I was in my last year of graduate school to receive a master’s degree in elementary education when I was pregnant with numero uno. I took classes on early childhood and childhood psychology, behavior and development and taught kindergarten and pre-kindergarten all before I became a mom. I felt ready and prepared for whatever motherhood was going to throw at me because if I could teach 20 five-year-olds, surely I could handle just one. My professors were experts on children and I learned from the best.
I also kept all the information on parenting at my fingertips. The What to Expect trifecta – when Expecting, the First Year, and the Toddler Years – sat on my nightstand for years. Eleven years ago those were the baby bibles, the all-knowledgeable resource for all-things parenting. After my son was born, I then read all the blogs on raising smart kids, kind kids, happy kids, independent kids, respectful kids, athletic kids, emotionally stable kids, healthy kids, driven kids, the best-darned-kids-on-the-planet kids. And as we entered the toddler years, I realized, none of them had apparently ever met my kid. The experts? They failed me.
Experts say: Always explain why.
The consensus from the experts was to explain things to your kids. Don’t just answer “yes” or “no” but give them an explanation as to the “why.” And never, I mean never, should your answer be: “because I said so.” And so I listened. I explained all the things, all the reasons, all the whys.
Real Life: You don’t always have time for the why.
I remember going to the park with my two boys. It was my first outing alone as a mom of two. I was nursing my infant and my toddler was joyfully playing on the playground. My picnic blanket sat between the playground and the parking lot and of course my toddler waited until my arms were full to bolt toward the cars. I called out, “Stop!” No response. “Come back!” He kept running. “Turn around!” Nothing. “YOU NEED TO STOP RUNNING THAT WAY BECAUSE THERE ARE MOVING CARS AND YOU ARE GOING TO GET HIT!” He hit the brakes and turned around. He needed to know why he should stop before he listened. In many situations you don’t have time to explain the why OR it’s not appropriate at that time to explain the why (i.e. when your kid asks to sleep over at a friend’s house with the kid and his mom right there).
Experts say: Answer in the affirmative.
I always listed my classroom rules in the affirmative. Instead of saying, “Don’t touch other people” the rule was “Keep your hands and feet to yourself.” It’s nicer, it’s positive, and it gives the same message. So I applied this to my parenting … for all of ten minutes.
Real life: Kids need to know the negative.
You need to cover all the bases: both what to do and what NOT to do. DO put toothpaste on your toothbrush. DON’T smear it on the walls. Otherwise, they see toothpaste on the toothbrush as just one option of what to do with it. DON’T pick your nose. DO use a tissue. Otherwise, they’ll pick their nose, then use the tissue for some other purpose. DO tinkle in the toilet. DON’T use the lid as a backboard and let your tinkle trickle down. Otherwise … well, you can probably figure out the result.
Experts say: Create a strict schedule.
Nap time, meal time, play time, quiet time – sometimes you can even time your kids’ own poop.
Real life: Go with the flow.
My oldest was on a strict schedule. I remember telling friends, “We can only play between 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. because of meal times and nap times.” If anything interfered with our schedule, the day was ruined by a toddler who just could.not.deal with a change in the schedule. Numbers 2 and 3 had to go with the flow from day one as we traveled from gym to soccer to playdates, etc. Both of them still to this day just roll with it and can sleep anywhere while number one still needs me to lay out the schedule for him so he knows what to expect at any given moment of the day.
Experts say: Give kids choices.
I remember reading a blog about raising independent, free-thinking children (read: how to parent a strong-willed child) which would also help control tantrums because they would be able to make their own decisions. It suggested letting kids choose things like what they were going to wear by giving them choices that you have narrowed down.
Real life: You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit.
My choices were never good enough. Do you want to wear outfit A or outfit B? Of course MY child would then stage a one-man strike in my living room because he had already decided that he was going to wear pajamas that day. Sometimes, Mommy chooses and you don’t. Sundays are Mommy’s day. I get to decide what you are going to wear to church and you need to be okay with that. And sometimes the dishes are dirty and you can’t have the purple bowl so you can have a paper plate like the rest of us. Or the pink Anna sippy is clean but the blue Elsa one is probably stinking up the car with yesterday’s milk. Just let it go. And no, I’m not cooking mac-n-cheese (again) for dinner; I’m cooking one meal for all, whether you like it or not. Choices don’t always work, they aren’t always even available, yet now they have the expectation that they get to choose. Sheesh. You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit. #MomCanBeStubbornToo
Real life – every kid is different. Every mom is different.
Every family needs their own mixture and balance of parenting styles. Let’s call it The Parenting Cocktail – a dash of one style, a splash of another. You be you, Mom and your kids will grow up to be the best versions of themselves because of it. The experts? They don’t know you or your kids like you do. You, Mom, are the new expert in town.