It’s a bit daunting to be in charge of raising a tiny little person.
You go into the parenting thing determined never to make the mistakes your parents made or those your friends make, or those that the parent in the junk food aisle of the grocery store is making.
You’re going to exert every effort so that you can be perfect at this.
You have read all the books, taken all the classes, and you’re ready.
You will feed them all organic food, you will never let their sweet little eyes set their sights on a screen of any type, and you will have the perfect mixture of gentle discipline and sweet snuggles.
You will rationally talk through any poor behavior your child exhibits (though it probably won’t be necessary because they’re going to be perfect) and they will think, “Mommy is so right! Daddy is so wise! I’ll make better choices from now on,” and that will be that.
It’s going to be hard work, but you know you can do it.
Fast forward six years to the junk food aisle of the grocery store where your six year old is telling you how much she hates you and your two year old is screaming at the top of his lungs from the seat of the grocery cart while he uses his go go gadget arms to de-shelf every item that is within his ridiculously long reach.
How on earth did you get here? How is it that you are that parent you swore you’d never be?!?!? This is not how it is supposed to be!
The thing is, no one is perfect. We know that. We are human, and to be human is to have faults and limitations.
You are not going to be the perfect parent. I certainly am not. You are going to make mistakes.
To make matters worse, your perfect children are imperfect humans as well. Get more than one imperfect human in the same house and there’s bound to be some trouble.
Such is life.
Like everyone, I had plans to overcome my bad habits and my faults so as not to impart them upon the sweet, innocent children God has blessed me with.
I wasn’t going to let my temper or my impatience, my worry, or my stubbornness get the best of me when raising them.
Only it has. And I make mistakes. Lots of them. And all the time.
The thing I most hate about my parenting is when I yell.
I almost never yelled when I had just one child.
There was only one little person having a temper tantrum, refusing to eat her broccoli, or peeing in her underwear.
It was easier to take a deep breath and speak to her calmly and lovingly while clearly communicating that her behavior was wrong because I could usually stop and focus all my energy on only her.
Then I got pregnant. And I was so, so sick.
I even landed in the hospital a couple of times because the vomiting was so bad.
Any patience I once had was gone.
While I lay on the bed in the agony of pregnancy, I sat my three year old on my husband’s side and we watched princess movies on repeat while she bounced and giggled and danced, which made me feel awful so I yelled at her.
Then she started having accidents after a year of being diaper free (probably because I wasn’t paying as much attention to her) and I yelled at her for that.
When the baby was born, I hoped it would get better but my hormones were such a mess that I yelled at her then too.
Soon, everything evened out and I was myself again.
The yelling wasn’t so bad, but I was now split between two children and the yelling had become a habit.
It seems easier because it’s a whole lot quicker to holler, “LEAVE YOUR BROTHER ALONE” than to pull the children aside and calmly discuss their poor behavior and why it is inappropriate.
As the kids grew older, I’ve started having to yell over them just to be heard if they’re fighting.
Sigh. I’m imperfect. They’re imperfect.
We’re working on not yelling – all of us – and sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we fail.
The best solution that I’ve found to our yelling problem? Humility.
We may be a family that yells, but we are also a family that apologizes.
I apologize when I shouldn’t have yelled. My children, who follow my yelling example, also follow my lead and apologize to others.
I’m not proud of the yelling, but I am so proud to see that they are willing to admit when they have been wrong.
We also hug and snuggle. A lot.
When we’re all getting on each others nerves and our voices are rising and I realize the crazy cycle we’ve jumped on, nothing diffuses the madness like a hug.
I reach in while my daughter is screaming about how life isn’t fair and she hates her broccoli and I hug her and say, “I love you anyway. I love you even if you won’t eat your broccoli. I will love you even if you never eat your broccoli. I love you no matter what.”
That helps her feel safe within our storm of emotions.
When my son is throwing a two year old temper tantrum and pushes everyone away, I know this means he needs us near him the most.
Sometimes I leave him alone, but sometimes I come in close and hold those flailing arms and legs and kiss that angry red face and whisper in his ear that he is my favorite little boy and I will always be here for him even when he tells me to go away.
We are imperfect people. Yelling happens. But so does forgiveness. And love. And so many snuggles.
I’m also a bit of an OCD control freak.
This can be a huge problem because it hampers my children’s creativity.
For instance, I used to wipe my daughter’s hands and face after every bite of mashed carrots, but babies learn about textures and how to eat when you leave their hands messy and i was taking away some of her learning opportunities.
I used to categorize her books to my subject matter, but this led to my needing to control which books and toys she played with and when.
I used to meticulously put each barbie doll back into her original outfit when she was done playing with them, but my daughter was enjoying changing the outfits around and expressing her creativity by not following the “rules.”
Notice “used to” being the operative phrase here. Obviously, I found this type of lifestyle to be unsustainable.
However, I still find that there are times that I don’t let my kids get messy enough.
I still box toys according to “type” and get irritated when they’re mixed.
I still inwardly (and sometimes outwardly) freak out when different colors of play dough get mixed or when the paint brush doesn’t get washed when they change colors.
I’m trying to find the fine line between keeping the house organized and neat enough so that I can function (books on the shelf), and crazy sterility (categorizing and alphabetizing those books on a shelf).
Some days I let my OCD overpower my common sense and I won’t let certain toys leave certain rooms or let the throw pillows leave couches.
On those days I know that taking out paint or glitter glue probably won’t be a good idea because it will make me a bit insane which will lead to yelling.
Other days, I encourage the fort building and I welcome every pillow and blanket and cushion into the living room where my children make a gloriously creative mess.
