My sweet little twin girls have become stubborn, defiant, emotional, and unpredictable eight-year-olds. I cried the first time they said they hated me. Trust me; I’ve said that and more to my parents over the years. We all know it’s not true, but it still stings. This parenting thing is hard.
I can still remember Elmo telling me, “Eight is great!” Elmo was wrong. He meant eight months old. Sweet chubby cheeks, adorable thunder thighs, and little bodies learning to crawl with huge drooling smiles for all to see. Eight years old is much different.
Instead of letting my girls win, I’ve decided to build up my mommy toolbox and draft a new game plan. My goal: take back my household.
There is no one-size-fits-all parenting handbook, nor could I ever be the author. So I decided to find an expert. Having been in and out of therapy my whole life, it felt natural to ask my own therapist how to be a better parent. Not only does she have a master’s degree, but she is a mom and grandmother with a wealth of objective experience.
As a result, I’m learning that good parenting is about rituals, routine, and practice. It’s a lot of work, but it’s paying off, and now those three words roll off my back like Jello.
Learning more about what the “eight-year-old” child is experiencing psychologically helps parents respond better during conflict. Part of being eight is about what’s fair or unfair. I’ll give you a hint – nothing is fair in the world of an eight-year-old. It’s about who goes first, who gets more, who did what, and when. Multiply this times infinity in the case of siblings, and then again in the case of identical twin girls who still don’t understand why people think they look alike.
Being eight is about fitting in socially and finding out that people can be intentionally mean – even friends. It’s about becoming more independent and wanting to spend time away from their parents. Maybe not far away, but at least upstairs and out of view so they can test the limits of poor old mom and dad.
My job as a parent is to empower them to make the right decisions – not make the choices for them. Let them decide if their reaction – i.e., bad behavior – is worth it. I’ve learned that my kids aren’t bad or possessed (because I have considered this!). Rather, they need training, as do I.
When there’s bad behavior in the car, we drive back to start. They get out of the car, go back inside, and try again. We pretend the drive back to the house didn’t happen and ask if they are ready to go to our destination. It’s beyond painful, but it works. The kids think Mommy is crazy and will do anything to avoid these routines, but they’re learning that Mommy is serious.
I know this is going to be a constant battle. There’s tons of room for improvement, but parenting is hard work. Parents and children need to communicate.
Right now, I think eight is difficult, but the reality is that every stage is hard. Just when you think you’ve got the hang of things, they change. Don’t keep waiting for things to get easier.