Parenting: Things that seem to work

By Kari Patterson,
See her blog
Oregon mom

My husband often says he was an expert on marriage until he got married, then he was an expert on parenting until he had kids.  Isn’t that the truth!  It’s so easy to think we know something until we’re tossed in the middle of it without a paddle.  Nothing seems to reveals our lack of wisdom and expertise more than parenting. For whatever reason marriage kind of seems like common sense–don’t be selfish, put each other first, communicate, etc. etc.  Parenting is a whole other beast.  It often feels as though just when I get something implemented, I read or hear that I’m doing it wrong.  And every person and book seems to have a different opinion. Confusing! …So since we’re in the middle of it, I know I don’t have the perspective of the older wiser moms, but here are some recent things that have been helpful to us–the things that seem to work.  These are tidbits either stumbled upon in the laboratory of life, or gleaned from the older moms who have gone ahead and graciously shared their wisdom from the dirty diaper days. I figured I better hurry and write them down before I forget.

1. Fill them up first. I had this all backwards. I wanted Dutch to learn delayed gratification, so I thought I should help him understand that the family’s needs come first, then his.  However, someone helped me see that if I just took the time to fill him up first (with love and attention), he’d be surprisingly satisfied and consistently behave better.  This is very true with Dutch.  I’ve been amazed to see that if I spend the entire morning playing, down on the floor, reading books, giving him one-on-one time, he’s better behaved all day. When Jeff gets home, if he gives all his attention to the kids, they get filled up and are less needy during the evening. (Same goes for bedtime)

2. Selfishness leads to blurred boundaries.
What I mean by this is that I’ve found that when I’m walking in the middle of God’s will, in a selfless, other’s-centered manner, I am confident and clear about discipline boundaries and it’s much easier to carry them out.  When I’m being selfish and just wanting me-time or I’m irritated by the kids I’m no longer freed to carry out the clear, confident,and consistent discipline my kids need.  For example, there are times that I need to go to the store, very clearly because our family needs something or other, or I’m running an errand for Jeff, etc.  I find that these times I’m clear, confident, consistent with expectations, and I can handle the kids well. Other times I just am irritated and tired and want to get out of the house and can’t stand another minute of playing trucks on the floor so Target sounds like a good way out.  But deep down I know I’m being selfish and putting myself above my family–and that guilt prevents me from disciplining effectively because I have this nagging sense that the kids are acting out because they don’t want to be there and why should I expect them to not be selfish when I’m being selfish.  See what I mean?  Selfishness messes it all up!

3. Say Yes as often as you can. This was a tidbit I picked up at a parenting class last week.  The speaker was making the point that we have to be 100% consistent with follow-up in discipline, so we’d better make sure that if we say “no” that we’re prepared to follow up.  This means let’s make our no’s as scarce as we can (and still maintain the boundaries we desire).  Save no’s for when it really counts! This has played out in the fact that Dutch LOVES taking baths with all his ocean animals. He must ask for a bath 5 times a day.  Well, why not?  Is there really harm in 5 baths?  Want to play in the backyard in bare feet?  Fine.  Everybody has to get stung once, right?  Want to wear your sister’s  pink flowered underpants over your shorts (this was yesterday). Who cares?!  There are bigger fish to fry.  I’m learning to save my No’s.

4. Routine routine routine. Boy oh boy, we are so influenced by expectations, aren’t we?  So much of marriage boils down to having the right expectations. Kids are the same!  And, so many of the difficulties we were experiencing, I believe, came down to none of us really knowing what to expect each day.  So about a month ago we started our nightly Family Routine, thanks to the initiative of my husband.  Dutch loves every component and calls them all by name.  Here’s how it goes: Every night we can expect (with grace extended of course) Jeff to come home in a certain time range.  Then we have “Family dinner”. Dutch sets the table.  We use napkins (!).  Every night we have “Family dessert” after dinner, which is usually just a cookie, but we put whipped cream on top and serve it on a dish with a spoon so it looks fancy.  Then Jeff plays with the kids while I clean the kitchen (happily! I’m kidded-out at this point).  Then at 6:30 we have “Family Bath”–both kids in the big tub, soaking, splashing, all of us playing.  Great fun. Then at 7 Heidi goes down and Dutch gets his very own special 30 minutes of “Family Snuggle”, which is Bible reading time, lessons, highlights of the day, then we all pray for each other, which is the best part of my day hearing my son in his little sing-song voice say, “How can I pray for you, Mommy?”  Tonight he prayed that I would have a happy heart forever and ever.  Awww….  Then the last thing is that he gets a “Shark movie” every night (a 5 minute clip off vimeo of some kind of ocean animal documentary).  Then bed.  Of course this is never done perfectly, but having an expected routine each night seems to help the kids immensely.  And of course, it helps me immensely too.

5. Set them up for success. I’d heard this before, but it’s really starting to click.  This obviously doesn’t mean we always make things easy for kids, but we give them the tools they need to succeed.  A friend was sharing that every week before church they go over, with their son, what he can say if he’s having a hard situation in his preschool Sunday school class. So now, on the drive to church we go through all the scenarios: “What do you say and do if someone takes your train? What do you say if you want another snack? What do you do when Teacher asks you to sit down?  What do you do if someone hits you?”  I’m surprised how much Dutch likes doing this.   And of course it melted my heart when I overheard a boy say something naughty and Dutch said, “Please don’t say that. You don’t have to have be sad.”  Ok sorry, that was bragging–usually my kid is the one being naughty so just let me boast for half a second!

This has really been huge–giving Dutch “life secrets” for how to make things go better.  There is no better feeling that seeing Dutch actually use some of these life secrets and enjoy those little confidence-boosting successes. Go Dutch!

6. Mean what you say.
It’s so easy to just blab something when I’m frustrated, without thinking it through beforehand. This takes so much energy, but it’s so worth it–to mean what you say!  Of course this mostly plays out in discipline. If I say no but then change my mind after he whines, I’m teaching him that I don’t really mean what I say (and am training him to whine).  But this doesn’t just play out in discipline.   How often have I said, when Dutch is asking me if I’ll read a book, “Yes, Dutch I’m coming!”, when all the while I’m really hurriedly wiping the counters or making quick cup of tea or trying to sweep the floor.  If I’m coming–I better come. If I’m making tea before I come, then I need to say, “Dutch, I’m making a cup of tea and then I will be there.”  Otherwise he won’t listen to what I say because my words don’t mean anything.

So these six things have been immensely encouraging to us in our daily work of training, shaping, loving, and shepherding our two little lambs.  If you have a golden nugget of wisdom that has carried you through the early parenting years, I’d love to hear it. Another piece of advice was to get plenty of sleep, so I’m off to bed.  Goodnight.