Before we go further, let's be clear:
Kent and I don't have this parenting thing down by any means. For one thing, we're both yellers, even though we know it's not exactly productive. As a matter of fact I just yelled at our almost 10 year old daughter 30 seconds ago because she wants her Nintendo DS back (I made it disappear yesterday when she wasn't cleaning her room like I asked and instead was playing her video game) and she was throwing a little fit in front of me. I told her, loudly, “I'm trying to get some work done!” and sent her to Kent so he could deal with her fit. (He loves it when I do that, as you can imagine.)
So even though perfection is no where in sight, when you have four kids (and do day care for over 20 years) you do learn a few things here and there. Those of you with kids, I'm sure you've also learned a few tricks. I hope you'll share your favorite tips for preserving your mental health as you go down this parenting road. (I'm especially interested in how those of you with really big families stay sane.)
Both of the tips I'll share came out of a conversation between a friend, Ann Marie and I last week regarding her 4 year old daughter, Kate…
I'm pretty sure that many of you will disagree with my approach, but here goes…
Do I Have to Play with My Kids?
My short answer is this: play something with them, but only play what you personally enjoy.
Here’s the long answer…
Ann Marie said Kate begs her to get in the bath with her so they can play Barbies.
I told her, “Wow, there’s no way I’d ever do that, what torture!”
She said in complete shock, “Really?!”
“No way. At bath time my kids get measuring cups, turkey basters and maybe a sibling if there’s one available, but not me. If I’m going to take a bath, it’ll be alone or with a good book. And as far as playing Barbies, that’s what they have friends for. I’d rather be shot in the foot than sit and play Barbies. The rare times I’ve done it to be ‘nice’, they always said I wasn’t ‘playing right’ anyway.”
I remember a similar conversation a few years ago with my friend, Sonia. Her boys always had her down on the floor playing GI Joe. Of course she never ‘played right’ either. I couldn’t believe there were parents out there who could do this without going insane.
One day it came up and when I told her I didn’t do that, she couldn’t believe that this wasn’t some sort of ‘required’ parental duty, even though she hated it.
I told them both: “I love reading books with the kids, playing outside, playing games (especially this one or this one!), watching movies, or taking them to various fun places now and then, so those are the types of things we do together. But pretend play on the floor? No way. I’m happy to invite their friends over for that, since I know how important pretend play is to their growing brains, but I’m not doing it.”
Both Ann Marie and Sonia had this sound of freedom in their voice when they said, “Wow! I always thought I had to do that with them, but I really can’t stand it!”
So for all you parents out there who need permission not to play that way with your kids, here it is. Now if you do enjoy pretend playing with your kids, great. Maybe it’s board games that make your skin crawl. Whatever it is that you enjoy with your kids, do that. Do something fun with them as often as possible, but don’t suffer through the stuff you hate, they'll catch on to how you really feel anyway.
It’s kind of ironic that I was giving Ann Marie bedtime advice recently, when we don’t exactly have blissful bedtimes around here either. It’s a constant work in progress, wouldn’t you all agree? But apparently my advice helped her and Seth get their evenings back, so I’m glad I could help.
She told me that she’s been lying down with Kate every night in order to get her to settle down and go to sleep. I said, “Doesn’t that drive you crazy, and make you resentful toward her, when you know you have stuff you could be doing?!” I told her about when our now 12 year old was a toddler and we went through nighttime torture for months with him. There was nothing that worked to help him fall asleep. (Now I know it was because of what we were feeding him!)
When he finally got through that horrendous stage, and we’d have all the kids sleeping by 9:00 with a quiet house, we’d look at each other and say, “Wow, so this is what it’s like to have peace in the evenings.”
Here’s What I Suggested
Before bedtime, sit her down for a little chat. She’s 4 and plenty old enough to understand what you’ll be saying to her. They’re so much smarter than we give them credit for. Your conversation can go something like this, and it all has to be in a calm, matter-of-fact voice, like it’s no big deal. Use an upbeat, but clearly non-negotiable tone…
“Kate, you’re 4, so you’re going to start going to bed like a big girl from now on. Mommy isn’t going to lie down with you at bedtime anymore because I’m going to be out here doing my work. Before bedtime we’ll get a snack and a drink of water and go potty, so once you’re in bed you won’t need to get up for anything.
We’ll read a story together and then I’ll tuck you in. You can look at books in your bed if you’d like, but you may not get out of your bed. If you’re quiet, we’ll leave the door open, but if you fuss, Mommy will shut the door because I’ll be working.
