Tuesday, 11 April 2017
"You can't tell me what to do!" These were the terribly misinformed words uttered by my first child, barely three years old at the time. By the time she embarked on the "Terrible Three's" I already had a second child and a third on the way. It was far too late to back out or rethink how many of these little people we were going to have in our house. There was certainly no way a three year old was going to dictate how I was or was not going to raise her! I think I responded with something along the lines of "Well, you're going to be fairly miserable, because I can and I will tell you what to do....."
Thus began my journey of fear-less parenting.
I hear it more and more though....the questions about whether or not parents are getting it right. Am I feeding them the right food? Are they in the right school? Have they had enough experiences? Are they in the right sport? Should we change to another sport? Should we add music lessons? Maybe they should have art lessons? Are they getting enough sleep? Will they get a good job?
Oh. My. Goodness. Are you feeling dizzy? Feeling Inadequate? Frightened?
To be perfectly honest, these are not questions I spent my time asking. From the moment Miss Sunshine challenged my authority as her parent I was far more interested in what kind of children I was raising, not whether they had everything the world could offer them. Besides which, for most of our children's lives, we weren't in a financial position to give them all their little hearts desired. And we have led a quieter, much more sane life because of it....I don't think that's a bad trade-off!
How did I parent fearlessly? It was instinctive at the time, and as I've gotten older I've realised not all parents have been parented well, and instincts may be harder to find.
Be the parent
Once challenged by that deluded three year old, I understood I needed to lead my children. I cannot tell you how often I see parents whose children walk all over them. We need to be the authority in our children's lives. Not authoritarian, ruling with an iron fist. Authoritative. Unafraid to set reasonable limits and things that are not-negotiable in our homes, and then keep those limits. Children need to know where their boundaries lie and that they won't move. Believe me, they will try to push them! If you have spent any time with any child you know this to be true. Be prepared with consequences that match the age and act, and be consistent in applying them. I have learnt that when these lessons are learned early, the rest of being a parent is much easier. I only have to count back from 5 and my son still moves very fast! Our kids all know it is unwise and useless to test our boundaries.
Have high expectations
Part of being a parent is knowing how you want your kids to behave and then expect it of them, rather than excuse them. Whether it be using manners, eating all their dinner, requiring obedience...whatever it is that hits your radar as important. All of the things above were on my radar for high expectations, and so these things were constantly being addressed in my parenting. I wouldn't hand over something without receiving a thank you. I didn't begin fulfilling a request without a please. Our kids were required to have at least one bite of everything on their plate. I knew what they did and did not like, and I would still give them a bite or two of things they didn't like, so they would learn to eat dinner without being offensive to a potential host. The other side of that coin is that our kids eat a very varied diet and enjoy lots of different cuisines. If they kicked up a stink they were offered their meal or their bed. No alternative meals. Only one ever chose bed. That only happened twice, and then realised tomato sauce covers all sins and makes food edible.
As teenagers I had many conversations with my children about my expectations for them not to become sullen, moody, hateful people who do the wrong thing. I challenged and expected them to be above the stereotype of their age. I don't believe that just because "everyone" says kids are like a, b or c means they have to be like that.
Be comfortable saying no
Our kids need us to say no, as much as they need us to say yes. Sure, small people will throw a tantrum. Indeed bigger ones will also try. Don't let their tactics scare you off from being the parent. It's not our job to keep them happy, in the sense that we should feel obliged to give in to everything they desire. It is our job to stick by our word. If our word is 'no' then let it be no. When I have had my children beg and plead because they didn't like my no, I was more inclined to stick with that no than ever. It's the stubborn streak that runs through the females of my mother's family. This kind of goes with "be the parent". It is not our job to be popular with our kids, or be their best friend. It is important that we be able to make good decisions for our kids and stick with them, despite their best efforts to persuade us otherwise. Whenever my children accused me of being the meanest mother I countered by insisting I was being the best mother. Actually I probably just agreed! "Yes, I am the meanest mother...that means I'm doing a good job". The poor babies had nowhere to go with that one! Be confident with your no and let your kids learn that disappointment is a part of life. Most of our "no's" are not spirit crushing, and they shouldn't be. But it is a normal part of life.
Are you paralysed by parenting fear, or do you parent confidently and fearlessly? What's your best tip for raising amazing kids?