Every now and again I go through a reflective phase in my life as a mother. It usually corresponds with some major change (the arrival of baby number two, or returning to work) in the way we operate or perhaps spurred on by a conversation with other mums. It interesting to think a little about how you are as a parent, whether it’s what you thought you would be like. It’s not healthy (in my opinion) to think TOO much about this, which inevitably focuses on all the things you wish you could take back or the failures you feel as a parent and especially as a mother. We women are terribly good at beating ourselves up, having ridiculously high expectations of parenting and sadly judging each other instead of championing each other for making decisions that are the best for ourselves and our children. I’m far from a perfect parent, but thankfully I’m not a perfectionist so I can live with that. I can also live with the fact that I fail miserably as an effective housewife, it’s a good thing I don’t live in the 50s where women were not only expected to have the house perfect, but also present perfectly turned out kids and be perfectly presented themselves. My usual attire of track suit pants, stained t-shirt and hug boots wouldn’t cut it. I’ve had three years (and a bit) of motherhood, with two thirds of that time has been full time at home. In that tine I’ve learnt a few lessons, here are my top ones.
1. It doesn’t seem to matter what tactics you try, you can’t make some (read Miss Three) kids eat. And believe me I’ve tried. I got Miss Three to help grow and pick the food… she didn’t eat it (remember those peas I picked yesterday? I found half of them in the sultana box!) She helps me prepare the food and doesn’t eat it. I let her dish her own food out, and it still gets left on her plate. We let her use whatever she wants as implements (fingers, fork and knife, spoon, Asian spoon, chopsticks etc) she just plays with the implements and ignores the food. We’ve tried ignoring her dinnertime antics and they just got more extreme. We’ve tried reasoning, bargaining, bribing and time out. On Sunday night I even tried what I said I would never do, I made her sit there and eat or go straight to bed. It was a cheese omelette and a simple salad with nothing she doesn’t like on the plate. She sat at the table from 6pm until 7.20pm without eating and then Mr Good put her to bed. She is frustratingly determined (which my mother says is pay back) not to eat, refusing to even try a bite. This happens at almost every meal, though dinner is by far the worst and some days she survives on a quarter of a piece of bread and a handful of sultanas, but she obviously does survive so now I just try not to think too much about it (or about her lack of weight gain). I have to say though, it would be nice to cook for someone who appreciates the food, thank goodness for Miss One and Mr Good!
2. Time out. I’m not sure whether this has any real impact on curbing anti-social behaviour or whatever it is you are trying to stop and I didn’t use it for a long time. I’ve since change my mind about it. I use it now, not often, but when I feel MY temper rising because of something Miss Three (Miss One just doesn’t get it yet) is doing, or NOT doing, I put her in ‘time out’ and then address whatever the issue was after a few minutes. I do it calmly and it has really helped me avoid ‘snapping’ and losing my cool. I find time out works for ME, it helps me maintain some self-control and less guilty about all the yelling. Sometimes distance is what is needed, who knows if it works as a form of discipline.
3. Sleeping is tricky business. Miss Three was a terrible sleeper for the first year of her life, waking a lot overnight. Then she became really difficult to put to sleep, but would sleep all night once she finally dropped off and now, thankfully, she’s a star! She tells us when she wants to go to bed, usually around 7-7.30pm, because she loves having a read in bed and then a snuggle for a few minutes. She gets up once to go to the toilet not long after and then sleeps through til seven or later. Occasionally, if she’s slept in the car or something during the day, she will push it a bit and get up and down a few times before going to sleep, but that’s pretty rare. Miss One has been a completely different story, the first six months were so much better than I could have imagined, then we struck some issues overnight. She still wakes a couple of times a night, and me, who is totally soft at 2am, feeds her back to sleep. But she has started sleeping longer some nights and has even slept through a couple of times. Statistically 50% of two year olds are still waking at least once per night, so really nothing my girls have done is out of the ordinary, but living on such interrupted sleep patterns for long periods does impact on ones ability to cope with day to day life. I think it’s going to take me a long time to retrain myself to sleep properly again once both girls are into a good pattern. Now I go to bed knowing I’ll be up again soon, it’s not conducive to peaceful, relaxed night’s rest. Some people say it will never be like it was again. I hope that’s not true!
4. Don’t spent too much time setting up activities as inevitably they’re over it within a few minutes. This one took me a little while to learn and I still sometimes make the mistake of trying some sort of new craft activity which involves lots of setting up only to have Miss Three sit there for a few minutes having a great time and then declaring “I’m done.” Though I have noticed that Miss Three has a pretty short attention span for things like this. Give her books or a game of her own imaginings and she’s entertained for a long time, but painting, drawing, pasting and so on only holds her attention for a few minutes. Craft for this age group can also be really quite stressful if you are wanting a certain outcome (for example Miss Three loves nothing more than painting one colour over another resulting in one small painted blob in the middle that has turned a sort of browny-black colour), for peace of mind it’s best to just let them do it their way….. or finish it yourself!
5. It is pointless to tidy with children around so don’t waste your time (or is this just applicable to my kids?) I can do some housework while the girls are happily playing. Things like cleaning the kitchen, hanging out washing, cleaning the bathrooms, but I CANNOT tidy. It is just a complete and utter waste of my time, as I do one area the girls are destroying another area and it becomes the most depressing endless cycle. Tidy when they go to bed, and even then don’t worry if it’s not perfect (or even if it’s far from it). Of my two girls it is definitely Miss One that is the more destructive mess wise, she’s at the age where her favourite activity involves pulling things out of boxes, draws, cupboards, and off bookshelves. She is fast and moves from one thing to another before I’ve had time to pack up the first lot. Miss Three on the other hand, loves filling boxes and bags with things, she goes around the house looking for ‘treasures’ to put in her bags and boxes. This make life interesting when the car keys, library books or shoes go missing. There are a lot of bags and boxes to check in our search for said items. Funnily, she actually put a whole stack of very special treasures in my Mum’s suitcase last time she stayed, which were only discovered once Mum got home. Good thing it wasn’t the car keys then!
So am I the parent I thought I would be? ….. yes and no. I have really loved being at home with them probably more than I expected to. It is a lot of fun playing with toddlers most of the time, but oh so infuriating at other times. And that is completely natural! I have instilled a love of books in the girls which was always important to me. Both the girls are confident, secure and happy, as a child who was painfully shy and frightened of so many things I was very aware of fostering these characteristics. But on the other hand, I have THOSE children no one wants next to them in a cafe. And Miss Three’s go to tactic when something doesn’t go her way is bursting into floods of tears (so perhaps I should say she’s really happy, expect when she’s really NOT) much more so than most other children we know. I think that’s a pretty fair assessment and one that I’m happy with. I’m not perfect, my children aren’t perfect, but in all areas that really matter we’re doing fine.
This one was a pretty self-indulgent sort of list, sometimes I just feel like writing about this stuff. I’m sure Liz will have a more practical and useful list.