If I could go back in time, these are the things I would tell the young mother me. I always seem to just about learn how to parent one age group when they all start the next stage and it all changes again. Here are some things I wish I had known:
1.Boys (of all ages) never look in the back of drawers. This is true. They open the drawer about half way, have a quick look and then tell you that what they are seeking is not in there. This can be used to your advantage if, as in my house, they frequently a) misplace their own scissors and b) borrow yours and don’t replace them. Seriously, I have pairs of scissors with death threats written in permanent marker pen on the handles (slightly embarrassing when I took them to use for church sunday school, but I got over it.) It made no difference, they would still use my scissors and not return them. However, if I keep them at the back of the drawer, even the drawer where they have always been kept, then they don’t find them. Things at the back are safe. Worth remembering.
2.When they ask which child you love best, pick one. I spent years trying to explain that I loved them all equally, that I could never choose which one I loved best, etc etc – they just kept asking. So one day I picked one and gave an outrageous reason:”Rebecca, because girls are better than boys,” “James because he’s the nicest,” “Mark, because he’s clever,” They still asked occasionally (and I did try to switch which one I chose) but it put them off for a long time and always ended the conversation pretty fast. Maybe they just needed to occasionally be the one that was chosen.
3.When your children argue with their siblings, always be the most unreasonable. I always wanted my children to be friends with each other, not least because one day I wont be here to care for them and I want them to look out for each other. All children argue with their siblings, that cannot be avoided.
However, when there was no clear reason for the dispute, I would try to be much more unreasonable than any of them. Comments like, “Right, that is no television ever again” or “I am banning all chocolate” would so outrage my children that they would mutter darkly about me – together – and forget all about whatever they had been arguing about. After an hour or so they would ‘persuade’ me to modify my punishment to a more sensible one.
4.Forcing your child to eat something will not make them less fussy eaters. I am an adult now, all grown up, but I still feel sick when I smell rhubarb or gooseberries cooking and I am sure it is because I was forced to eat them as a child. I did initially try the same parenting technique with my own children (most of us copy our parents to some extent) but I abandoned it when I found peas thrown out of the window and half a piece of steak blocking the toilet.
If my children did not like something, they were not forced to eat it. They did have to taste it every so often, in case their tastebuds had changed, but they were happy to do that because they knew they could choose to not eat it if they didn’t want to.
They are all adults now and they all have a varied diet. One of them was very fussy and I do believe he could taste things that I could not taste as he was even picky over treats like chocolate or vanilla ice cream. He still dislikes a lot of food but he will eat a whole variety of food and if under pressure (like at his girlfriend’s parents house) he can force himself to eat pretty much anything.
You do of course need to ensure that they have a balanced diet. However, if your child does not eat vegetables, fruit is just as healthy.
I would like to have a short rant here. I am increasingly concerned by how unhealthy some children are in today’s society.
If they are not having enough exercise, drop them off further from the school so they have to walk for a few minutes everyday. Exercise does not need to be expensive or time consuming.
Also, occasionally check the ingredients of what your child is eating. If the list is full of stuff you are more likely to find in a chemistry lab than a supermarket, do you really want to feed it to your child?
5.You cannot reason with an angry boy. When girls are angry, the adrenaline stimulates the speech part of their brain and they want to talk. Sometimes for many hours non stop. The opposite happens with a boy. When they are angry, the speech part of their brain shuts down and they are more likely to hit out than discuss. Something to do with testosterone. I don’t understand the biology but I do know that it is true because I have seen it many many times with my sons and my pupils. So, if a boy is angry, do not bother explaining anything until he has calmed down.
If he is small, pick him up and put him somewhere safe. If he is big, put yourself somewhere safe (the washroom is a good place. Even an angry boy will not want to risk seeing his mother using the toilet and there is usually a lock on the door.) When he is calm, then you can explain to him why he was wrong, why you behaved as you did, what is an appropriate punishment, etc.
6.You cannot raise a child on your own. We all need help, mothers especially. In an ideal world, a child is raised by two parents and four grandparents and a whole world of friends, teachers, neighbours. Ours is not an ideal world, but whatever your situation, recognise that you have limitations and get help when you need it.
Lots has been written about this, quotes like, “it takes a whole village to raise a child”, or even films such as, “About a Boy”. It is true. When you get to the absolute limit of what you can cope with, get help.
If you believe in God, then ask him to help. I used to pray some pretty ‘unholy’ prayers sometimes – something along the lines of “You created this bundle of trouble, now please help me to parent him/her.” Actually, even if you don’t believe in God, I would still suggest you pray – you need as much help as you can get!
