And here is a link to our last ABC612 Parenting Panel of the year, containing a rerun of my favourite bit of the whole year, when Brad the Traffic Guy read my parenting traffic update.
Well? Come on, do you know? I am yet to come up with a good answer. I really have no idea. I watched a TV show recently about women who are child free by choice (like this is supposed to be some kind of unbelievable phenomenon). These exceptionally sensible women reported that they were often considered selfish, selfish, I’ll say it again, SELFISH, for not having kids. I can’t think of anything more responsible, honest, selfless and utterly judicious than knowing you don’t want kids and subsequently deciding not to have any. I can’t think of a more RIGHT decision than that. And there is something about that term child FREE that is just enticing.
I think I fell into having kids. I can’t remember deciding. I wonder if that is the case for lots of people. Some say to wait until the time is right. Some say the time will never be right. Some say don’t wait too long. Some say don’t do it unless you’re sure. I think I just did it because that was the next thing. I think yes, I did want kids but I am not sure I ever thought about why. I think if you thought too much about why to have kids and all that it would encompass, nobody would ever do it. I would never wish my three little personalities away now that I know and love them, but I do think about the life I would have if we had decided not to procreate. We would certainly be travelling more. I would have seen way more movies, read way more books, eaten way more fancy dinners in schmancy restaurants. I might even have an extra degree by now. I would sure as hell have more disposable income. But how would my relationship be different if we had no kids? Would there be a lingering regret? Would one of us resent the other for not being more enthusiastic about the idea of children? Would we be just fine or would there be a three leafed hole where our boys were supposed to be?
I don’t want my life to be any different to the way it is right now. I do not have any good answer to explain why I had kids. I am not even sure I’d recommend it. Maybe it’s fine to go ahead and pop a few out if you re thinking it might be nice but aren’t sure why. I like my kids heaps and I wouldn’t give them away for quids. But having kids is not THE ultimate completion of life and humanity. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever done and it isn’t why I live and breathe. Women who choose not to have kids are not only perfectly normal, I’d hazard a guess that they are possibly even a little more mentally stable than the rest of us.
A difficult topic this week. Parents of bullied children want bullies stopped with a magic bullet. When/if the time comes that my child is the victim of a bully I’ll be that parent too. I’ll want the bully excluded, the family taken to task and my child protected at any cost. If I knew how to stop the bully, I’d be making a lot more money than I am now. All I know is that I do have a plan for my own kids and I have given it a lot of thought. For what it’s worth, here’s my theory. I don’t believe the bully has anywhere to go if he or she has nobody to bully. I believe that bullies bully because somebody picks up the other end of the tug-of-war rope. That’s not to say that the victim is in any way responsible. What I mean is that the bully gets a reaction. That may be fear, tears, a fightback, some kind of reward that sustains the behaviour. I gently and respectfully put my view here, as I am aware of the unthinkable pain that some families have experienced because of bullying, and I know that for many my words will be a hollow sound. I haven’t walked in your shoes. Here is my plan to build resilience in my kids. I have no power over who they will encounter in their lives, but I can teach.
1. Understand that you can’t change the behaviour of others.
If they understand this, they may understand that the power is in their own hands only. They either change their own behaviour, environment or reactions or everything stays the same. The truth about behaviour is that it is a reaction to the environment and the people around the person. Change the environment, change the relationship, change the triggers = change the behaviour.
2. Friends in multiple places.
If school is the only place my kids have friends, and school suddenly becomes a scary place, a whole resource becomes inaccessible to them. If they have groups of friends in other places who remind them that they are valuable, fun to be with and good to have as a friend they have multiple sources of affirmation. They get the message that they are liked by many, and have a safe haven to run to when needed.
3. Skill in different areas.
I want to build skill and a sense of self-efficiacy in my children. If they believe that they are good at <insert childhood hobby here>, I believe that they are less likely to buy into the bullshit that if the school bully says you’re a loser you must be. Yes, I also want them to have an internal sense of value (you are valuable because you are), but giving them the gift of learning to be good at something is just another way to remind them that they are multi-facted people with all sorts of value to all sorts of people in all sorts of ways.
4. Assertiveness to break rules when necessary.
If they’ve had enough, copped as much as they can take, I want them to be confident that it is OK to scream back in the face of injustice. They don’t have to mind their manners if they just want to shout loud enough to be heard and push hard enough to get action. This includes standing up to adults who bully them. As children and adults I hope they will be able to stand up to oppression and slap it right in the face if necessary.
5. A who cares attitude.
What I really hope they will learn to do is simply to say, well, who cares? I think this is impotence to bullies. So what? Just because you say it, doesn’t mean it’s true. I’ll just go over here and play with someone else. Join us when you’re ready to be civil. To be quite honest I really don’t care what you think or say about me. I’m freaking awesome.
