The push and pull of parenting starts immediately upon birth as your infant is pulled from a dark cocoon of safety and pushed into the light of the world. We coo and cuddle and marvel at their perfect little fingers and toes and those plump cheeks and their smell and even at the impressive size of their poops! Yes, you know what I’m talking about, don’t deny it! Then what? Well, then we start pushing them to fall asleep on their own and that’s usually when the first heart-pull happens. Any parent who has done sleep training with their infant can tell you how painful it is to listen to their baby scream their head off until at last they pass out from sheer exhaustion. It seems cruel, hell, it is cruel to all parties involved, but the lesson is that if we don’t push them to self-soothe, then they will never be able to fend for themselves. I don’t know if this is true, but I can tell you that I’ve gone on some dates with men who clearly still have apron strings attached to mommy. Scientific data right there.
Next on the “push list” is the simple act of your baby reaching milestones like crawling and walking and eating solids. Nothing is as gross as going to your “mommy & me” class and having to defend why your kid isn’t up to peas yet, while all the others are chowing down on homemade organic sustainable kabocha (whatever the hell that is.) So we push, because somewhere on the parenting journey someone thought competition was a good idea. The best part of this stage is when you find the other parents that are like you and you “pull” apart from the wacky ones. You join your parent gang because they don’t see anything wrong with your cleaning off the pacifier that just fell on the ground by actually sticking it in your mouth to get rid of any potential germs. My peeps! I love that I am actually still really close to several of my old gang members. ‘Sup guys?
Now for some more pulling. Pulling them out of the playground for example, after they’ve thrown sand in some kid’s well-deserving face and you’re trying to show that you’re disappointed when inside you’re beaming with pride that your kid stuck up for themselves. Ice cream! Pulling them out of the store where some evil manager decides that a ride-on sesame street car is a great way to torture parents. Your kid is freaking out and won’t leave and you and Dad are pulling and then pushing, no, shoving him in to his carseat as he strong arms and stiffens like a California Redwood. I feel you, we’ve all been there.
Then there’s the normal push and pull that happens in the middle. The pushing to eat more veggies, the pulling the crumpled homework out of the backpack, the pushing to take a shower, the pulling of dirty socks from in between the couch cushions. That’s all the physical stuff, it’s the emotional stuff that’s really hard. You push your kid to say hi to a kid he doesn’t know so that maybe he’ll make some new friends. You pull your kid in close when he suffers his first heartbreak because the girl he liked decided she wanted to go to the dance with someone else. You push your kid to try out for the basketball team, and then pull him in for the victory dance when he makes it!
This is all pretty basic parenting, but sometimes it isn’t all that basic, or normal, or average, and sometimes it’s pretty freaking hard. As we push and pull our kids, we feel the push and the pull a thousand times more, it all just happens to our hearts so no one really sees, but man do we feel it. I’m usually pretty good at keeping my shit together when one of my kids is going through something tough, but it’s not easy. There’s that constant inner turmoil I experience, do I push or do I pull? There’s moments when I have to call on alter-egos like John Madden, when I need to do the gruff football coach yell of “Get out there and do it! Don’t be a wuss! You’ve got this”! Then there’s my Mother Teresa (a nickname I earned from one of my early parenting gang members) and that’s when I open my arms and cradle my baby and tell them everything is going to be ok. Two very different parenting styles, but both incredibly effective, and both so vital to getting through this parenting journey.
I will continue to push and pull my kids, and sometimes I will even apologize for making the wrong choice, pushing when I should have pulled or pulling when I should have pushed. The end game is that my kids will be the ones pushing me around when I’m old and frail and pulling me close when I need them most.