I haven’t written in a little while and some of my awesomely supportive friends have been asking when they can expect more posts. I have a huge list of topics for future posts and am super excited to get them on paper (or rather, computer screen) but I’m falling a little short on free time as our family embarks on two much-anticipated construction projects. Alas, I cannot guarantee when my next post will be but I definitely plan on more, especially when school starts up again next fall.
In the meantime, I have a quick story for you related to this concept of managing your time and preserving as much of it for your little kiddos as possible. A friend recently asked me how I can manage to look at Facebook so rarely and I responded that every minute I am on Facebook is a minute that I’m ignoring 1 to 4 children (depending on how many of the older 3 are at school at that time). This friend has brought this quote up several times and shared it with other moms as a moment of insight where she realized how important it is to consciously balance her own daily routine with her desire to be present for her children. Children certainly do not need to be, and should not be, attended to every minute or responded to immediately every time they request your attention or assistance. But if I am asking a child to wait a minute for my response, I want there to be a good reason like I’m speaking on the phone with your aunt or I’m changing the baby’s diaper – not I’m getting caught up on Facebook. My friends will forgive me for not having seen every picture they posted on Instagram this week but my children will remember how much attention I paid to them and their daily accomplishments forever.
Have you ever had a bad parenting day? Scratch that: If you’re a parent, you’ve had a bad parenting day. Whether it’s troublesome behavior from your kids, chaotic scheduling, conflicts with your own personal To Do list, illness, or what have you, some days are just rough. Having a good support system in place from early in your parenting career is so important to maintaining a happy family.
Being a first time parent often means a huge change in your peer group. Surely you’ll maintain friendships from before parenthood but at every stage of your baby’s life you’ll have the opportunity to meet a whole new group of people, from your prenatal classes to play groups to preschool to elementary and so forth. You might find peers in your new exercise group, at your church, or even form a closer, reflective connection with those who raised you.
From the beginning, identify the one or two people who a) you completely admire their personality and their parenting style and b) you feel totally comfortable confiding in. Keep that number handy for those bad parenting days. We all need support from time to time. A simple phone call or text with one of these people can turn a rough day into an motivational experience and recharge you for whatever parenthood throws at you next.
Presumably every parent reading this wants to be the best parent they can possibly be to their children. But what does that mean? The answer will be different for each of you but it’s important that you take a minute, if you haven’t already done so, to visualize what you think an amazing parent looks like. Having this prototype of good parenting helps you to evaluate your work (yes, parenting is a lot of work) and to help steer you back on course when you find that you’re straying. Nobody can be the perfect parent all the time so we can only strive for our best as much of the time as we can manage.
How do you know what good parenting looks like? This gets us to our first real psychology lesson: Social Learning Theory pioneered by Albert Bandura in the 1960’s. Simply observing social interactions can lead to a tremendous amount of learning. Applied to parenting, we look for the outcome parents experience based on how they choose to interact with their children. For example, you observe a parent-child interaction in which a 1 1/2 year-old appears to be on the brink of a melt-down, desperately wanting the toy another child is holding and the mother repeatedly saying, “No, that’s not your toy. Here’s your toy.” The child continues to cry, the mother gets more and more stressed…you can see where this is going. In contrast, you observe the same interaction but the mother in this case responds by saying, “Jimmy’s using that toy now but you’ll get a turn soon. Oh, look over here!” as she adeptly repositions his body facing the other direction and with energy and excitement redirects him to see a bird/butterfly/flower/whatever she can think of to shift the child’s focus away from the offending toy. The second mother tries to avoid just saying “no” to her child, realizes that young children are easily distracted, and uses high energy and positivity in her parenting. Observant parents in the room may choose to later imitate, or “model” these behaviors with their own children.
Find your role model parents, whether it’s your own parents, another mom in a play group, or a character on television. Think about what aspects of their behavior and dialogue with their children you value, and use them in your own parenting. Pick and choose from different models and develop an image for what amazing parenting looks like to you.
Also pay attention to parents whose behavior you do not want to model, whether it’s body language, speech patterns, or parenting techniques gone awry. I’ll talk more about discipline techniques and consequences in a future post, but just a quick example from years ago in my pre-baby days when my husband and I actually had time to play tennis together in the evenings after work…on a neighboring court I overheard a boy probably around age 11 repeatedly using profanity when he became discouraged about his tennis game. There are many ways this situation could have been handled better but what I’ll never forget is hearing her say, “If you keep using that language, we’re going to have to go home” not once, not twice, but at least 8 times. In the end, we actually ended up going home before they did. Even though I had never yet had to set-up an if/then consequence for my own children, I clearly observed that this technique was not working and got my first chance to build my arsenal of parenting techniques to (and not to) model.
The days go pretty quickly with 4 small children. And what seems like a small project can take a very long time with our age range. This is where planning ahead comes in. About 2 weeks before Valentine’s Day we start working on cards. That way the crafts part can be spread over a day or two, the writing names on the cards part can be done another day, and the envelope addressing (which I mainly do still) can get squeezed in before mailing cards to out-of-town folks. Hooray for repeating events in Reminders on my phone because motherhood has really destroyed my memory.
I think holidays like this are a great chance to connect with people. We send cards to nieces, cousins, uncles, grandparents, friends, etc. When you’re focussed on your own nuclear family for so many years, it can be easy to lose touch with other important people in your life. And when traveling becomes more difficult and more expensive with kids, it’s easy to miss out on visits with family and friends. But these relationships are important and must be nurtured. Little gestures like a simple Valentine’s card can help keep you connected. Who doesn’t appreciate an adorable homemade card with little kindergartener misspelled words? We are not super craftsy but a quick trip to Michael’s to get heart-shaped paper, glitter glue paint, and some cute paper cut-outs does the trick.
And, of course, don’t forget to make a card for Dad!