You may think I am referring to children taking turns having tantrums or behaving poorly, but you would be wrong. In my experience, it is always open season when it comes to kids freaking out. The idea of courteous turn-taking being applied to siblings in crisis is laughable. No, I am talking about parents taking turns experiencing a temporary complication with their ability to cope with their child(ren)’s horrendous behavior.
In fact, I strongly believe that the ability to take turns freaking out is central to the success of a parenting partnership. To put it more gracefully, the intricate dance of balancing your limits with those of your partner is a crucial skill to develop, ideally before the first baby is born. Imagine two adults who are both terrified of bees. At a park one day, there are half a dozen bees buzzing around your picnic. Not a pretty picture. Somebodymust be in position to maintain authority and poise at all times; two adults simultaneously losing their shit is one of the worst parenting predicaments in which to find oneself. We are fortunate in my family that I am the only adult terrified of bees. (See, my metaphor was more effective because I actually am afraid of bees. One of my most degrading adult moments involved me flinging a mostly full bottle of beer when a bee landed on it. It broke all over the patio. The husband was pissed.)
For the record, I don’t find this photo funny. It makes me want to cry.

Even without my clever insect phobia analogy, I’m sure you can all grasp what I am talking about. Children drive us crazy. At some point, mom or dad is approaching a Class 1 Conniption Fit, and it is important that the other parent is poised to swoop in and direct them to the bench. Everyone has their own unique button-pushing behavior that tends to push them over the edge.  I am undecided as to whether the most difficult traits/triggers to cope with are the qualities in our children that we ourselves possess (but may really dislike about ourselves) or if the catalyst for parental meltdown is more often something about our child that we have a hard time identifying with.

Let me give you an example. One of the most challenging situations for both me and my husband is when our oldest has been whining or complaining about an endless host of maladies. “I bumped my head,” she sobs. “There’s a papercut on my eyelid!” she will shriek hysterically. “I can’t participate in dance class today- I fell down at recess!” she whimpers plaintively. Rarely does a day go by when our daughter does not complain of a tummyache, a sore body part, or some other manifestation of her hypochondriac nature. She is seemingly unable to calmly inform us of these calamities; every single toe stub is accompanied by hysterical crying and or/screeching. It is truly annoying. But this is where things become uncomfortable for me. Those who know me well have probably already thought snidely to themselves, “Hmm, I wonder where she gets it…” It is true that I am prone to overreacting and oversharing my physical ailments. I have a tendency to broadcast my own injuries and afflictions in a way that mirrors my oldest daughter’s narrative. (Without the whining and crying…I am 34, after all.) So perhaps this is why I find this quirk of hers so irritating- a deep sense of personal shame for my own hysteria. My husband has all but extinguished his own ability to discuss illness and injury. He rarely complains (maybe I am being a bit generous here) and has been known to walk around with a bleeding cut on some body part that he wasn’t even aware of. So perhaps he has suppressed this reactive, overly expressive trait in himself because he finds it so abhorrent, leaving him frustrated when it manifests in his daughter. And probably his wife, too.  Yet sometimes, after I have snapped at her for this constant barrage of unfortunate information, he digs deep and is able to be sympathetic and I am allowed to walk away for a breather.
Demonstrating the infuriating “Pout”

I saw one of those e-cards on Facebook (yes, they are annoyingly ubiquitous but some of them are actually funny) that referred to “that awkward moment when your child is getting in trouble for something you do all the time,” or something to that effect. It definitely rings with hypocrisy when I chastise Izzy for eating too fast when I myself am frantically wolfing down my food, or worse, when I criticize her “grumpy words” when I have said, “Jesus Christ!” three times already that afternoon.

My husband is generally the more patient in our parenting partnership, and I am both humbled and relieved to say that he is often the one who swoops in to handle our annoying children when I have hit my max. This is a quality not to be undervalued in a partner; how many of us are utterly exhausted, approaching pissed off, and undeniably touched out by the time our spouse arrives home? The ability to handle whiny, clingy, or tantrum-ing children without breaking a sweat while Mommy hides in the pantry is heroic. On occasion, I feel I redeem myself by putting on the “Calm Parent” hat when I can see that Shawn is reaching the boiling point. Even he has his limits when it comes to being manhandled, particularly when our six year old climbs on him with utter disregard for his areas of anatomical weakness. It feels somehow validating when the levelheaded, easy-going parent gets frustrated with the negativity emanating from our offspring.

Ahh, there it is.

Now, to come back around to my previous dilemma- are our kids more annoying when they are displaying a quality of ourselves we are not proud of? When the child of a hot-head angrily destroys his brother’s blocks? When a talkative mom’s little girl won’t shut up? When a painfully shy parent’s child refuses to talk to any of the kids at the park? It can definitely push our buttons when our child is being a miniature version of us- often we had high hopes that our particular bothersome trait would skip their generation. But sometimes the opposite is true, I have found. Sometimes it causes us to be more compassionate, more aware.

I think we are a great team

I have written frequently about my six year old daughter’s sensitivity, a trait she clearly inherited from me. While her anxiety can be terribly wearisome, I find I am often able to find the patience to help her cope with whatever is stressing her out, rather than succumbing to aggravation. One Saturday afternoon when our youngest was still a newborn, my husband decided to take big sis on a special outing for just the two of them. The Lorax had just come out, and was a big hit amongst the kindergarten crowd. Izzy had been begging us to see it in the theater, even though her last attempt to make it through a movie, The Muppets, had resulted in us leaving halfway through because it was too loud. About half an hour after the two of them left the house, I received a phone call from my husband, who was obviously irritated and disheartened. They had paid for their tickets and not even made it all the way into the theater before Izzy began flipping out. I could sense how exasperated he was at having to abandon their adventure before it began, and I calmly implored him, “Please don’t let her feel ashamed.” He told me later how much he appreciated that I told him that; he said it was the perfect thing to say and he really needed the reminder. He was able to find an alternative activity, purchase the crappy 1970s cartoon version of the Lorax at the store, and salvage their afternoon. I think my ability to empathize when Izzy’s sensitivity becomes maddening stems from my deep understanding of this aspect of her personality.

Marriage and partnership is all about teamwork, communication, balance, and compromise. There is no arena in which this is more apparent than the challenging years of coping with young children. When things are really working, co-parenting is a seamless dance of cooperation, support, and the perfect balance of give and take. I consider myself very fortunate that the person I get to dance this precarious dance with allows me the space to occasionally freak out. I know he is there to rescue me when I need him, and it brings me great joy when I am able to do the same for him.*Don’t forget to keep up with Mommy, for real. on Facebook…for those as tech un-savvy as I am, click “like” on the right of the screen if you haven’t already done so!

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