Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. – Khalil Gibran
I’ll be the first one to admit that I am not the world’s best parent and that I really shouldn’t have a say in how you bring up your kids. But I will tell you this, you are not alone. You aren’t just handed a baby without the adequate tools to take care of him/her. Some of it is instinct that you are born with and switches on the moment you hold your baby for the first time and some of it you have to acquire.
In the days that I was a young mother, blundering around, not knowing the first thing about parenting – I did get guidance. I simply did not know it then. I did not know it till I started writing this post. I cribbed about being far away from home and not having access to my Mom’s wisdom on raising babies. I think I was too busy cribbing to see that all I needed was being provided to me. I started getting a free issue of “Parenting” magazine every month. It covered everything from diaper rash to car seats. When the kids got older and behavioral issues started coming up I would watch the show “Super Nanny” on TV. Jo handled everything from bedtime troubles to sassy-mouthed babes. And after seeing those kids and the kinda hell they made their parents live in, I felt I was blessed with two little angels!
All said and done you can’t really apply everything you read in a magazine or see on TV to your specific scenario. I didn’t agree with things like making your child cry herself to sleep so you could have your queen-sized bed all to yourself. Our kids slept with us until they were 2 and 4. Sometimes I broke the rules, spanked my kids. Sometimes I did something and I knew instantly that I was doing something that worked for my kids and me. Now when I look back I think most of what I learnt was by trial and error. It’s like feeding your baby a new food. When you start off you don’t know which one will end up being your baby’s favorite or which one your baby will spit out every time! Same goes with discipline. Some of it will work, some of it won’t. But that doesn’t mean you abandon discipline. You just try a new way. You know you are doing the right thing when your method is:
a. Easy to implement
b. Does not result in drama (from the kids or from you!)
c. Everybody is happy in the end. Kids don’t say – No fair! You don’t think they got off easily.
Some of you just want to love your children and leave the disciplining out of the picture. Bad idea! The earlier you teach your kids the law of cause and effect or the law of Karma the better. This law exists whether you believe in it or not. Like gravity. Kids need to know that what they say or do has an impact on someone or something. When you give time-outs or ground your child for bad behavior, you are letting him know that bad behavior will not be rewarded or tolerated.
I didn’t always use time-outs or grounding. I yelled, I screamed, I threatened and spanked. I cringe when I think of some of things I have done and I am deeply ashamed of them. One day it dawned on me that here I was telling them not to yell at someone, not to hit someone in a rage, not to threaten, when I was doing all of the above. I needed to be a good role model for my kids. I needed to be the person I wanted them to be. Some parents say – I want you to better than me – and try to justify some of the bad habits they are into. That just doesn’t work. Kids neeed you to be honest with yourself and honest in your dealings with them.
Set the expectation
Kids sometimes don’t know how to behave or don’t know what is expected of them. So why wait till your child starts running around in the parking lot or starts a scene in the library reference room. Before you step out of the house tell your child – the library is a place to be quiet. Remind them again in the car. Prevention is better than a wild child running loose!
Honor your child’s uniqueness
Every child comes with a blueprint to navigate life. We sometimes forget that. We want to live through our children and push them to achieve. It starts when they are babies. We put them on a clock and compare them to every other baby around. 4 months – solid food. 6 months – sit up. 8 months – crawl. 10 months -walk. God forbid your child doesn’t meet those deadlines – you panic, think something is wrong with them and rush them to the doctor. Believe me when I say I have been down that road. God gave me babies that missed most of the milestones by at least a month. Neither of them walked on their first birthday. Potty training did not happen on my schedule. All of it made me think I was not a good parent. Now at the ages of 7 and 9 both of them know how to use the bathroom and it doesn’t matter whether they got potty trained at 15 months or 3 years! Again the rule here is not to stress yourself and your baby. Your child will eventually walk, talk and do all the stuff they are supposed to do. Just enjoy the ride and don’t put childhood on a schedule. Don’t impose.
To be a good role model, to discipline your child and most of all love your child, you need to be there for him/her. When I say be there I mean be there without your cellphone and with the TV and laptop switched off. Your child needs you. The more one-on-one time you spend with them the happier they are. You are their sun, their world, their Milky Way, their everything. Let the phone keep ringing and go to voice mail, let the dishes soak. Just spend some time with your child. Totally present. Totally attentive. Your child will be happier. You will be happier. Cos they won’t be clinging to your legs while you are trying to cook or do the laundry.
It takes a village to raise a child
So true! So don’t sit around the house with your schedule revolving around you and your child. It always helps to connect with other moms and dads. Share your stories of triumph. Share knowledge that you have gained through experience. These days you even have support groups on Facebook. Something I didn’t have way back then. I had to go visit my friends so my babies didn’t get stranger anxiety (unheard of in India!). It also gave me a chance to vent.
I don’t want you to agree with me on this one, I want you to challenge what I have shared and share what has worked for you. What was your most challenging moment as a parent? If you don’t have kids, what bugs you the most about kids that just won’t behave?