Monday, January 07, 2008

What My Kids Have Taught Me About Parenting

Last Sunday at church, a member of the bishopric asked me what I had learned in my time as a stay-at-home mom. I think he was disappointed by my non-response to the motherhood question. All I could think of was that kids can survive on very very little food, but I don't think that was what he was looking for.

But I have learned a lot being a mom--a lot about myself and kids and life and marriage, and a lot about pretty mundane things, too, like organization and cooking. I think most moms have learned the same things, but I thought I would post a few of them anyway, and hopefully I can get some additional ideas back from you all. I sometimes feel like the tiny sidekick guy to Gaston in Beauty and the Beast when I give compliments, so I will take this opportunity to say that I really admire you guys as mothers and I often want to seek advice from you but feel embarrassed to ask (again, because I feel like I transform into that tiny guy). Ok, in no particular order:

1. Scary stories promote reverence:
Maybe I should use the word "exciting" instead of scary (less funny but more accurate). I learned this one from my dad, and it really works. (Audrey, this is how my dad subdued Owen when you gave your beautiful talk on Mother's Day.) Your toddler is getting noisy and rowdy in church, or throwing a public and humiliating tantrum? Choose a subject matter that is just thrilling enough without causing nightmares later (wolves, for my boy), and whisper a suspenseful tale involving your child and your chosen Thriller in his ear. These aren't stories of wolves ripping people's throats out or anything; they are usually good, misunderstood wolves seeking friendship. But there is always some suspense. Sure, Andrew now has a mild obsession with wolves. There are times when will be on the trampoline at my parents' house and he will suddenly spot a wolf, requiring us to run inside. But he is laughing as we run. He requests wolf stories all the time. (Have I ruined my credibility already?)

2. Kids are not born with blank slates:
Kids come with individual predispositions. Sure, we can mess positive predispositions up or improve negative ones, but we should curb the guilt or pride. They were just born that way.

3. People writing books on child care are in it for the money:
This does not mean that they do not have anything helpful to offer etc. On the contrary. But if you have read as many as I have, you will notice that they often attack each other's philosophies. Babywise folks think anyone who feeds their baby when he is hungry rather than three hours after the last feed is spoiling their child, while Dr Sears thinks the Babywise crowd and the Ferber people are failing to form a connection to their kids, and even that you risk causing 'baby depression' if you don't let your baby sleep in your bed. They get rich if their particular brand of parenting catches on. Read the books to get ideas, bearing in mind that the writers are trying to make a living. Then do what works for you and your family.

4. Buy a lot of your kids' clothes and toys from Thrift Stores:
But don't go too overboard. Things are so cheap that there is a temptation to buy a lot, but you can end up wasting money this way, and 3 dollars here and there does add up. The key is to be able to go to thrift stores often, since sometimes a trip will be fruitless. Also, go to the right thrift stores. The Treasure Trove in McLean is the most expensive one, but you can still find worthwhile purchases. Vienna and Falls Church, and the Goodwill in Arlington, are much better in price and variety. Cheapest of all are garage sales.

5. Have your child bid Farewell to his toy or activity to tear him away peacefully
This stops working as the kid gets older, but as long as it does work, it is a dream. It doesn't matter how engrossed your child is in that toy at the store; if you can get him to wave and say goodbye to it, suddenly he will be amenable to leaving it behind.

6. There is no such thing as nipple confusion
Start with pacifiers from day 1. (Unles your baby really is having a hard time nursing, but do the pacifiers sooner rather than later or the window will disappear.)

7. Even tiny kids can clean and help out. I think every kid should have a baby janitorial set. :)

8. Sleep Conditioning is Real
Some kids are naturally better sleepers than others, and some just require a little less or a little more sleep. No matter what brand of sleeper you have, he can be conditioned to stay up even later or go to bed at roughly the time you want. I probably should not say anything on this subject, since we are still trying to Take Back the Night from Andrew, but I have learned from negative experience that kids' bodies can get used to the amount of sleep they regularly get, and if they regularly don't get a lot, it will just get harder and harder to get them to sleep--I am referring to naps, too. (And by "getting used to" an amount of sleep, I don't mean that they won't be cranky necessarily. They will just be awake.)

