I've been reflecting on motherhood lately (like I have time to think about ANYTHING else.) It occurred to me that in February...I will have been a mother for ten years (not counting in utero...which I do count....but, this anniversary is far easier to pin-point!)
Ten years. It's a milestone.
It's the kind of thing that makes you take inventory. I tend to avoid presenting myself as someone with any answers. People ask me how I do "it," and I tell them, truthfully, "low standards." I'm not a paragon of virtuous motherhood. I'm a flawed, ridiculous human being that for some reason the higher powers that be decided might possibly be equipped to care for, count 'em, FOUR KIDS.
It's full on crazy town.
But here we are. As much as I like to claim I know nothing, that I am hanging on by a thin thread made of homemade laundry detergent, thrift store clothes and questionable amounts of television viewing, it is true that there are lessons out there that I have learned, or am continually trying to at least digest fully. Not saying I have mastered any of them. It's more like when the lessons present themselves, AGAIN, I tend to go "Oh yeah...I REMEMBER THAT." Someday, probably when it's too late to do any good, I will fully recall and master these lessons, and use them to torture my grown children when they have kids of their own. There is nothing earth shattering here, most of these same pieces of advice will be found on a hundred other blogs.It's my hope that by committing them to paper I can remember them before I make another dumb mistake!
1. You are going to mess up.
This is a given. Hurry up and forgive yourself REALLY quick, and then go and apologize to your kids. Ask them to hold you accountable aka call you ON YOUR CRAP if you start to screw up again. If you need to hug them and cry, that's ok, unless it makes them feel weird. Then go cry in the bathroom instead. But for heaven's sake move forward. Try really hard not to sit there and be a horrible parent and think "this is wrong...I probably ought to quit this and start that." Kids are not discarded free weights that you are going to get around to using someday...they are people. But don't waste feeling guilty when you could spend time just doing it up right.
2. Don't get angry with your kids for mirroring your behavior.
The other day my son was complaining...about our house, about our lack of funds, just whining about our life. He started exaggerating and claiming a bunch of horrors that are NOT true...like we have a leaky roof, etc. My husband got pretty ticked...it's no fun to hear your kid tell you that they hate the life you have so callously inflicted upon them. But I reminded my husband that they sound LIKE us. We complain about the same things, the same way. Likewise, I fuss at my kids for not picking up after themselves while simultaneously being the slobbiest adult seen outside of Hoarders. And Saturday I fussed at my kids for bringing food into my friend's family room area WHILE HOLDING A HOTDOG.
This one is going to take some work.
3. There is always a reason.
Parents have to be detectives. It's in the job description. There is a reason for every single thing they do, and it's our job to find out why. Assuming children are manipulative or "just brats" is just laziness (laziness I have been so guilty of.)
I have so many examples of lessons learned. Every time I have attempted "Cry it Out" with my babies I have wound up with a kid covered in vomit. Except once. The child who screamed and screamed and screamed and I couldn't fix it, and I laid him in the crib to cry. And he fell asleep. And woke up SCREAMING. And I picked him up and then I saw it...a hair wound SO tightly around his ring finger, cutting off the circulation and into his skin.
A baby's cry indicates something is wrong. A baby who is fed, dry, warm enough, and not in pain might still need your physical touch, and that is OK. If you have a kid who needs a great deal of physical touch, get a good baby carrier (A GOOD baby carrier. Go to www.thebabywearer.com for more information.)
A child who can't potty train has a reason, because no one likes upsetting mamma by peeing on the floor. It might be physical. It might be psychological. But it's probably not just "stubbornness." Find out why.
An older child with behavior issues has a reason for his issues. It could be a physical problem manifesting itself emotionally. It could be related to food. It could be a psychological problem. Don't dismiss it, or assume you can discipline it out. If you can't, it's something deeper. Find out. We live in the information age. There is so much knowledge to be gained. Even if you don't have the resources to fix every problem it's worth it to have a little perspective. And even if it is a discipline issue, there are a variety of ways to correct a child. Don't assume a one size fits all approach works. Which brings me to this next one...
4. Spanking is not the only way to discipline your kids.
If anyone tells you that spanking is the only way to discipline your kids, back away slowly. Then turn and RUN.
I'm not going to do a blanket condemnation of spanking, but anyone who says that your problem with your kid is that you aren't spanking, or aren't spanking hard enough or often enough...is wrong. You do not have to spank. Spanking is one option out of many. It's not the only one. I say this as a mother with years of spanking under her belt, and the only thing I had to show for it was traumatized kids. It absolutely did not work for me, and the people who told me I wasn't doing it hard enough or long enough or often enough are welcome to pay my children's therapy bills.
Before you discipline your child think to yourself, what would happen if I did this to an adult? Would it result in an assault charge?
5. Treat children with respect.
I have a bad habit of making plans for my kids without discussing it with them, or coming at them with spit on my finger to wipe a smudge. They HATE IT. And with good reason. It's not respectful of me to make decisions and plans and do things with their anatomy without their consent or at least informing them. They can't always agree to things. Some things have to happen (doctor visits, commitments to teams, etc) but it's respectful to keep the child informed of where they are going to be and what is expected of them. And it's just plain rude to walk up to someone and start grooming them without saying "Hey, you have dirt on your face and your hair is sticking up and we have to leave so hang on and let me fix this mmmmkay?" I'm sure most of you are not as dumb as me and probably already do this, but just in case there is another oblivious goober out there, it's another case of modeling behavior. You have to respect your children to teach them respect. Duh.
6. Count the cost.
Once my eldest son took my bottle of shampoo and dumped it in the bathtub and I yelled at his three year old face. And then I realized that the shampoo cost three dollars and my son was completely priceless.
7. Unplug once in a while.
I'm the last person on earth to condemn television or smart phones, but it's just like the song Cat's in the Cradle by Harry Chapin. If you want your child to engage with you, engage with your child. I love having a world of information at my fingertips, but there is also a whole world in your child's eyes. If you don't want to lose them to texting and portable game systems when they get older put down your screen while they are younger. It's HARD. I know. But somehow when I make the effort to pray my phone from my hands I find my children one thousand times more interesting and engaging than BeJeweled Blitz or that article on AV Club about Unsolved Mysteries. It's weird how that happens.
8. Learn about Child Development.
It should be a pre-requisite for parenting. How much less angry, confused and frightened we parents would be if we carried this kind of knowledge around before we started trying to mold young lives? I have had expectations of my children that were completely UNREASONABLE for their age and development. But I didn't know that I was being unreasonable, and so I got mad. If things aren't working out the way you want, take a step back and do a bit of reading. Also, remember that the information is a guideline. Some kids go fast, and some slow. Most of them wind up approximately where they belong. If you feel like yours isn't measuring up, relax. But if you relax and you still feel those warning signs in your gut, then it might be time for some intervention. Anyway, knowing is half the battle.
9. Embrace the chaos.
You are starring in your own personal sitcom. You are writing your own stories. The spice of life is foolishness, stupidity and mistakes. It's stepping in dog doo while the pasta boils over and the baby is dragging a roll of toilet paper through the house. That's what you remember. Might as well laugh, and invite others into the madhouse. They might enjoy leaving their own for a while and dancing with a lampshade on in yours.
10. You are going to do right.
When you are kicking booty at being a parent, OWN it. Sometimes you are going to be ON FIRE. Don't apologize for being awesome. Recognize that it's a fleeting situation, and enjoy it for as long as you can, which in my case is about fifteen seconds.