Some days I allow my kids to jump in puddles and make mud pies. Other days I limit their play to patios and porches.
Kids should get messy. They should explore mixing paint and play dough colors. They should pull toys and gadgets and treasures of all different types together to allow their brains complete freedom of creation.
They should get their hands messy – really messy! This is the ideal. But some days, it’s just not within my ability to allow this.
I know that kids aren’t supposed to have much screen time: none before two years of age, and no more than one hour after they turn two.
I work so hard to keep my TV off (somehow keeping them off the phones and the iPad has never been an issue in my house), but I’m not going to lie: life is so much easier for me when they’re plugged into Disney Jr. for an hour or two throughout the day.
The fighting, the mess making, and the noise stop for those thirty minutes while I find my bearings, clean their messes, and prepare their next activities.
I wish I always limited them to one hour or less, but I don’t.
Some Most days, Netflix automatically dishes out another episode and I enjoy the quiet so much that I say, “Eh, go ahead. What could it hurt?” Then the next day, I clamp down on all electronics in an attempt to reverse any permanent brain damage I’ve already caused.
I struggle to allow my children to do things for themselves.
Kids learn best by doing.
The best way to teach them to clean, is by letting them clean. The best way for them to be able to use a fork is by using a fork. The best way for them to learn to draw a rainbow, is by letting them scribble all over the paper.
With my first child, I found myself doing for her a lot. I knew I shouldn’t, but sometimes I couldn’t resist.
I picked her clothing and put it on, long after she could do it herself. I picked up her toys until she was three years old. I folded her laundry until she was five.
But over time, I’ve not only begun allowing her and her brother to do things on their own because it’s the best way, but because my hands are just too full to do otherwise.
The thing is, letting her do it herself is actually more work for me.
When she cleans her room, she doesn’t necessarily put things where I want them to go. I often have to guide her through the task and then go back and fix it later.
When she does the dishes, I will probably need to re-scrub them.
When she “helps” me fold the laundry, she sometimes undoes the work I do and I need to go back and redo it.
But.. as she has gotten older and I’ve started just letting her do these things without help, I’ve discovered that a very capable and confident little girl lies underneath the toddler who left piles of wrinkled laundry in her wake.
Having already raised one toddler, I know that my two year old is capable of picking up his books. He can put dirty silverware in the dishwasher for me. He can wipe up his space at the table.
Sometimes, this means that the books are thrown into the bookshelf in a messy pile, his pants are on inside out, or that the water spill he was trying to clean has doubled in size, but man, you should see the look on his sweet little face when he realizes that Mommy trusted him to do it all by himself.
You should see how proud he is of his accomplishment.
Every time my kids do a task all by themselves, they become better at it and more confident about it.
One of the hardest things for me is removing some of the safety nets when my kids are playing.
I don’t do it nearly often enough.
I know it sounds crazy, but they need to experience a few falls, bumps, and scrapes in their lives.
It’s part of how they learn!
I’m not saying don’t protect them from the big stuff.
You don’t want your child to get seriously injured, but allowing them to learn by failing is one of the best lessons.
Let them roll down the hill. Let them hang upside down from the monkey bars. Let them run around on the pavement.
They will sometimes fall, but they will also get back up.
The falling teaches them about moving on past failures – which they will always have. It also teaches them, from experience, what is safe and what isn’t. Finally, it teaches them that it’s okay to take risks.
If we hover and protect our children too much, we rob them from this valuable insight that they can only gain with firsthand experience.
Another big problem with my parenting style is that I worry about the opinions of others.
What do they think of me? My parenting skills?
How do my children’s behaviors reflect back on whether or not I’m a good mom?
Will they think I’m neglectful if my daughter’s hair isn’t always perfectly combed? Will they think I have no control if I let her put on the striped shirt, polka dotted leggings, and flowered tutu she just has to wear?
Will they judge me if I let my child try and fail? Or if I don’t?
Sometimes, I’m over critical and over protective of my children because I’m letting the opinions of others guide my choices.
That’s a huge mistake and one I battle with on a daily basis.
Other times, I let my daughter wear the rainbows and footie pajamas to Walmart and she just beams with joy at the freedom.
My biggest parenting mistake is not spending enough time with my kids.
As I said, I can be OCD about neatness and organization. It’s really a defense mechanism.
I know that if I don’t keep on top of things, then I won’t be able to keep up with the never ending piles of dishes, laundry, and toys that overtake my house.
Sometimes, though, it’s important to say, “You know, honey, the dishes can wait. Let’s do that puzzle together,” or, “I can finish folding this later. Do you want to snuggle with a book?”
My kids just want to be with me.
They don’t want the latest toy or the coolest activity as much as they just want me, down on the ground, playing with chalk.
They don’t care about thoughtfully prepared, whole food dishes as much as they do about my listening to them.
I don’t do the latter enough. I always say I will but I don’t.
My “one minute, honeys” and “how about laters” come far too often.
My children will only be this little for so long.
At this age they require so much work and it’s exhausting, but one day I’ll miss the crying and the diapers and the messes.
While I have them and I’m surrounded by this crazy madness, I need to cherish it because beautiful things like tiny toddler hugs and little girl stories come with runny noses and mud stains on the floor.
It’s so easy to let guilt overtake us when we aren’t that perfect parent that we always envisioned ourselves to be one day.
But guilt just robs us of the joy of now.
We are going to make mistakes. There will be yelling, over-protectiveness, and control issues.
But there will also be hugs, game nights, and amazing conversations.
We can’t let the mistakes – that will happen – overshadow the beauty of the amazing gift of parenting.
We can learn from them, and continue to grow despite them.