Damage Control for the Public Meltdown
Have you heard of Constance Hall?
She is trending in the world of momhood, and there is a good reason why: she embraces the struggles of motherhood without taking away from the joy of it. She cheers mums that stick together and who are doing their best to help each other through depression and loneliness and struggle all the while helping their kids navigate the difficulties of the world. She does this with profanity and grace, and I, for one, am a big fan. Her revolution is one which has dubbed its soldiers, 'Queens'. We can all be Queens like Constance. She had me at "Shit Mums don't have parental guilt". The relief from this! I was liberated. It is so easy to drag ourselves down in the battle to be the 'perfect' stay-at-home mum, single mum, working-mum, mum. I feel so much guilt all the time when I am always doing my best, but one day it hit me, how is this helping my kid? He is seeing someone struggling to be perfect, and what I should be teaching is that imperfection is okay, as long as it's with love and effort. We get caught up in this self-fulfilling prophecy that generates the negative energy as much as the good. By accepting my own shortcomings, I spare my child my disappointment in myself and the shame and guilt attached to that. I am able to be more kind and gentle with myself, which gives me the patience and acceptance to be a better mum.
This has taken some time to learn. I had very clear ideas about how I wanted to be as a mum, in the early days. Experience and time have taught me that clear boundaries for children are containing, but they need to not be iron clad or a 'because I said so...' I needed to learn to be thoughtful in my actions as a parent. I was at a friend's house with her very small (and very in age) toddlers (She is a good reminder that you CAN get pregnant whilst breastfeeding), and she was at the end of her rope. Her daughter took my scarf and began spinning around the room in pure child's delight. Her brother grasped on and they were tugging and laughing and playing to their hearts' content. My friends' response was, "No- we don't pull clothes, you're going to rip it. Your brother will get hurt and it's not okay." Without even meaning to, I said, "Is it not okay? It's okay with me if they play with the scarf." I nearly bit my own tongue!
Nothing bothers me more than being undermined by other adults when I say no to my child and they say, 'Nooooo. It's fine!' I immediately apologised profusely to my friend and reminded my lovely (naughty!) god children, 'We always listen to mummy' But later my friend called me and told me that it reminded her to let her kids be kids. She said that she could hear my voice in her head when she started to nag. She said that it highlighted to her that her issue was not with her children playing, it was with the pressure she felt to be the right kind of mum. She and I have been friends forever and speak very openly, and she said that it really bothered her that around someone she felt as close to as family with, she still needed to try and form her children around the social norms and pressures that we put on both mum and child. I think it's just the pressure of society to appease everyone and still try to raise strong, happy, explorative kids. So how do we win? Here is a list of cheats I find work when trying to encourage good behaviour out and about :
1. Is it worth the fight? Can we appease this? They are little balls of illogical. How can we help them through this? With humour? Firmness? Bribery or threats? I am kidding a little... but asking yourself right off the bat what is going to work is the best tone usually will help you find a calmer route because it's not just reaction based.
2. Can the lesson wait until you are calm and in control? Are you angry? Embarrassed? Then now is probably not the time to be a teacher. Calm down and bring your lesson down to three sentences- that's as much as kids can really grasp when upset.
3. Conjure up a moment or image of them when they were desperately sweet and cute. A friend told me she got through the terrible twos by invoking the mental picture of her little boy after playing dress up with his sister. Every time he would throw a tantrum, she would remind herself of him wearing his sisters Frozen nightgown, which made it almost ridiculous to get mad at him.
4. Am I rational enough right now to punish? Stick with the consequence but make sure it fits the crime. Can you really commit to three weeks grounding? Re-assess and enforce when everyone has come to terms with the event and what will help the child to learn it was unacceptable.
5. Are you with adults that just don't get it? Then bribe your children. This seems like horrible advice, but don't screw up your kids because you are worried about the judgment from not-yet parents, or those that are holier than thou. You can probably clean up the damage from an extra sweet, or five minutes on the iPhone, rather than berating them for being bad kids based on a standard you don't even really agree with... Why did we take her to a black tie restaurant at 8:45 PM in the first place? She's five!
6.Always have food on hand- whether it's to combat 'hangry' or as distraction, your two year old child to thirty-two year old boyfriend will need this at some point.
7. Do you feel like someone is hitting 'repeat' in surround sound? Golden Phrase: "Did you ask?" followed by "Did I answer?" if the Gimmies continue, "Do you need to hear the answer again?" Stick with it but also dish it out when it's positive. E.g. Child: "Can I have ice cream?" Dad: "Yes, when we get home." (Three minutes later) Child: "Can I have ice cream?" Dad: "Did you ask?" Child: "Yes." Dad: "Did I answer?" (Child smiles knowing he gets ice cream)
Let me know what works for you!