The beginning of February marks my one year anniversary of being a Stay At Home Mum, so I thought I’d mark the occasion with a collection of things I have learnt about parenting over the last four years.
I don’t often write about this sort of thing, but I wanted to somehow commemorate the anniversary of my year out of work, and also make a point of highlighting that is has been worth it.
Leaving a well paid, part-time job that I loved, with an understanding boss who had two young boys of his own was not an easy decision to make. It was however, the right decision, in so many ways 🙂
I had ZERO experience with children or babies before I had my own, so forgive me if some of this is downright obvious 😉
1. You don’t have to immediately silence crying
For the longest time, I was under the impression that happy babies and happy children did not cry. As a totally naive parent, crying was something that I perceived as failure to do your job properly. Ha ha ha! Crazy, right?
Controlled crying – oh God no.
Gina Ford? I lasted one hour.
Demand-led parenting – ah, now that’s better 🙂
If we were in the supermarket and my 9 month old started bawling, I went into panic mode. I was failing as a mother. Everyone was looking at me. I was incompetent and didn’t know how to look after children. My stress levels would go up, up, up. This, of course, did nothing to help my 9 month old’s state of mind.
Fast forward to having a newborn and a 21 month old. Oh my god. Sometimes they both cried AT THE SAME TIME. It was awful. There were occasions when I cried too simply because their misery seemed to be my failure.
Eventually (er, about 3 years later, believe it or not), I had a bit of an epiphany. After the longest time of watching other mothers carefully (because I just couldn’t understand how everybody else was coping), I noticed there were two reactions to bawling and screaming children. The first was like mine. You could see the stress etched across their faces. It wasn’t pretty. The second was something else. It was a “There there, are you a little bit tired and hungry? We’ll get you home and get you sorted out.” with a calm demeanour and a peaceful continuance of whatever they happened to be doing. It was like being struck by lightening. These mums stayed happy, even while their toddler bawled on their lap.
When I looked at the stressed mums I assumed that the children were crying because their mother’s weren’t coping (just like me). When I looked at the calm mums I assumed that the children were just upset but that the mother would make it all OK.
I swear, this alone changed SO much for me. Suddenly my days weren’t filled with the desperation of why they had to cry SO MUCH over everything. Suddenly I realised that children cry. It’s what they do. And as long as you are there to give them a cuddle, that is OK.
2. They will amuse themselves eventually
For a while, when I had a 3 year old and a 2 year old running around, I relied heavily on the television, outings and structured activities. I couldn’t get through the day without these because they both needed me, in a slightly different way, ALL THE TIME. The days seemed endless (and the aversion to crying didn’t help).
I became afraid to do anything (like cook dinner, or stay home even), without turning on the telly. However, it turns out that if you persevere, children will eventually stop fighting and find a way to amuse themselves. I’ve found it usually takes in the region of 30-40 minutes. If you can stay calm during this time, they will eventually get bored of fighting/whining and move onto something else.
3. Time outs, naughty steps and reward charts are not as effective as having fun and making your kids laugh.
We use no structured form of reward or discipline in our house. I have never been keen on reward charts (I actually remember hating them as a preschooler) and I despise the whole time-out concept.
How do you get your kids to do what you want them to do? People ask.
Well, here’s the thing. Children are only marginally persuaded by rewards and discipline, and in fact studies have shown that both of these things encourage extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation (i.e. they do things for gain, rather then because they want to, or because they know that they should).
Sometimes I feel despair, as I battle yet again to get them dressed in the morning, but generally I feel good about this choice. If I work on having a good relationship with my children – playing with them, chasing them, tickling them, cuddling them, then they are, for the most part, happy to do the things I ask.
A good relationship will always lead to a better behaved child.
I work hard to enjoy playtime and bedtime and to be a playful parent. These times of connectivity make everything easier, every day. It’s not the easy way – but I hope it’s the way to build a bond that will see us through the teenage years. After all, one day that shouty toddler is going to be a hormone-fuelled, shouty teenager…
I believe a good relationship is about mutual happiness. I love them and give them my time and affection. They are happy to do (most) things that I ask.
Er, most of the time.
4. Never, ever, EVER make a threat that you aren’t prepared to carry out.
I hear mums making impossible threats all the time.
“Put that down or we are never coming swimming again!”
“Apologise now or we will never come to Jonny’s house again!”
“Stop fighting or I will turn this car around and drive home!”
Never, ever do this.
No matter HOW tempted you are.
Because they remember if you keep your word. Because 1 out of every 3 times they won’t listen to you, just because that’s what kids do. And when that happens, and the consequence isn’t shown. It undermines everything you say.
In extreme circumstances I have threatened to leave a place and go home, and my 4 year old knows that I would do exactly that.
Keep things simple.
“If you throw that toy, it will stay on the shelf until tomorrow.”
“If you don’t get dressed now, you will lose a bedtime story.”
(For the record, I hate threats, and try to avoid them at all costs, but sometimes, needs must).
Small things, like the above, are JUST as effective as big things, like never going on the train again. And they reinforce that you really mean everything you say. Which means they keep working. But…
5. Don’t overuse threats
It’s a horrible way to coerce people into doing what you want them to do. I rely on them as my last resort. I will always try to negotiate, or control a situation through distraction, play, talking or other means before resorting to threats. Threats make you mean, and being mean on a regular basis doesn’t build a good relationship (see point 3).
Using them sparingly also means you have to carry out consequences less often and they are more likely to believe you, which makes it more effectice.
6. A brief spell outdoors, even if cold and drizzly can restore peace to everyone
Toddlers and preschoolers really don’t care about the weather unless it is severe. They LOVE being outside. As much I might be exhausted, miserable and want to sit on the sofa and wish that parenting was easier, sometimes just getting outside for a walk, scooter ride, or even in the garden to play catch, can soften the mood and make everybody happier.
I had a lot more to write on this, but as usual time is up and I’ve got parenting to do.