!
By the time baby 3 came along, I had a game plan. When he was in that exersaucer I wouldn't even give him eye contact from across the room. This baby was going to learn to work it out and deal with it. Let me make this completely clear. I am in the same area of my house as him and making sure he is safe and all but not sitting six inches away starring at his every move. I gave baby 3 space to learn on his own and figure things out. If he cried, I would duck under the counter top so he couldn't see me to give him time to work it out on his own. To not get his way when he got frustrated or dropped a toy. To have to find something else to do.
It seems so obvious now. Why was I so stupid back then? I have a million reasons why but my point is we live, we learn and we do better. When you are living in the moment of it you can't see things clearly. It's not until time passes and you have a chance to reflect when things make sense.
Fortunately I caught the errors of my ways early so I could adjust my parenting style. Today my children have come to expect to hear one of my cheesy sayings said in a joking manner such as, "Do your legs still have feet on them? Oh good, you can walk to throw that out yourself." I have a million more tricks up my sleeve these days.
I by no means have things figured out. I just know more today than I did seven years ago. I was forced to make my kids wait their turn when I had three. You can't possibly give them all what they want at the same time. Today I try to practice patience even when I have just one kid with me and I can easily get them whatever they want. I still make them wait. I make up a reason why I can't help them right away even if I could. I can only imagine in another seven years what I will think of the parenting choices I am making today.