Now here’s the deal… (use your excited voice here) If you’re a good girl and stay in your bed, then the next day we’ll get to (insert reward here — go to the park, get ice cream, make a craft, whatever) together! But here’s the thing, (use a matter-of-fact, what-a-bummer voice here), if you decide not to stay in your bed or Mommy ends up having to lie down with you again, that will be a bummer, and we won’t get to (whatever your reward was), and you know what else? Not only will we NOT get to (reward), you also will (insert consequence here, like not get to watch ANY TV the next day or play video games or have a friend over or whatever they love that you can take away). (Insert excited voice here again…)
But I think you’ll make a good choice and make Mommy & Daddy so proud! Because you will love (reward), won’t you?!”
Warning: They will Test You
So that’s basically it, but here are the extra warnings I gave Ann Marie…
1. Plan on them testing you, maybe every night for a month, maybe only one or two nights, but they’ll test you, because that’s what kids do. If you want this to work, you MUST follow through on your rewards and consequences. And THAT will be the hard work for you as a parent. I don’t know about you, but I’m lazy. I don’t LIKE following through with punishment because I get sick of the whining and the fits, but if you don’t follow through, just plan on your kids having you wrapped around their finger forever.
2. When they test you, keep that matter-of-fact voice going and say things like, “Oh bummer, it’s too bad that you made that choice. Oh well, now we can’t (go get ice cream) tomorrow and you (won’t get to watch TV, not even one show), oh well, maybe tomorrow at bedtime you’ll make a better choice.” All day long when they whine to you, repeat that same phrase over and over like a broken record. It will drive them crazy and you’ll enjoy this, trust me!
3. Remember, if you don’t keep a nice calm voice and instead get all emotional or yell, then it makes them feel like you aren’t in control and can’t handle the situation; but if you keep your cool and let them see how their choices can change things one way or the other, for better or for worse, they will come around. (I need to remind myself often of that part about not yelling…)
4. What happens around here is that we’ll get things under control, and slowly we get lazy. Then we’ll realize they’re “playing us” again, so we reign them back in, and become all hard-core on the discipline for a while until they see that they’re not in charge, and then we can level off ’til the whole cycle starts over. If we didn’t get lazy that wouldn’t happen over and over, but we just do.
5. Remember, kids crave the security that discipline gives them. They act like they want to be in charge because testing is what they naturally do, but what they really need is the security of knowing that their parents are in control. Disciplining our kids and teaching them healthy boundaries in life is important for so many reasons. It’s what is necessary for healthy brain connections to form so they can grow up to be respectful and productive human beings. It also builds the groundwork for learning to respect authority in the future (having a boss, etc.), and lastly, if we can help our kids learn about self-discipline early on, imagine the implications for their future. Or conversely, look at the problems in our world, how many of them stem from a lack of self-discipline? Instead of letting their every desire control them (eating crap vs. eating well, sitting on the couch vs. going for a walk, staying in bed vs. going to work, closing their mouth vs. spouting venom at their spouse, wow, we could go on and on…), if they can learn self-control, it will preserve their health, jobs, relationships, and more. Even as adults, for myself anyway, I still need to get better and learn more about self-discipline!
Where I Learned These Tips
I’d have to say that there were 4 main ways that Kent and I developed our parenting arsenal:
1. From our own families – the way our parents raised us and how we watched our siblings raise their kids, these obviously had an impact.
2. My girlfriends have given me great tips through the years as they’ve learned and read things and used trial and error — we need each other!
3. For years I listened to and read all Dr. James Dobson resources that I could get my hands on.
4. Good ol’ experience. And remember, imperfection only means you’re human, not that you stink as a parent, although I do feel that way often!
Parenting is much more difficult than I expected. More wonderful and rewarding, too. But wow, kids really do know how to push your buttons if you let them.
What Are Your Favorite Parenting Tips and Where Did You Learn Them?
Please share your thoughts in the comments.
A couple resources mentioned today:
- As I said, for years I listened to and read all the Dr. James Dobson resources that I could get my hands on and learned a lot that way.
- Recently I bought this Kevin Leman book, Have a New Kid by Friday but haven't even picked it up yet. Kent read the whole thing and said it basically reinforces what we already know: you can't be lazy, you have to follow through, etc.
What are your favorite parenting tips and how did you learn them?