The trouble with parenting is that you have no idea what you're getting into, until you're irrevocably INTO it. When you made those promises, you didn't imagine holding a screaming baby for hours, or dealing with a toddler who bites, or trying to get three kids out the door on time on a winter morning. You'd turn to books, but when your kids are small, it's hard to find the time to read anything, let alone some dry how-to-raise-amazing-kids-with-this-magical-three-step-process type of book.
Because here's the rub: There is no magic trick. Children don't come with instruction manuals, and the advice we get from our own parents, TVs latest guru, or well-meaning strangers doesn't often help, because your children are unique: they're YOURS.
The expectant mama...blissfully unaware.
But giving them lots of love is a good start. Setting reasonable boundaries, listening to them, tuning in to their needs, and giving them many opportunities to learn and explore safely take you further down the road to your goal of raising healthy human beings.
We can be so hard on ourselves. I reflect a lot, and wake up often in the middle of the night replaying a scene from the previous day, wondering what I could have done differently or better, worrying that I've irrevocably damaged my child's sense of trust or self-esteem (because I yelled at them in a moment of impatience, or said "No" too many times). I know that every parent loses their cool. But it seems the worst of ironies that we so often reprimand our children for impulsive behaviour, losing control, or being impatient when we are such good role models of these behaviours!
Innocent beauty and ultimate trust rolled into one sweet being.
About a year ago, I started reading Alfie Kohn's "Unconditional Parenting". Every once in awhile, you come across a book that just resonates with your soul, finds communion with your intuition, and reassures you that what you felt in your heart was just right. I don't recommend reading loads of parenting how-to books, as they can make it hard to figure out what YOUR stance is. You may sense what you feel is best, but it cab be challenging to articulate. People think you're wishy-washy, or airy-fairy, or artsy-fartsy. Yes, I've been called all of the above.
Patience and good role-modelling starts early.
I often found myself giving in to things my own parents said or did ("If you don't stop that right now, I'm turning this van around and we're NOT going to Aunt Lana's house!!") I cringe internally when I hear myself saying things like this: coercion, bribes, empty threats, "because I said so!" kind of statements. They just unsettle me, but in the heat of those moments where you're surrounded by screaming kids, or you're late for work, or overtired, sometimes you feel like you have no other option.
Learning to be human in this world.
Forget that these techniques actually don't do a whole lot. Ditto for timeouts. When my older children went through the hitting/biting stage, I'd give them a timeout. They'd do it again within an hour, and I'd give them another timeout. The next day I'd give them more. So...duh. Obviously the timeout doesn't work. Growing out of a stage does. By the time we had our third child, we started recognising developmental patterns and have eased up on the "discipline". Gentle reminders, distraction, and removing a toddler from a situation (without isolating them) seem to be more effective in the long run.
I finished reading "Unconditional Parenting" this morning, covering the part I'd been waiting for: alternatives to traditional parenting. Kohn doesn't offer a band-aid solution. He does, however, offer a beautiful list that will be posted on my refrigerator. This sang to my mother's soul:
1. Be reflective.
2. Reconsider your requests.
3. Keep your eye on the long-term goals.
4. Put the relationship first.
5. Change how you see, not just how you act.
7. Be authentic.
8. Talk less, ask more.
9. Keep their ages in mind.
10. Attribute to children the best possible motive consistent with the facts.
11. Don't stick your no's in unnecessarily.
12. Don't be rigid.
13. Don't be in a hurry.
Parenting is hard work. No one ever said it would be easy. It is overwhelming, underrated, unpaid, and often thankless.
But important? You betcha. Get thee to a bookstore and buy this book, then read it. It may confirm what you already know. It may support you in questioning those practices that you find unsettling. It will certainly open your mind, and perhaps give you some backup support when someone questions your approach.
You're wonderful. Your children are wonderful. And your relationship is so worth it.