Thursday, March 31, 2016

Truths That Shape My Parenting

If I had to summarize the last few years of my parenting journey, I would probably simply say, “Steep, steep learning curve.”

With the birth of my third child, changes came hard and fast. I delivered a baby without surgery for the first time in my life and I felt that something was finished, and as much as I hate cliché – it was only the beginning. My perfect, rotund baby cried and didn’t sleep and instead of acclimating to us and us acclimating to him, he continued to scream and cry for years. Actual years. My husband and I finally clued in to the fact that Joe has some sensory issues that manifest in a variety of ways, and that’s a great blog for another day. The bottom line? It changed me as a parent.

I don’t think I’ve ever been a “bad” parent in the sense that I wasn’t a good parent, but I think at times I’ve been a less-than-kind-on-the-inside parent when it comes to comparisons and priorities. I’ve since learned that there are about a million and one reasons why a little one could be having a breakdown in the store. I’ve learned the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum. I’ve learned that unclipped toenails aren’t a sign that a mother neglects to groom her child; maybe her kid feels like he is in pain when anyone tries to clip his nails. I’ve learned a whole host of lessons.

Like always, the writing bug hits me suddenly with very little warning, just a stream of thoughts that feel like they merit documentation. And so here’s my little list of things that I consider truths that shape the parent that I am and/or try to be right now.  This isn’t a comprehensive list and it’s certainly not a how-to. I feel humbled when I learn little things and look around and realize that many parents who are much “greener” than I have known them for a long time.  Others are truths or principles that I have tried to live by since before I ever had children.

Maybe I’ll enjoy reading these again someday.

1.     Don’t throw your kid under the bus. When something is your fault, don’t blame your kid because you can. It stings. It undermines trust. It embarrasses them. It’s not worth it.

2.     No one’s opinion is more important than your relationship with your kid. If they don’t like what you let your child wear or do, it only matters if it actually matters. People who love you and your children will approach, not attack, and they won’t rehash old issues over and over.

3.     Similar to point two, you don’t need friends who do not respect your children. I do not carry the expectation that others will constantly coddle or placate my children. If my child is being rude, bullying, having a tantrum, or acting in destructive ways, I fully expect that they will receive a response and I will support that response 99% of the time. What I do not accept under any circumstances? Personal remarks, overreaching physical punishment, mocking, degradation, and public shaming. People who love you and your kids will not engage in these things even when your child has made them angry. Keep those friends who can encourage your child toward good behavior with a heart that says, “I know you are better than this” or can even speak a firm truth to them without allowing a moment of bad behavior to affect their long-term relationship. Friends who don’t genuinely care about your kids are not your friends at all. Anyone who constantly brings up your child’s struggles or taunts them to the point of real hurt is not a person that you need in your life.

4.     There are things we will never logically understand unless we walk there. Respect them anyway. Special needs are at the very top of this list. My opinion about your autistic/ADHD/SPD child does not matter. Sometimes our opinions just don’t matter. My respect (or lack thereof) for you and the road you are walking is where my character will show. I don’t need to fully understand what you are going through to care and show up for you. I should not require constant explanations in order to believe that your struggles are real. This place of trust and empathy is where friendship lives. There is so much beauty in this, guys. In just caring, asking genuine, interested questions, or crying along with a struggling parent. Asking “stupid” questions in love is rarely offensive. Taking the time to care and become invested is a rare gift that is always, always heartwarming. 

5.     Don’t let your kids stay “in trouble.” When a child has earned consequences, administer them and let the matter go. I cannot keep my child’s heart open to me if I am constantly pushing them away. “I know you will do better.” “I have seen you do this well before.” “I know you are having a hard time, but I promise things will get better.” “Is there anything you are looking forward to doing tomorrow?” “Is there something you would like to do today?” These are the kinds of phrases I really try to use often. I often fail. I’m an introvert who is also a verbal processor, which means that I have a lot to say and I don’t always feel like listening. My mind is always running at a furious pace, and I always feel “busy” even when I’m not. Slowing down and taking an interest in where they are doesn’t always come naturally.

6.     Surprise them with humor. My 8 year old has a habit that drives me crazy. Honestly, it does. I don’t love it. Sometimes I place a moratorium on this practice when I just can’t take it anymore, but here it is. Micah finds it hilarious to call out random foods in the middle of a conversation. His top two shout-outs are “HAM!” and “BANANA!” I just cannot even with this, guys. I’m not a fan. But occasionally when the mood strikes, I interrupt him with one of his weird, beloved food words and it slays him. Dumb humor is the language of eight year olds, for whatever reason. So there’s that. Do with it what you will.

7.     Let your kids talk you into things sometimes. Oh, this has been hard. I’m one of those moms – you know, the “no means no” and “you need to obey the first time” mother. I am unapologetic in the latter, but the former has evolved a bit. I’ve learned that allowing my kids the chance to make a case for things that they feel strongly about is good for both of us. Sometimes it requires time that I don’t really want to take, or brain cells that I don’t feel that I have at the moment (I don’t like to listen, remember?). But I’m learning a lot about this, and I have come to realize that I cannot expect my children to feel free to talk to me “about anything” (as I always tell them) if I won’t listen to them in the things that matter to them right now.

Well, this is scattered, and a bit random, but it feels good to peck out my thoughts here on these black keys.   I’m not rewriting this, so feel free to overlook grammatical errors. :-P

Have a good Thursday, y’all. I’d love to hear your long-standing or brand new principles for parenting. What are your cardinal rules?