Friday, October 14, 2011

The Political Parent

I’m not a very political person. I’m sort of a “fair weather fan” when it comes to politics. I get really into it when there is an exciting election, or some hot button issue I can debate. But on some idle Wednesday you won’t find me riveted by CNN or reading about the economy.

However, I have learned this week that parents have an awful lot in common with politicians. Yes, thanks to three adorable little children I now know what it feels like to walk in a politician’s polished loafers.   
You always hear about approval ratings with politicians: 51% of Americans happy with the President or 28% of the citizens of Iowa say we need more corn, etc. etc. etc. Well this week, for the first time in my parenting career my approval rating has greatly plummeted.

My constituents, J, H, and L have always been a very calm, well behaved, crew. I admit I have watched many a mother dragging their screaming toddler out of Wal-Mart and secretly thanked God that my kids are not like that. No for the most part, “crime” in the community of “Mandihouse” stays relatively low….
That was until this week.

You know if you are a follower of my blog that J and H are very close in age (J is 15 months older than H). You may remember such loving pictures as the two of them walking hand in hand, or H taking the blame for Pajamagate 2010 (when J cut the sleeve of L’s puppy dog jammies). I was always so proud of the fact that the two of them were sidekicks and best buds.

Again that was until this week.

It all started Monday. We live in a medium size city, with a relatively normal crime rate, but we by no means live in an area like I did growing up where doors can remain unlocked, cars left running up town, kids allowed to roam the streets at all hours. We have a fenced in backyard. My kids are allowed to go out in our backyard whenever they want (even without me) for they know that as long as they stay in the backyard, all is well. So Monday, I sent the kids outside to play while I cooked dinner. Awhile later my husband walked in from the store… “Why are the kids out front?”. My heart dropped…they had left our back yard without permission, or even my knowledge. I ran outside. The second my daughter saw me she knew she was in trouble and tried to cover up the crime “Oh hi Mommy, you said I could come outside right??”. I grabbed her hand, strolled her quickly in the house and right up to her room. Her partner and crime was also brought up (although admittedly not as easily). After a long talk about what they did wrong, my kids had to stay in their room for punishment during the evening. They came down for dinner, and then right back up to their bedrooms. My “prisoners” were not happy with me that night…"You don’t love me Mommy”, “You are mad at us Mommy” etc. It was a long evening of tears and the occasional jail break. Yes, my approval rating dropped about 10 points that night.  

Then began the Great War of JH. Although I am not certain who actually was the first to declare the war, it has been in full swing all week. All week J and H have been at each other throats (nearly literally). “I hate you”. “You’re not my best friend” and of course “He hit me”, “She pushed me” are whisking through our house faster than the autumn breeze. The battles have been short but powerful, The Battle over the Yellow Car; The Battle over the Burger King Happy Meal Toy; The Battle of “He looked at me wrong”; The Battle of "She's trying to make Batman get a makeover". No matter what I try, the fights still continue.

And so has been my week…the Mom that usually is seen walking into dance class with a happy excited daughter, a son ready to sit calmly and wait for his big sister, and a adorable happy toddler was seen this week being head butted in the face by that adorable toddler, dragging the son who wanted to go ride bikes, and trying to calm down the daughter who was mad because her brother got the purple Gatorade.

Due to the unexpected and unwelcome influx of “crime” in my normally peaceful household, there has been an increase in punishments. Yes, approval rating down some more.

When I punish H, it's normally not too bad. Take him up to his room and give him a time out. Of course he will scream and cry and remove me from his best friend list. But even when I take away his beloved Transformers, he’ll eventually earn them back, come down, wipe his tears and go on with his day. And yes, each night I still get a hug and a “You are my best friend Mommy”. He’s one that takes his punishment and deals with it.
But J, well that's another story. I am being paid back for the drama queen personality I have had since birth. Punish her and you will hear “You don’t like me”….”You are embarrassing me”…”Oh now no one loves me”, or my new “favorite” “I don’t like when you are the mean Mommy”. Punish her and you can instantly hear her voice sitting in an expensive therapist office in about 10 years.

To make matters worse, in my house I am the “good and bad” cop. My kids see me as the one “in charge” because I am the one that is always there (since my husband works nights). I am the one they listen to first and foremost, and so if I sit back and let things slide...well, they slide, and I’m to blame when they are wearing county colors cleaning trash off the interstate in 10 years. And due to the fact that I have more patience than my husband, I have to hear “You deal with it Mandi” a few times each week. I have to wonder whatever happened to the old black and white sitcoms where the calm mother came in lovingly and said "Well, Wally I know you know I have to tell your father about this?"??  Those days are gone. Now, in the sitcom of my life that has been replaced with "Well, H, I could tell your Daddy about this but he'll probably kill you since he has no patience and so to keep you alive, here we go... (insert Bad Cop Mommy)".
And so has come the birth of “Bad Cop Mandi” the part of my job as a mother I hate the most.  My hatred is probably due to the fact I am a horrible bad cop. I’m the bad cop that will put you behind bars, but then once you look at me with sad eyes and say you’re sorry, I’ll leave the keys dangling in the cell near your grasp. I don’t do tough very well. And when I do, I usually say something that after I hear it come out of my mouth I think…”What the hell was that supposed to mean?" . Not sure how a 3 and 5 year old are supposed to understand me when I don't understand half the things I say when I'm in the role!

The main problem with my bad cop persona is that I internalize it, I feel bad about it. I’ve felt horrible all week…with every time out, with every toy taken away, I felt worse and worse. Luckily I have my Mom, my top “political advisor” who has helped me cope all week. I asked my Mom: “Mom, how did you do it? I seriously have no recollections of you being mean, but you kept control, you kept us in line?”. She laughed and said “What are you talking about? I was mean all the time, you just don’t remember. They won’t either”.
So, I guess like all great politicians I just need to be a duck and let all of this just roll off my back. I can’t be liked all the time, I’m not their friend, I’m their Mom. I have to have these periods when my approval rating plummets. It’s part of my job. The unpleasant part? Sure. But a part none the less.

But like my Mom reminded me, I won’t be remembered for these times. Just like the great politicians, I’ll be remembered for my term as a whole, not the unpleasant parts.  I mean, think about it...during a politician’s time in office,  everyone complains about them, they are always doing something wrong. But over the years the dust clears and either people forget about the bad, or someone comes along who screws up more and overshadows the past.  People remember the impact they made a whole, they don't remember if they got mad on Day 43 in office.
So I guess it's okay if parents are like politicians. Sure, we have approval ratings, we campaign to our kids and others that we are good parents, we say the wrong thing, are misquoted 1000 times, and yes, we are even subject to he occasional “scandal”. But just like politicians, its not what we do on a particular day, its how we shape our children's history.  All we can hope for is that long after our term of service is over our kids will look back with respect, happiness, and most important love. 


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