I have been thinking a lot about kids and family lately with Berkeley graduating and the kids going in and out of the house. I have been hedging whether or not I should write this post, but I’ve been in a contemplative mood lately, so I decided to go for it! I am by NO means a parenting expert…in fact, I just tried to glean as much knowledge as I could from the people around me that I admire…and I continue to do so as I am entering a new stage of parenting. So for those of you with little ones, I thought I’d share some of the best advice I received when we were starting out our family. And these tips should all be seen through the lens of unconditional love…your kids need to know that they are loved when they behave and when they are naughty. That’s really what gives them security.
1. So Let your kids know how important they are without being the center of the universe. Ok, let me give you an example. Jason’s uncle told us before we had kids to make sure to teach them to fall asleep anywhere. In order to keep our social lives, the kids had to learn as babies to fall asleep in a playpen as I just wasn’t willing to go home on a Saturday night at 7pm. Now, Berkeley, being the first born, was not super adaptable in the is area as she wasn’t used to siblings or a lot of noise. One night we were at our friends’ house and she just wouldn’t fall asleep. It was getting late and I was ready to just pack up and put her to bed at home. My friend encouraged me to stay and wait until she fell asleep. So we waited until about midnight…she finally fell asleep. We then packed her up and took her home. Seemed kind of crazy at the moment, but Berkeley did learn to fall asleep almost anywhere in her playpen as did our other kids. We took her everywhere with us and enjoyed social time with other families without cutting our evenings short.
2. Pick your battles carefully. I say carefully as you need to follow through when you set a boundary. So, Dylan was our strongest willed toddler. My mom wisely told me to be careful which battles to pick with her as I need to hold firm on them. So, if it wasn’t something important, let it go. If it was important, there could be no backing down. I know it sound so cliche, but kids feel more secure with boundaries. And they need to know that you mean what you say. If throwing food off your high chair is not okay today, it can’t be ok tomorrow. If you say no, the answer is no…not yes after they ask ten times because that becomes confusing to them. This can be so exhausting…I know! But trust me, it gets easier. Dylan once refused to hang up her jacket. Ok, in retrospect, maybe this wasn’t a battle I should have picked, but I did, so I had to follow through. I told her the punishment would be to miss going to the movies the next night. After trying to convince her for an hour to hang up her coat, it was way past her bedtime and I had to follow through. It really sucked because Jason was out of town and I promised Berkeley and Mac that we would go to the movies, so I had to find a babysitter for Dylan. It was so NOT convenient. However, the next time we had a “stand off”, I referred back to the time she missed going to the movies, so she knew that I was going to follow through and she became more motivated to obey.
3. Ask the advice of others. My mom always had a friend that was a little further down the motherhood path than she was. I have an amazing friend whose oldest is 5 years older than Berkeley. She has really great kids and I admire how she and her hubby have raised their family. We have spent hours chatting and she’s been such a support and excellent sounding board. I have also found Doing Family Right to be an amazing resource.
4. Make sure you and your husband are on the same page. My parents never let us divide and conquer. If Mom says no, they should know that Dad will say no too. Consistency is key! In fact, when I was growing up, I only tried once to ask my Dad something after Mom said no. We learned quickly not to try to pit one against the other.
5. Have other adults in your kids’ lives that they respect that can back you up. There was more than once that my mom, Jason’s mom or Laurel had a chat with one of my kids to help bring them around. Sometimes your kids just tune you out and it’s so helpful to have another loving adult to talk to them kindly about their behavior. They will often listen to other adults more readily than they will listen to us. When Dylan was about 5, she used to hide when she was upset with me. Jason was away on a trip and Dylan was not happy about something and I honestly couldn’t find her. I was panicking a bit so Laurel came over and helped me find her and just had a nice chat with her about how I was tired because I was being the Mommy and Daddy and that hiding was not a good idea.
6. Make sure your kids can talk to adults. This is a tricky one when well-meaning strangers talk to your kids as we tell them not to talk to strangers. Berkeley was especially shy and she would often cling to me and hide behind my leg if someone she didn’t know spoke to her. Here’s what I told my kids…if I was with them and a stranger spoke to them, they were fine to answer because I was there and wasn’t going to let anything happen. The kids’ kindergarten teacher also taught them this…when they stood outside the portable in the morning, they had to look her in the eye, greet her and shake her hand before they entered the classroom. This was such a valuable exercise for life. If an adult addresses them, it’s important to teach them to respond. This comes more naturally to some kids (Mac and Dylan) than others, but I’m glad we continued to work with Berkeley on this and didn’t use her shyness as an excuse.
7. Let your kids know that you will always try to be fair, but that doesn’t mean that things will be the same. Ok, what I mean by this is that if you have more than one child, you will find that you can’t parent them exactly the same because they are individuals and have different personalities. When Berkeley hit her tweens, taking her phone away was a very effective punishment. We didn’t have to do it too many times. But I remember taking Dylan’s phone away as punishment when she was around 10 or 11 and honestly, she didn’t really care. In fact, it became a bit of a joke, because she almost had her phone taken away more than she had it. So, it was a rather ineffective punishment for her. Another example might be throwing a big birthday party for your child that is the extrovert , but that could be an introverted child’s biggest nightmare. Raising girls and boys is so different too! Trying to get Mac to sit still in church as a toddler was like trying to poke my eyes out with a fork! There was a fair amount of bribery with Goldfish and gum involved. Whereas, the girls sat nicely with coloring pages in church. You really need to try to figure out what makes each of your children tick to parent them the best way, and that takes a lot of time and thought. Trust me, I’m still learning about each of my kids…it’s an ongoing process.
8. Let them try different activities and try to find out where their passions are. Berkeley was 2 years old and Dylan 3 when they started to dance. They really didn’t want to do much else as they both loved it so much right away! Berkeley did take some art lessons that she enjoyed. Mac started with soccer as that was Jason’s sport growing up, but he asked to try hockey…and he’s never looked back. Mac also enjoys golfing. Finding your kids’ passion will really help them through the tween and teen years as it can be a source of confidence and a great way for them to develop discipline and friendships…and not have too much spare time.
9. Serve your kids a “no thank-you bite”. This may sound unimportant, but food and meal times can be a huge stressor. This is something my mother-in-law taught me. Kids aren’t going to like all foods, but serve them a wee bite of things that they would say no thank-you to so that they at least taste it. We did this with our kids and now they really enjoy most types of food. Of course there are the exceptions…Mac can’t do tomatoes or mushrooms…fair enough. We can enjoy restaurants together and this sure reduces stress when you are out for dinner at someone’s house.
10. Celebrate and do super fun stuff! Make a big deal when your kids do something unselfish, when they obey when you know it’s killing them, when they are shy and say hello to a new friend, when they share their favorite toy. Celebrate the small things as well as the big things! Have cupcakes when they go potty on the toilet. Go to the drive-in movie when school’s done! Take them to the fair even if you are tired. Make memories…that’s the stuff they will remember!
I wish I could say that I followed all of this advice 100% of the time, but I often failed as a mom, especially when sleep was lacking and energy was low…just ask my kids. But the good news is every day is a new day and I consider it a huge privilege and reward to be mom to Berkeley, Dylan and Mac and I am so incredibly proud of them. This is meant as an encouragement and I’d love to hear what some of the best advice is that you got about raising young kids.