It is also worth teaching your children to pray. Who will they go to when you are not there? I frequently told my children, “Mummy needs to be asleep at night. If you have a bad dream, tell God about it, he will be awake anyway and is less likely to shout at you.”
I am a sometimes praised for how nice my children are and was a successful teacher, but sometimes I couldn’t cope. I recall one evening when I phoned my brother and told him I could not cope with my teenage son. He talked to him for a while (I think they just agreed that women can be very irrational at times! But it didn’t matter, it broke a cycle that I wasn’t coping with.) Don’t let things get beyond what you can cope with, that’s when horrible things happen. When you need help, get help. It is the wise thing to do.
7.When they bring home a crap picture, tell them its crap. If you always praise them they will a) never trust you to be honest and b) always feel the need to do brilliantly. I firmly believe that if you teach your children how to fail well, then they will be okay in life. If it’s good, tell them. If it’s not, tell them.
One of my proudest parenting moments was when my daughter lost a race in the school sports event. She was last by a considerable margin and bravely ran the last lap with the hugest grin, to huge cheers from the crowd. She was not a sporty child, she knew she was not good at running and that was fine. In other areas she excelled and she knew that my praise was genuine.
If I say something is good, they can trust that it is.
8.Treat your children differently. You can treat them equally without having to do exactly the same thing for each child. For example, I can never understand the parents who buy a gift for the other child on a siblings birthday. Letting someone else have a turn at the treat is a good learning point, this is life, they will not always be the one who gets the promotion/job/top mark etc.
This is relatively easy if they are different genders – when they complain that one is allowed to go to a party or something you can explain that they are all different but equal and offer to treat them exactly the same – if your son wants a pink tutu, to learn ballet, grow hair long enough for ribbons, etc, that would be fine with you. They will soon see the logic in being treated differently. This is the same when choosing a school, clubs etc – see them as individuals especially if they have different talents.
9.Don’t be fooled when your child tells you that you are either the best or the worst mother in the world. You are not. When they are about five and they tell you that you are the best mummy ever, that is very nice. Write it down and hold on to that memory. It wont be too long before they tell you that “all the other mother’s let their children do/have/go whatever” and they will reliably inform you that you are the worst mother ever. Brace yourself and ride the storm, taking regular peeks at the diary entry when they told you how wonderful you are and remembering that ALL good mothers are told this at some point. You are their mother, not their friend. They don’t have to like you all the time. You have to make decisions for what is best for them, not what they will necessarily want. Be brave, it is not easy. But you are the best mother that they have, so they will have to get over it. I regularly told my children, “I am not like other mothers.”
10.Do go with your gut feeling and monitor how long your child plays computer games or watches television. They can stunt creativity and the ability to communicate and keep track of real life. It wont kill your child to be bored sometimes. Or even (horrors) read a book.
Decide what works for you. I found that most games, whilst addictive, also needed a certain amount of time for them to be played satisfactorily. So in our house we had ‘computer weeks’. For one week, they could play computer games for as long as they liked (not including homework times, meal times and bed times, which were rigid unless they were ill.) Then, the next week, there was no computer at all. After a couple of days, they adjusted to the lack of life support and actually managed to enjoy something like cooking or reading or playing in the garden.
11.When your child is a teenager, have difficult discussions in public. This was one of the best things that I discovered. So, if I wanted to discuss with my fifteen year old his bed time, the amount of time spent on homework or any other ‘tricky issue’ I would take him out for lunch or even a to nice coffee shop. Somewhere public. Somewhere that having a meltdown would be embarrassing for him. The social pressure helped him keep a lid on whatever anger he would like to vent and we managed to have a few very sane conversations. It was well worth the price tag.
It should perhaps be noted, that when I began writing this article I asked my daughter if she could remember any of my parenting strategies. She informed me that:
I regularly told her she was adopted and suggested she could go and find her real parents (she looks EXACTLY like me, so this was never a problem for her.)
If something hurt, I told her it would probably fall off.
I wanted to burn down her primary school.
I made her move traffic cones that were blocking the road when I wanted to drive down it.
I always told them that it didn’t matter if what they did was rubbish, I would love them anyway (they liked that one.)
On reflection, I may have been a slightly rubbish mother. However, all my children have grown up to be happy, sane and good company. Maybe being rubbish doesn’t matter too much. God chose you to raise your child, he has every confidence that you can do it. I remember reading once, you don’t have to be a perfect mother, you only have to be good enough. There is hope for us all…….
Thank you for reading.
If you enjoyed reading this, why not read my latest book, about a mummy who does amazing things….think James Bond, but female, and a mother – who is in fact, just like us! (Yes, she is brave, but she worries and needs to use the washroom at all the wrong moments.) Go on, treat yourself to something fun…..
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