Last Saturday, caught by a last-minute change of plans, we wound up bringing our kids to what I knew would be an adults-only party. The kids packed up some books, I grabbed some of their favorite soft drinks from our refrigerator, and off we went.
An hour into the party, another guest approached and commented how well-behaved my children were. I thanked him and then he asked what was really on his mind: How did I do it? How did I raise two such well-behaved children who clearly felt comfortable in a room full of adults, who knew how and when to engage adults and who also knew how to amuse themselves for a couple of hours while their parents were socializing?
"They are so polite," he kept saying with a degree of disbelief.
Easy, I told the stranger. I credit the fact that I'm impatient.
We brought my now 14-year-old daughter home from China on my 53rd birthday when she was just five years old. I couldn't imagine a better birthday gift than motherhood. But one thing became crystal clear from the get-go: I've never been the world's most-patient person and motherhood didn't miraculously change that.
I just have no tolerance for spoiled brats, for kids who feel entitled to the world's spotlight every waking minute, for kids who aren't considerate or aware of others in their midst. Truth is, I don't much like adults who behave that way either and odds are, the kids I'm talking about are theirs.
My children know more than to say "please" and "thank you" without prompting. They know that when their noise disturbs people, they need to stop making it; they know when food is served, they need to eat it without a fuss; and they know that interrupting a conversation isn't something we want them to do unless they are bleeding, can't breathe or their hair is on fire.
They also know they are loved, cherished and valued every minute of every day.
What can I say? I couldn't stand it if my kids didn't behave, so I simply insist that they do. It would drive me nuts otherwise. Perhaps it is a product of my age, or perhaps just my nature, but I need for people around me to behave civilly -- children included. I ask other people's kids in movie theaters to please keep their feet on the floor and stop kicking the back of my chair. And on one occasion, I attempted to teach manners to the teenager in the car next to ours who blasted his music so loud it hurt my molars. Let's just say I'm not always successful and parenting a child probably can't begin when they are 18.
Without question, parenting is a really hard job. But the parent's age isn't a factor in measuring the degree of difficulty. At the core, the job gets easier if you accept that you -- the adult -- are in control and that the happiest families aren't run as democracies with everyone getting an equal vote. Once you relinquish control, the path to monsterhood is paved with kids who won't drink their milk and who throw a fit if the coach asks them to play goalie for a quarter. And I just knew that I didn't want my kids to be those kids.
I suspect some readers will conclude that as a late-blooming mother, there was only so much I was willing to give up of my previous childless life. Perhaps they are right. I know that you are never too old to love a child and I know that I love my kids more than I want my next breath. But I also know that I just have no patience for bratty kids so I didn't let mine become them.
As for the other challenges of being an older parent, well, frankly, I'm just not aware of them. Experience has made me a better time manager, and I take no shame in my liberal use of those little yellow stick-em notes as reminders. My energy level -- and keep in mind, I'm not chasing toddlers here -- has always been high. I'm no Energizer Bunny after 9 p.m., but I do manage to juggle full-time work with my family's needs and I have never missed either a deadline or a soccer game. I give myself permission to serve peanut butter sandwiches for dinner when I run out of steam and -- again a nod to my lack of patience and unwillingness to have my kids bug me for every little thing -- I taught my children to be self-sufficient wherever I could. They are perfectly capable of making their own lunches for school and know better than to leave their breakfast dishes in the sink unwashed waiting for Mommy.
And yes, it really is simple as that: I knew what I couldn't tolerate and don't think my kids suffer from my unwillingness to let them annoy me. We set boundaries and enforced them. Period. I never let my kids run wild or run over me. I've never hit them, but I have been known to yell and apparently I have a cold Mommy stare that is icy enough to freeze bad behavior in its tracks.
So, for the time being, I'll remain the team snack mom who reprimands your child for not saying "thank you" when he grabs chips from my bag. I'm the one who will make your son eat his vegetables when he's at my table (and you will be shocked when I tell you that he gobbled up asparagus which he never eats for you). When your kids visit, I will ask them to lower the TV if it's too loud because no, I'm not going in the other room.
Interestingly, our house rules have not discouraged my children's friends from wanting to hang at our place. Quite the contrary, they always want the sleepovers to be here instead of their homes. And just last Friday night, I chaperoned my daughter's middle school dance after all her friends had banned their mothers from the job.
"Your mom is so much cooler than mine," I heard one tell my daughter. I'm guessing she didn't see the earplugs I slipped in when the music started.