Friday, September 9, 2011

You're A Parent Now--Don't Eff It Up

Although I don’t get to do it a lot, I love talking to other moms—or at least eavesdropping on their conversations—because I often feel clueless about kid-related issues. What can I feed David Baby? Where can I buy reasonably priced baby clothes? Is it normal for my 3-yr old to tell me that she wants to “hit me and put me in a fishtank?” (Answers: Almost anything he is able to chew and swallow; H&M; No, she’s destined to be a serial killer).

Some answers, however, are harder to come by. Very little about parenting is instinctive. Also, unless you gush, "I just love everything about it," or "It's the best thing that ever happened to me" no one wants to hear how conflicted you feel because it's hard for them to know how to respond.  We learn a lot from the way WE were parented as children. Great if you had enlightened, unflappable parents who set appropriate limits that enabled you to reach your full potential as a productive, happy human being. Not so good if you happen to have had a messy, somewhat dysfunctional upbringing by two average people who meant well but should have both been on anti-anxiety medication. I suspect that most people fall into the latter group!

What you discover about being the parent you would like to be is that it is very hard. Life gets in the way. The weather, your spouse, and your 2-yr old seem to be conspiring against you to sabotage your best efforts to hold it all together. The problem with this view is that life is just as it is; there is no grand conspiracy. The one aspect I know I can improve is my perspective. It is so hard, but very worth it.

The book that has altered my perception is Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, by Becky A. Bailey, Ph.D. I only just started reading it, and already several key tenets are helping me mend my conflict-wrought relationship with my 3-yr old daughter:

To discipline means to teach. It does not mean to cajole, threaten, or punish. Approach conflict as an opportunity to help your child learn a skill that will personally serve her best interests in the long run.

Discipline yourself first, then your children. As an adult, I realized how little self-control I exercise and how much my children witness this unpleasant aspect of my character! In my case, it manifests itself in how I react to life’s daily inconveniences: being stuck behind a slow, stupid driver; or having to wait for my low blood sugar to rise at the most inconvenient time; or suffering a perceived social slight. After I recognized that MY reactions often mirrored those of my toddler in their extreme nature, I immediately began to re-examine my worldview. It will take longer than to finish a chapter to do this, but I welcome the challenge to genuinely grow into a positive role model for my children.

When you are upset, you are always focused on what you don’t want. How can you facilitate your child’s positive behavior rather than telling him what you DON’T want him to do?

I started reading this book a week ago; my relationship with my daughter has already brought me more joy than it has in a year. She has not changed, but my perspective has begun to shift. It is not about being more permissive but rather about setting parameters without using bribes, threats, and ostracism—none of which were working, anyway.

No sewing projects to speak of. Who has time to sew when you're trying to improve yourself? I am taking a class this Sunday to make a pair of adult pajama pants (er, I mean loungewear), so we’ll see how that goes.

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