9. A lot of tantrums come from boredom.
Andrew needs lots of outdoor time to run around, even when it is cold.

10. Breastfeed.
I hesitate to include this, since I know it is not possible or practical for some moms, and I don't mean to suggest that your baby's health or relationship with you will suffer some terrible blow if you don't nurse. It was just such a wonderful part of the mothering experience for me, and one that initially I thought would be very very hard, that I feel I should mention it. (If you hate it, obviously don't force yourself.)

11. Let them choose between two alternatives you are happy with
If Andrew fights me about putting on his coat, I then offer him another alternative acceptable to me and he can make a choice between the two. For some reason he never refuses both. This works with minor discipline, too. If he is running away, then the choice becomes whether he wants to run in the right direction or get carried (or stroller).

12. The amount of time matters
It takes a lot of quality time to make up for the quantity time you don't spend with your kids. I think the "quality time" thing is sometimes just a way to avoid feeling guilty for not being around your kids very much. The truth is, in my view, that kids just want and need to spend their ordinary, everyday moments of their little lives with their moms. That, in itself, is extraordinary, and it is what they will remember because it will be part of who they are.

I don't mean to be too predictably maudlin here, but the number 1 thing I have learned is that childhood passes so quickly, and babies become toddlers before you even realize it. This time won't last, so we've got to treasure it and not wish for the future and retirement. It will be here before we are ready.


Lyndsay said...

Pure gold, Alex! Reading this really intimidates me because I do have some opinions about parenting, but the task seems so daunting when I'm reminded of all of the different aspects of it! You sound like a stellar momma! I plan on printing this list out for future reference.

Jenny said...

Thanks, this is really helpful! These tips will definitely come in handy as Justin gets older. I've already found that some of them are true--like the myth of nipple confusion. We had not planned to give him a pacifier when he was first born, but we ended up giving him one the first night! I'm sure every baby is different, but Justin has always clearly distinguished between pacifier, nipple, and bottle. I really like what you said about quantity time. Justin is still so young that maybe this doesn't apply as much, but he seems to enjoy riding in the Baby Bjorn while I do laundry as much as he enjoys playtime. Even though children won't have many memories from these very early years, the interactions we have with them now are so crucial to their development.

Paul & Sarah said...

I had to laugh at your comment about scary stories promoting reverence. That is great. I'll have to remember that for tougher Sundays with Benjamin. Side note- I got called to teach in Primary, so now Benjamin has to go to Nursery! I think the Bishop was inspred. I had the most stress-free Sunday I've had in 19 months!
Oh, and it's so true about different child-rearing philosophies and children's personalities. There is no formula. I think we lucked out in finding a philosophy that worked for our kid, but I'm realistic. There's a good chance our other kids will be a lot harder to figure out!

Jacqueline Auna & family said...

I think you should write a book about childcare. You should write it for money but not solely for that purpose. : ) What you write is true! and wise and funny. Like you, my dad always said we came pre-packaged. I still need you to show me those fabulous thrift stores... (oh! scary stories promote reverence? I wish I had figured that one out, but there's still time! classic.)

Sister Abigail Cannon said...

Alexandra, I am so impressed with your thoughtful and wise insights. I feel blessed to have your rearing my precious grandsons! Love, Jan

Christensens said...

Woober, I love hearing your mothering insights, not least because I agree with so many of them! I've seen you in action and I know that you're a fabulous mother. I honestly don't know how you and so many other incredible moms with whom I come in contact juggle so many responsibilities with such grace. I miss you.

Alexandra said...

you guys are all so nice. i feel embarrassed. i hope someone someday will come along who can teach my kids how to take a compliment gracefully. thanks for not judging me for my "Scared Silent" approach to reverence.

woobers_mom said...

I think your dad's scary story involved a poor tiny little rabbit who was being--well, one can add one's own scary occurrence here. It rarely fails to subdue the active child into submission. So much for the power of the macabre.