Haha! Before I was a parent, I always knew better than parents. I would wonder why they “didn’t make their kids clean up.” Or I’d wonder why “they allowed their child to act in a certain way.” I wondered why they would take the path of least resistance and take the side of their child instead of the teacher. I’d wonder why they didn’t impose harsher consequences for misbehavior. Or why they let their kids wear pajamas to school.
Then I had kids.
And I realized how I couldn’t really control them.
Oh sure, I was the parent, and I wanted them to behave. I wanted them to not fight. I wanted them to listen to me. I wanted them to eat neatly, clean up, use kind words, behave and do what their mother tells them. But the reality was, the more I tried to get them to behave how I wanted them to, the harder they fought me, and the more I yelled. They were crying. I was miserable. Life was hard. And I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted.
But they do have good hearts. And I do too, when it comes down to it. We’re all doing the best we can.
So I’ve come to some realizations that are no brainers. But I didn’t know them until I had my own kids.
- Every kid has things they will struggle at. For Autumn it’s doing what she doesn’t want to. (cleaning, getting dressed, etc.) For Briana, it’s taking a time out when Mom tells her to. At the different ages, there are different things. But as a veteran teacher once told me, what works for one kid, doesn’t work for the other.
- All kids lie. Even mine. How I wish I could convince all parents of this. Kids will lie when it makes their life easier. Did you use the potty? Yes (last night!). Is that YOUR hat or your sister’s. Mine. (Show me the name.) Were you jumping off the bed? No. (I was jumping off the foot of the bed.) etc. If it means it makes their situation more convenient, expect a lie. So I always praise the truth and when they confide in me, I always thank them for it. I never want them not telling me things.
- When they’re bored, they look for a fight. If it’s a Sunday morning and we’ve been cooped up without excitement, they will fuss at each other then yell at the parents. All because they need a little stimulation. Encouraging them to find a toy to play with or read a book in their room is a way to help them meet their creativity needs.
- There is no use crying over spilt milk. My kids are M-E-S-S-Y. And I mean ridiculously so. They can make eating a cracker look like rock spewing forth from a volcanic eruption. Where they eat a meal, the leave a pile of evidence under the table. I miss my dog being able to clean up, since now we have to vacuum a lot more. We went through a long spilling cup phase. Once we adopted a strategy of “grab a towel and clean it up yourself,” things got easier. I started to learn to cherish these moments since I know they will be fleeting. Gone are the days where we yelled at them for their accidental spills.
- My kids are those kids. They are the ones wearing their hats all day long at school. Santa hats. In September. Winter hats. ALL DAY. They think their hair will be messed up if they take their hats off. I have to resist the urge to rip it off their heads when I pick them up. Where did they ever get this habit from? It is a pet peeve of mine as a teacher and as a mom. But what harm is it doing? And what does it say about their psychological state? I don’t really have answers for those.
- Sometimes, just get them outside. If they’re grumpy or have too much sedentary time, I make them go out. No matter how much they yell or argue, I tell them they don’t have a choice. They might hem and haw and hate me, but once outside, we always- and I mean ALWAYS- love it. Rain, mud, snow, sun, there is beauty in nature. And peace. And creativity. And health. And Science and P.E. I’ve never regretted getting them to play outside.
- You can’t discipline all the things. You can’t really control your kids. You can only influence them. Yes, you ARE the parent, but you can’t make them perfect at everything. So you pick a few priorities at a time to address. You talk to them during a calm moment. You explain the why, and the consequences for changing or for NOT changing the behavior. Then when one issue is corrected, you can devote your time to another one.
- Sometimes the cure is listening. Got an upset child? Just listen. Tell them you’re sorry they’re having a hard time. Be a safe place and an ally. We all need to get our worries out, even the little ones. Don’t lecture or advice. Just listen. And from time to time, you can tell them a story to show how you overcame a challenge when you were young.
- Kids throw fits after long vacations. Man, the long car ride after our trip to Maine was a form of TORTURE. So much crying and fighting. I couldn’t stop yelling. I couldn’t take it. It was rough. Now I am prepared for it so when it happens I have talked with the kids, then encourage them to choose a better solution. We can stop and get a treat and do our best not to argue. Now I don’t take the bait to lose my temper. I have better calming techniques. I can outwait the tears often. I have a much more positive response. I don’t let it get to me so much. Am I perfect? Nope. But neither are the kids. And their response is a natural one so it’s best to work through it, since it’s not disappearing any time soon.
- Part of being a mom is being a martyr. Some things about my mother drove me bonkers. I would resist showing irritation at most people, but if mom did something I found irritating, then I’d explode in reaction. Frustration! Anger! I felt free to express myself with her, and knowing I’d be accepted unconditionally, my loudest, most fragile self was often on display. Because mom did something silly. Like talk with her mouth full. Well, now I’M the mom. My own kids can’t stand when I chew. Or sing. Or breath. Or cough. Or watch Rachel Ray. Or tell them to empty their backpack when they get home. etc. etc. etc. “I KNOW, MOM” ‘I AM, MOM” “You’re distracting me mom!” “Why do you have to…?” “You’re making me so angry, mom!” While it used to drive me crazy, now I see it for what it is and don’t respond unless I need to. As a mom, you’re the safe place. You’re the unconditional love. Which means often, you’re the safest target to let emotions out. I wish it wasn’t this way, but since I treated my own mom that way, I am living the karma today. And I also warn my kids, “Be careful how you treat me, you know why? Your OWN kids will be twice as bad to you!” And life goes on.
- My kids are the best. They make me laugh every day. They have the kindest hearts. They work hard. They apologize. They give hug attacks. They help each other. They come up with signals to help us calm down. They have the best friends! They usually listen, the fourth or fifth time I say something. They write me notes at bedtime. (Autumn wrote me a note with 28 mads written on it one night when I didn’t comply with her demand to tie her bracelet after she had been a pill to me.) None of it matters. We adore each other and laugh so much. We are happy. We are healthy. We are strong and smart and can do hard things. And we are artists and writers.
Tell me about your family! What are your parent realizations? Any light bulb moments or pieces of advice?