Parenting- My Outlook

I was going to write a post that was an update on Hula Girl and Gelato… but it ended up with me rambling on and on about Jonathan’s and my parenting and why we’ve chosen to do what we do and how we plan to go about parenting in the future. So enjoy my philosophical look at parenting.

Hula Girl is almost 23 months old. That’s one month less than two years old. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Seriously, this girl is getting old quick. Soon she’s going to be riding a bike… getting her license… going off to college… getting married… (Well, who am I kidding? She’ll never be able to go to college OR get married- we simply won’t be able to afford it by the time she’s ready! Sorry, Hula Girl!) 🙂 I have been doing a lot of reminiscing and looking forward to other ages and stages in her life lately. It’s kind of fun to click through Amazon, looking for birthday gift ideas for a two-year-old. I mean, she is ready for some big-girl toys, like a low-to-the-ground tricycle (complete with helmet!) and a play kitchen and a dump truck for her sandbox! It’s hard to imagine all the things she’s going to create and pretend in the very near future, but pretend play is definitely on its way in!

I write all the time about how smart she is and how fast her language is developing, so I won’t bore you with all the details today. Suffice it to say, I’m pretty sure she’s going to keep her teachers busy!

But today, I want to discuss her behavior. Ah, yes, her tantrum-throwing, two-year-old self-centered behavior. And I want to emphasize, it really isn’t that bad! I read blogs and articles and posts on Babycenter all the time from moms whose kids are running amok. Maybe things will be different for us when Hula Girl isn’t the only young’un in the house, or maybe we were blessed with Uuber Obedient Girl, or maybe all the prayers, thought, effort, and time we’ve put into developing our own parenting style have actually produced the desired effect.

Now, before we go and say that my kid is 100% delightful and perfect, let’s acknowledge something here. She’s two. And two-year-olds aren’t perfect. They disobey, they scream, they cry when they don’t get their way. They’re stubborn, they’re loud, they’re greedy. They are in such need of guidance, patience, and grace. And fortunately, many parents are willing and able to extend that priceless combination daily. Their kids are okay! I would consider Jonathan and myself to be in that group of parents. One of our goals is to provide Hula Girl with the proper amount of guidance, patience, and grace, so that she, in turn, can grow up to be confident, patient, and kind.

But let me tell you- it is imperative for us to impress upon her the need for Jesus in her life. Our number one goal in parenting is to point our children to their Heavenly Father and to encourage and foster a relationship with Him. If we fail in this, we have failed as parents. To that end, we make sure to include prayer, Bible reading (well, she has a Bible book that has biblical stories and principles laid out simply for toddlers to understand), and discussion about Jesus’ life in our daily routine. We also encourage each other (in front of her) to live with integrity, compassion, and faith. We try to model a relationship with God and talk to her about why we make the decisions we make. And we choose parenting styles and techniques that we feel emphasize and reflect the “parenting” we all receive as God’s children.

I have received a lot of positive feedback lately from some ladies in an online parenting group I belong to and help moderate. On many separate occasions, the moms have emailed me, sent me facebook messages, and thanked me in the group posts for the advice I’ve given. The general message has been, “You’re such a great mom! You always seem to have the perfect answer for dealing with any problem. I hope I can be like you someday!”

Um, wow, that’s… blush-worthy. Seriously, if these ladies knew me in person, they’d realize how much WORK, EFFORT, STUDY, RESEARCH, PRAYER, TEARS, and FRUSTRATION it has taken me to get to this point in mommy-hood. Because, honestly, I’m kind of a really disorganized, forgetful, interpersonally clumsy, spontaneous type of person. Really. I mean, I like a plan, I like a schedule, I like a list. But without them, I’m DOOMED. I’m also terrible at making and keeping friends (hence, I have, like, none), and I’m really bad at telling other people why I do what I do. The last two sentences equate to the fact that me being a moderator on this online board has been a challenge for me.

As I pointed out to one of the moms in response to her email, my involvement with the group for over 21 months now plus my teaching experience plus my general common sense has led to me answering questions the way I do and being able to find solutions that seem simple. It really isn’t that I’m naturally gifted in Mommying. It’s also not really a hidden superpower that only some women possess. Being a “good parent” has multiple definitions, but mine is simple. If you can respond to your child’s tantrums in love even when you’ve had the roughest day of your life, you are a good parent.

