This blog entry is a little bit of a combo post. It has my favourite photos and moments from June, but it also unpacks something that has been playing hugely on my mind and heart this past month as well, and that is how much I struggle with parenting. I feel like I can rock my job. I keep a pretty good house. I can mostly pass as a good wife because my husband is so accommodating and unassuming (and thinks cereal for dinner totally counts). But this motherhood thing? It’s my kryptonite. But I also think it means I try harder, research more, think deeper, and am more intentional with it because of that, so maybe it all balances out in the end. As long as I put aside enough money to pay for my kids’ therapy later in life that means I’m winning, right?
I think a lot about parenting because I don’t come from an ideal background. There were patterns throughout my family’s history that I wanted to be the one to stop. I wanted to be the one to change things and move forward in a more healthy manner. While I’m still figuring so much out, and my boys are only 1 and 2, there have been a few things that Nick and I have implemented into our lives that we feel are working really well for us. And I want to focus on these because I think we, as parents, can get so caught up in what we are doing wrong, that we forget to step back and say, “Hey, this is really working right now – go us!” So while there is so much I simply do not have a clue about, here are three things that we KNOW kids crave, need, and thrive on and how we have implemented them practically into our lives.
Respect. Safety. Trust.
Now you might be thinking, “Well, duh! Any parent wants those things for their children”, but the situations we have found ourselves teaching them in might not be associated with those values at first glance. Let me give some examples.
Respect: In our view, kids are not cute “play things” here for our amusement or to show off “tricks” to our friends with. They are tiny, complicated, emotional human beings. We don’t tease them with food, or toys, or anything just to get a funny reaction out of them unless we fully plan on giving it to them at the end of the “game” – even as babies. Watching them reach for something offered only to have the other person pull it away and never let them have it feels cruel to me. I have watched this happen time and again and my heart breaks for the child. I have even stepped in on occasion and stopped people from doing it to my own children with a, “We don’t like to tease them. If you would actually like to share your food (or phone, or toy, or keys, etc.) with them though, please feel free to.” I was the second lowest on the food chain in public school. I know all too well how people’s “fun” can easily turn into cruelty if you’re on the receiving end, and I want to make sure my teasing isn’t being interpreted subconsciously by my child as bullying. The difference to me is intent. Am I teasing them because they think it’s fun, too, or am I teasing them for my own laughs or my friends’ laughs. If it’s the latter, then I’m treating them as my “play thing” and not a little person who deserves respect. I want my children to be kind and compassionate, and I need to mirror this if they are going to learn it.
Safety: I don’t mean physical safety though that is important too. I mean emotional safety. Boundaries. Children are born testing boundaries because they want to know where the edges are. How far is too far? They don’t know anything. They don’t know when they’re okay and when they’re not – when they’re doing something acceptable or if they have gone too far. How do they learn? They experiment. They look for the edge. Every household will have different boundaries, but for us a boundary we have is “we will ask TWICE”. We will not ask once and then get mad on days that we are short on patience. And we will not ask four or five times on days that we are distracted or have more patience. We will ask once, and if there’s no response and we are sure they heard us, we will ask again while simultaneously stating a consequence that will happen if obedience does not follow. Next the consequence happens almost immediately because even at 2, I see my son testing and looking to see exactly how many seconds does he have before the consequence is implemented. Even if the kid at that point scrambles to do what we asked when they see that we’re serious, it doesn’t matter because the consequence is being enforced. For example, if Micah finally decides to come as I start to walk towards him, I am still picking him up and carrying him to his room because he lost the privilege of coming on his own.
“Micah come here please.” One.
“Micah come here or mommy will bring you here.” Two.
Wait a couple seconds. Mommy is now bringing him here even if he starts to scramble toward me.
