parenting for educated dummies, lesson 1

It occurred to me recently that I’ve become that parent.  You know the one that gives her child too many choices and over-explains things? Yep, that’s me.  Guilty.

I had a particularly stressful day, one where I had myself convinced that I would never be able to leave the house again and that my little monster was plotting to slowly drive me insane.  I ended up on the receiving end of a phone call from my mom in which I was reduced to a sobbing heap on the couch.

My mom hasn’t given me a lot of parenting advice along the way and I don’t know exactly why.  I don’t know if it’s because I am an older first-time parent and I have spent a lot of my adult life working with young children.  Maybe it’s because she is afraid to be a prying mom or afraid that she will upset me.  Or maybe it’s because she’s still the awesome mom she’s always been and she allows me the space to figure things out on my own (I think that’s the one). Mom’s always been good at the art of reflective supervision. It’s a practice that I use in my work, but it can be used and applied to so many areas of life. It’s being able to listen to someone going through difficult circumstances and ask thoughtful questions that allow that person to reflect, come to their own conclusions, and make decisions about how to move forward, without offering unsolicited advice.

So, really, my mom didn’t have to point out my weaknesses. I already know what they are. It was just nice to have someone listen as I talked my way through it. When I was pregnant and during the newborn phase, I read a lot. I was online constantly trying to learn as much as I could about what to expect. My mom would always gently remind me that sometimes knowing too much can be a burden and of course, she was right. I have worked in the field of Early Childhood Education for almost 10 years. I know a lot about child development, more than the average bear. But everything I know goes right out the window when my adorable little blondie cries and tells me “Evelyn do it. All by myself.” I know that children her age are longing to be independent and it’s great to give them choices like Would you like to wear your green diaper or your purple diaper?  Would you like yogurt or cheese for your snack? Choices like these allow children some power and control and the choices can be limited so that they are acceptable to the parent. But, there are some rules that have to be decided upon by the parent and are non-negotiable. They will vary from family to family, but for us it’s rules like sitting in the cart at the grocery store instead of walking around “all by myself” and sitting in her booster chair at the kitchen table whenever she’s eating instead of running and hopping around with food in her mouth. Lately, she’s been testing the boundaries of my non-negotiable rules and I’ve been negotiating a little too often, which has led to confusion and frustration for both of us.

I attended a session at a conference a few years ago and the topic was child guidance. The presenter handed us a list of about ten rules that we were to read, memorize, and then recite back to a partner. They were silly rules like, You can’t jump on the couch except when it’s early in the morning and I haven’t had my coffee yet. The point of the exercise was to illustrate how inconsistent adults can be with their rules and how important it is for children to know what’s expected of them.  I think everyone in the room had the same reaction that was basically, Well, crap, haven’t we all done this?! Yes, we have. It’s hard to enforce rules when you are tired or in a hurry or just frustrated, but you can see where the confusion comes in for children.

Ok, so after my conversation with mom I’ve decided that I need to be a little more consistent. I still think it’s important to explain the reason for rules, but I try to keep it simple. For example, Evelyn wants to walk all by herself to the car when I pick her up from daycare. I explain to her that she can walk by herself but she has to hold my hand because there are a lot of cars and I want her to be safe. If she refuses to hold my hand, I will have to carry her to the car. Sometimes she complies, sometimes she throws herself down in the middle of the parking lot.  But either way, I have to follow through with the two choices I’ve offered, which might result in having to pick up a limp toddler while she screams, No, mommy, no!  Not nice!  It’s ok.  I’m sure this won’t be the last time I am a big, old meanie.

Sometimes everything I know just flies right out the window when I let my emotions get in the way.  They weren’t kidding when they said, It’s different when it’s your own kid.  

Thanks for the call, mom. 🙂