For the last 16 years, I’ve been a member of The Club. Not the Country Club. The Mom’s Club. My membership status has changed over time. I started at the Bronze level (one child) and now I’ve bumped up to Gold (three kids plus some issues).
With my first child, I started out believing in Attachment Parenting. That’s when you Velcro your child to your side and meet their every need almost before they know they have one. Works well with one child. As the number of children in our family grew, however, I could no longer attach them all to me. Child number one did not like this detachment phase one bit. But I had to sleep at some point, preferably alone.
I read books about Setting Boundaries, Raising Spirited Kids, Emotional Intelligence, The Baby Whisperer, Calmer Parenting and the like. I was creating my own PhD program because I wanted to do this thing as best I could. What to do with all that information? Nearly two decades and three kids later, one with special needs, I have this to offer:
1. It really is either them or you. And you better choose you because with the number of times they call your name in a day, they obviously can’t live without you. When you really need to get something done, tell your kids not to disturb you unless their hair catches on fire or they are bleeding from the head. Keep a straight face or this will never work.
I used to think this was Abandonment Parenting. Now I think of it as creating space for them to learn a vital life skill: coping. And we all have to cope with inconveniences. Think of this tactic as a way to help your kids develop an, “I can do this” attitude rather than a “Wendy Whiner.”
If you must get involved, simply restate the problem. “I see that you can’t agree with your sister on which television show to watch. Sounds like a problem that only a mature first grader with an overextended parent could solve. Have at it. I have to administer rectal Valium to your brother who is having a seizure. “
2. When it comes to homework, pretend you are stupid. You can avoid hours of unnecessary work if you admit that you don’t know what two plus three is. Let them help you figure it out. They will feel superior to you and proud of themselves. Bonus: You get to model humility, which will be critical for them to develop when they become teens and repeatedly tell you you’ve become “irritating.” In time, you won’t have to pretend you don’t understand the math, because you really won’t. And later you can use this technique to have them handle insurance billing problems and online purchase fiascos that you’d rather not handle yourself.
3. With regard to eating, go ahead. You’ll need the energy. Here is my secret diet plan. Coffee in morning, chocolate in the afternoon, wine at night. My doctor gave me the green light on the coffee saying anyone with three kids really has to. I added the other items for survival. And yes, feed the kids too. I find they like snacks better than meals. So give up the cookbooks and get out the cheese sticks. I made eggplant parmesan from scratch one day in an effort to change things up bit. They were less than enthusiastic about my culinary adventure. The next night I offered pancakes. They were thrilled. If you want something special and fabulous to eat, go out to dinner with your husband or lunch with your girlfriends.
4. Keep compliments to a minimum. Save it for when you are really impressed with something they did. “I can’t believe you remembered that girl’s name even though it’s been a year since you’ve seen her! What a memory you have.” Now that’s real and you are impressed because you can’t remember the names of the nine members of your book club who you’ve seen every month for a year now. Think of Gru’s mother from Despicable Me 1 where she is completely underwhelmed by Gru’s attempts to build a rocket out of macaroni. She comes back to him at the end of the movie with a compliment on being a good parent. Save compliments for when it really counts.
5. Try to screw up in front of your children. Why would I willingly have a fight with (fill in the blank) in front of my kids and risk looking bad? For the opportunity to show them how to recover from mishaps with courage and grace. If they see you apologize to your husband for yelling at him because he forgot to cancel the Netflix account again THIS month, they will learn the power of forgiveness. That people are more important than things. Even more important than saving money!
6. Don’t be afraid to break form. (I know this is six, but think of it as a baker’s half-dozen.) There will be times when you will have to use a gentle hand. You’ll know when. It will be when they are too tired, weepy, confused, angry or hungry to make sense. One thing is certain: they need you to love them full on and drop all previously stated advice.
Meet their gaze, hold them in your arms, and let them talk or be silent. Maybe this is the time to share an important life lesson. Or not. Attach yourself to them. Get them some clean clothes to wear, make them a nice meal. Give a compliment you’ve been meaning to share. NOW is the time.
The Take Away. If your kids see you learning, growing and trying, it shows them it’s okay if you don’t have it all figured out, as long as you are willing to admit that and keep working on it. Kids give a lot of credit to the parent who strives. My oldest daughter, at age five or so, told her father, “Mom is really trying to know what she is talking about Dad. I saw her reading a book about how to be a better parent.”