And that’s another thing. There are sooooo many moms who struggle with feeling like their best isn’t good enough. They try so hard to parent by-the-book (whatever book they’ve chosen, and we all know parenting books are never 100% accurate or correct), and when any little thing goes awry, they feel like total and miserable failures. (I say “they” but I really mean  “we.” BTDT, got the T-shirt.) They are hard on themselves and feel like nothing will ever go right, so they ask for advice over every little parenting decision- “Should I stop swaddling now, at 26 weeks? Or is it better to wait until he’s 27 weeks old?” “Should we switch to a sippy cup before switching to whole milk, or switch to whole milk and then transition to a sippy?” “Should we have 3 hours of waketime before bed, or 4?” “Should I spank my daughter for this, or just give her a time out?”

Not to say that each and every one of these situations aren’t stress-inducing at some level or another. For realz, change is not easy for humans. Period. That’s why a lot of the baby/toddler years are fraught with worry and stress, not only on the part of the child going through the change, but on the part of the parents, who’ve gone from being totally free to make whatever decisions, whenever, to being totally tied down and having a brand new life utterly dependent on them, whose entire being is influenced by every decision they make! Yeah, it’s kinda stressful.

That’s why it’s absolutely necessary for any good parent to have a strong sense of confidence, consistency, and patience. When a parent is confident, the child who is disciplined will not be able to “win” because the parent will not waver. When a parent is consistent, the child who is disciplined will understand the discipline because the parent never wavers! When a parent is patient, the child is free to make mistakes as many times as it takes to “get it”- although we hope that this number will be quite small.

So, back to Hula Girl. Here’s an example of a parenting technique that we’ve adopted, and how well it works for her:

The other day, she was absolutely convinced that we needed to read her “Search and Find” book before nap. The thing is, there are not really any words for Mommy to read- just pictures to point to and talk about. That’s not really nap-like in my mind, so I told her we’d have to put away the “Search and Find” book. That really made Hula Girl upset. All the sudden, I had an almost-two-year-old falling down on the stairs and crying her little heart out because Mommy is so unfair. (I should mention that I think it’s great that she actually just started crying instead of trying to argue. It shows that I have been consistent enough in my decision making for her to know that arguing is not going to change Mommy’s mind. Score one for Mommy.) Now, I had two choices. First, I could have just picked her up, ignored the tantrum, walked her upstairs, gotten her ready for nap, and tucked her into her bed, sobbing. It would save me time getting her to bed! Second, I could have gotten down on her level, showed her some empathy, and reflected her emotions on my face and in my tone of voice until she calmed down enough to walk upstairs on her own. It would cost us 10-15 minutes extra time (crucial time before nap, too, since she was already cranky), but it would guarantee that she went down for nap calmly.

I chose option 2. I sat down on the stair right next to her, hugged her, and said, “I know it is so sad when we like a book but we have to put it away. We have a hard time doing that, don’t we?” “Yeaaahhh!” “Mommy needs you to pick a different book now so I can read to you before you have a nap. You can look at your ‘Search and Find’ book once you wake up.” She sniffled, whimpered, and wiped her nose. Then she walked up the stairs, got a book, and we went on with the naptime routine. As soon as naptime was over, I came into her room with the “Search and Find” book, handed it to her, and she beamed as she flipped through its pages in her crib for an extra thirty minutes. (Again, consistency and integrity mandated that I bring the book as soon as she woke up. I work extremely hard to remember every little promise I make to her- I want her to be able to trust me completely, since that’s they way she will need to learn to trust God someday.)

Using empathy like that at the beginning of every little episode has been SO much more work, but it has also been SO worth every little iota of strength required from me (and Jonathan). My child may cry, my child may still want her own way, but every time she is faced with a tough choice or situation, she knows that Mommy and Daddy are there to support her and to comfort her while she goes through it. I mean it with all my heart when I tell her that I will be there for her to love her and help her in every circumstance in life. We are practicing now, when the stakes are small, so that later, when the stakes are much higher, she will know who she can trust, who will guide her lovingly, and who will encourage her to make the right decision.

A couple of people have asked me what parenting books I’ve read and used when raising Hula Girl. I won’t say that I agree with any of these 100%, but I will say that they have been the most influential in guiding my thinking and decision making. I’m also interested in reading a few more, but I don’t want to inundate my brain with extraneous information. So, here’s what I’ve read and implemented (so far): Babywise, Babywise II, Pre-Toddler Wise, Toddler Wise, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, The Baby Whisperer Solves all your Problems, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers, and  Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood. L&L Magic for Early Childhood is my favorite, by far. 🙂

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