Yesterday the boys and I went to look at the Greg Brown murals scattered around downtown Palo Alto. I had a walking tour map in hand, so our wanderings could be a bit less aimless. I had a whole plan for the day-- we would explore the paintings, go have pizza for lunch, then join in on our homeschool group's park day that afternoon.
Things did not go as I had planned (do they ever?). Suffice it to say, the boys were not of my same mind... or, I don't know. I think Quinn was enjoying our time, but wanted to do a lot more running around and street-time-wrestling with Donovan than either I nor Donovan were comfortable with, and I had a hard time keeping calm, which means eeeerrrrybody explodes (probably the most important and still hardest-to-implement parenting lesson I have learned-- if I can just manage to stay calm, everything goes about 1,000 times better. When I lose my shit, it all goes down the drain). I'm sure there were a few people yesterday who saw me yell at Quinn and went home to write facebook diatribes about how shitty parents and their out-of-control children are today.
Needless to say, I admitted defeat pretty early on in our outing, and we just went and got pizza (is that a "reward" for difficult behavior? Or is it just accepting that food often makes kids feel better? And that I also still didn't want to deal with making lunch once we got home?) and went home, because they also both insisted that they were not in the mood for going to the park.
The thing is, I have cute pictures that I took during the more pleasant moments of our morning walk, and I could easily post just those and make it look like we had this awesomefamilytime out together. And I don't want to get into the whole social-media-sucks-because-everyone-is-fake myth (it's not, but don't assume you know everything about someone from what they post...none of us work that way), but despite my best efforts I do sometimes get bogged down with looking at the cute pictures others post and thinking, "Wow, their family does so much cool stuff, why are we such losers?" But a) I know we aren't, and b) I remind myself that everyone else also has sibling squabbles and bad moments and all-around family-wide meltdowns from time to time.
Somewhat related, I was thinking the other day how part of the reason that parenting feels so intense and stressful in the early years is that it all feels so permanent. Parenting books and so-called experts don't help with this, as they are usually the loudest voices cautioning against setting up "bad habits" and making parents feel like if we "let" our kids do X, Y, or Z, they will never ever EVER outgrow that horrible habit/flaw and it will ALL BE OUR FAULT.
And the truth is, almost none of what we do is permanent. One benefit of growing older, and of watching your children growing older, is noticing the ebb and flow, the constant change and evolution of their selves. Your kid who could not sleep on his own, suddenly takes long naps in his own bed, or even sleeps all through the night. The kid who needed to be held 24/7, walks away from you contentedly. They depend on breastfeeding or bottles, until one day they don't. Everything that felt so crucial, so crushing, eventually melts away into the next phase of things. Some of those changes happened through our meddling, much of them are often just kids maturing and not needing the same things as they used to.
After 7 years of parenting, it's a little easier for me to step back and see the whole forrest instead of obsessing over the trees (I do like that saying/metaphor, don't I? Feels like I use it a lot), though I still need those reminders. I still worry about whether there are things I should be doing, should be paying attention to, that I am missing. But yeah it's a little easier to step back and remember all the other phases we've gone through, and recognize that the challenge I'm facing right now will likely also change in time. And that's not to shirk my responsibilities as their parent, I still have lots of work to do in responding with kindness and respect as much as possible, but in many ways my job is to guide them and also just kind of get out of their way.