Thursday, August 10, 2017

Parenting - that nebulous task

My eldest when she was wee. 

I became a parent almost eight years ago, and boy did I not know what I was getting myself into.

When I got pregnant, all I really imagined was getting to cuddle a cute baby at the other end. But that cute baby steadily grew up, presenting a whole host of challenges along the way. Then we added two more children to the mix, each with their own unique strengths and challenges. That stretched me even further. Especially since I had to make parenting decisions from a position of sleep deprivation and exhaustion.

I was not prepared.

Sure, I did parenting courses and read parenting books, all of which claimed to have the absolute truth of parenting nailed down, but still I failed a lot. In fact, I still do.

Sometimes I parent out of a reaction to my own childhood. Sometimes I parent out of absolute frustration at having to explain the same thing again, or having to ask the same thing again. Sometimes I parent out of laziness. Sometimes I parent out of tiredness. Sometimes I parent out of distraction. Sometimes I parent out of love. Sometimes I parent out of enjoyment. Sometimes I parent out of hope.

Sometimes, I parent because I choose to be better than this. I choose to give my children a secure foundation to grow and learn from.

Lately, that's the choice I've been making more and more often. To try harder.

We're finally through the crazy toddler years and it's like we've emerged into the light at the end of a long tunnel. Our youngest is nearly four and our eldest two are at school, so I have a bit of space in my day to think, process and unwind.

A year ago Paul and I joined a parents' group that meets once a month for five years. The leaders are so wise and they've given me a parenting framework that's so much more powerful than anything else I've ever been given. And yet, I came home from the very first parenting group and cried. It hit me that night, all the ways I've been failing my children.

A year later, I feel so much more equipped for this parenting gig. Decisions and choices we made over the past year have had such a huge impact that parenting is actually getting easier. Unbelievable, I know.

One of the things I've learned is to not rest on our laurels now that we're through the crazy toddler years. These middle years are the time to feed into our children and grow a close relationship with them that will see us through the teenage years when our authority is removed and our influence will only be accepted if it comes from a relationship already built on trust.

That's what I'm working on now. Making the most of these middle years.

Here are three recent examples:

1. A couple of weeks ago I made the decision to ban screen-time during the week. I had previously tried cutting it down to 45 minutes a day, but that became difficult to monitor because children would ask to pause their screen time to go to the toilet or get a drink or whatever, and then we'd lose track of where they were up to and they'd inevitably go over time.

Now we have a blanket rule. Screen-time is only on the 'S' days, Saturday and Sunday. We may have a family movie night on Friday night, if we all agree to the movie and watch it together, but apart from that, no screen-time during the week.

I've noticed such a difference in the kids with this simple rule. I thought it would make my life harder, because they would call on me to play with them more, but the opposite is true. They have become so much more creative and willing to play with each other. They come home from school and play all afternoon until bedtime, in between the other things we need to get done. It's wonderful. They don't even ask for screen-time during the week now, because they know it's not going to happen. We're getting more time to read, do music practice and do chores. Just be. Life feels less rushed.

2. Another change we recently implemented was to buy a Star plate from the Parenting Place and use it to honour a child if he or she does something admirable. If I see a child do something I want to encourage, they get to eat dinner off the Star plate that night. We make a big deal out of it, congratulating the child, clapping for them and telling them why they've been honoured.

Already I've noticed my children copying the exemplary behaviour their siblings have been rewarded for at dinner time. It means that positive behaviour is actually flourishing. Since I rewarded L for getting up, getting dressed all the way to shoes and brushing her hair right off the bat one morning before school, S has done the same thing every morning since. Because of that, we've been getting to school a few minutes early, instead of rushing in right on bell-time.

3. I've never been very organised about getting my kids to do chores, apart from the occasional tidying of rooms. Usually it feels like more trouble than it's worth. But I've realised I need to train them or they'll expect to be waited on their whole lives. I've started by introducing a simple chore that is their responsibility. Every afternoon the children carry the clean washing up to my bed, where they sort it and put it away. They usually fold their own clothes themselves, since they know what belongs to them and where it goes. Then they divvy up the tea towels and parents' clothes and put them away if they're able to reach.

It's such a big help to me. No more baskets of washing for me to fold at night. The children seem to get a sense of satisfaction from doing the job and working together too.

I'll slowly add more chores into the mix as I find a way that works for us. I'm thinking toilets would be a good one to hand over to them.

I guess the point of this post was to say that if you're in the darkest of dark tunnels right now, please know that the light is approaching. Stay steadfast. Have hope. Do the hard yards now and you'll soon see the reward.

Also, please have grace with yourself. It's not an easy thing to be a parent. It's really not. But that doesn't stop us trying anyway.


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