We do this with every. single. request. Seriously, EVERY. ONE. We will always ask twice and state an alternative on the second time for everything. I should state that the alternative is always RELATED to the issue. It’s never, “do what I say or go to your room” unless going to his room makes sense in the situation. It’s not about shoving him in a corner as punishment, but showing him what needs to happen regardless of whether he is cooperating or not). That being said, we choose our battles and watch our requests carefully! This is where the work part comes in on our end. Is it REALLY worth asking him to stop turning the lights on and off or is he fine and just moderately annoying me? Do I really want to get up and potentially enforce something just because he wants to do something I don’t want to clean up later? Sometimes, yes. And there will be two requests. The rest of the time? No. Having a “system” and having to actually act if my child does not, really makes me evaluate how important my requests are. Is it a lot of work? Very much so, and often we will sit down at the end of the day (or once the child is out of ear shot) and remind each other if we see each other slipping in this absentmindedly. (i.e. Nick tends to be a little extra lenient in how many times he will ask for something if he’s been away for a while, but then the behaviour starts to deteriorate almost immediately once the child realizes that the edge is no longer the edge). It sounds kind of harsh, but this is done lovingly (though sternly at times), and it is done because our children behave SO much better when they know where the boundaries are. They feel safe and like they don’t need to push for the edge – unless they are overtired, or hangry, or something like that. Then boundary pushing is to expected from them and yes, that was me carrying my kicking, screaming toddler to the car through the parking lot last Sunday because he refused to hold my hand in his overtired state.
“Micah, hold mommy’s hand.” One.
“Micah, you need to hold mommy’s hand in the parking lot or I will have to carry you to the car.” Two.
Cue very pregnant me carrying screaming him to sympathetic looks from passers by.
One last thought on this section – if one of the boys is very upset and a consequence had to be implemented, we will always take time to sit with them and talk about it afterwards. Even if he probably doesn’t understand half of what I’m saying and is running across the room while I talk – he is only 2. For example, the other day I got very firm with him because he was acting out and physically bullying his little brother. After he calmed down I chatted with him while he played and told him that I understood how frustrating it was that a few moments before the incident mommy would not help him down the stairs and made him do it on his own. I acknowledged that, that must have made him feel powerless and like he couldn’t control things and how no one likes to feel that way. However, dealing with those feelings by dominating physically, or otherwise, over someone else so you can feel in control is not an appropriate way to deal with those emotions. Did he understand half of that? Probably not. But one day he will and the foundation is being laid now. It’s okay to feel things. You’re not a bad person for acting out, especially when you don’t have the impulse control yet to refrain. There will be consequences, however, but there will also be forgiveness and grace and communication at the end. It’s not about controlling my child’s behaviour. It’s about shaping their character to grow up to be respectful, responsible, and compassionate men of God.
Trust: This one is huge for us. If we promise the boys something later, even if they forget, and even if we don’t want to, we will always make good on our word. On the way home the other day I promised Micah a Timbit. However, he fell asleep in the car and while he slumbered in the backseat I went 5 minutes out of my way to go through the drive-thru, bought the donut, and brought it home so I could give it to him when he woke up. Another time he wanted to play outside but we were on our way to Costco, so Nick said he could play outside when we got back. When we got home it was pouring rain and Micah had forgotten. However, Nick still asked him if he would like to go out because when we say we will do something we want our kids to know that they can trust us. It’s not a trick to distract them in the moment. The words that come out of our mouths mean something and will be honoured even if it is forgotten or inconvenient. I never want to tuck my child into bed and have them suddenly remember I promise that I have broken. Also, I don’t want them to ask and nag me 1 million times for something that they fear I may forget. They know that if mommy or daddy says it will happen, they can let it go and not worry about it because it will happen. If mommy says, “Just a minute”, she makes sure she actually remembers to address said child in a moment. Little things we just throw out there are big things to them.
These are at the be-all and end-all of parenting by any means, but they are little things that really are big things. Respect, safety, and trust are things we all crave, and I think our children deserve them even if we don’t think they are old enough to understand them because we are building the foundation of their characters and creating a family environment that will shape the bigger versions of themselves that they will one day grow up to be.