We read Have you filled a bucket today? to our kids. This book puts the onus on us to acknowledge that we can have a positive effect on people, all people (even bullies) by simply being kind. A bully bullies because their bucket is empty. You can fill a bucket by being kind. I want my kids to learn that the bullying is not about them. If they are able to see bullying behaviour objectively, as a function of an empty bucket, then they are less likely to see it as being directly related to them being inferior in some way. It is not to excuse bullying behaviour, it is to humanise the bully and enable my child to distance himself from the bullying. As much as I hate the behaviour, I can’t forget that there is a child in there somewhere.
7. Remembering that lots of people love you.
In my last post I wrote that we need a village. Having an extended group of family and/or friends who show love to your children is so valuable. It is another way to build resilience by reminding them that they are so valuable that people love them even if they aren’t obliged to. Their family is their main soft place to fall. But if they are having a tough time and need to do a fair bit of falling, it’s nice to know they can fall all over town and land easy.
Didn’t I just have so many smug fantasies when I was a non-parent about how good a parent I’d be. I’d be firm on guns, idealistic on television and an organiphile in the kitchen. My children would turn out to be vegetable eating, TV shunning, outdoor loving creative geniuses due to my exceptional guidance. Me? I’d be a serene, honest, zen like, ever patient goddess-mother in flowing dresses. My home would be filled with wonderful craft I’d invented and created on fun filled afternoons, toys would be wooden, carved from sustainable forests and my perfect children would tend their own gardens and ant farms.
I never had any of the moments as depicted in the top picture. I’ve had many of the second. Let’s see how my pre-children children plan turned out.
I’d be firm on guns, idealistic on television and an organiphile in the kitchen. My children would turn out to be vegetable eating, TV shunning, outdoor loving creative geniuses due to my exceptional guidance.
So far, I have been firm on guns with the recent exception of a pump action water super soaker that I felt Mr 5 should have in order to compete with his cousins. Television! Let me count the ways I love thee. I can name all the Octonaughts, all of Thomas’s friends and, god help me, the trippy freaks on The Night Garden. My children’s vegetable consumption is negligible apart from what frozen offenders I can hide in the mac and cheese. Organic schmanic. They do love to play outside, but only after I have REALLY put my foot down and said no more TV.
I’d be a serene, honest, zen like, ever patient goddess-mother in flowing dresses.
These words are not ones I would apply to my parenting style. I do not own any flowing dresses. I try really, really hard, but I am not serene. In fact, I’ve discovered a new strategy in my quest for parenting competence. It turns out that dishonesty with one’s children, carefully applied, can avert many small disasters. When my children are yelling at me for one thing or another (gee I wonder where they learnt that), I am often known to reply yes darling, mummy is coming! Knowing full well that by the time their 90 second attention span kicks in, they’ll have forgotten that they were waiting on some demand from me and have moved on, leaving me free to continue [insert household chore here].
My home would be filled with wonderful craft I’d invented and created on fun filled afternoons, toys would be wooden, carved from sustainable forests and my perfect children would tend their own gardens and ant farms.
My home is filled with
wonderful craft. Piles and piles and piles of freakin never ending craft. Craft that comes home from day care, grandma’s house. holiday club….and occasionally craft of my own making. So much craft that I have to craftily figure out how to throw it out without them finding out about my callous disregard for their artistic genius. Mr 5 has in the past found said craft in said bin and I’ve had to employ the above strategy (ie lying) to evade blame for crushing his blossoming ego by binning his incredible creations. Incredibly prolific creations. He’s the Bryce Courtenay of kiddie craft. Toys, oh mary mother of plastic. We have a handful of Poppy-made carved wooden toys and the rest is plastic-made-in-sweat-shop-shit. Stuff that honestly sometimes lasts for less time than it took to get it out of the packaging. We do have a great garden. Which is destroyed daily by my garden trashing kiddlers. Sometimes we have flowers and they last about a half a second before they are ripped from their moorings and ground into mush. And in fact we do have an ant farm. An abandoned ant farm that my husband took more of an interest in than it’s 5 year old recipient.
Ahhh…motherhood…I’m all over it!
Two weeks ago I thought I was getting depressed again. Caught in that cycle of negative thinking, I was why why why ing myself round the bend. That old feeling of being trapped in a cage and wanting to break something, anything just to make some noise and have a head turn my way. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, I entered the twilight zone (note to GenY types, twilight zone meaning weird place, not vampire love nest). I had about two days in a row where somebody kidnapped my kids and replaced them with exact replicas, only compliant, peaceful, smiley, happy ones. I had enough space to think wow, this really IS getting easier, these kids are FUN! I can DO this!!
And then the kidnappers returned my real kids. Phases phases phases. It is all indeed, a passing phase. The I will not eat anything but air phase seems to have faded and may pass sort of maybe one day soon. I don’t know what the name of the current phase is but it’s not my favourite. I think it’s just the one that has been going since they hit 18 months. It’s the toddler phase. I’m sorry but I have to be un-politically correct here and say that I really just can’t stand toddlers. OK maybe that’s a bit strong. Let’s put it like this. At the end of a run of the mill Saturday, I feel like I have worked a day’s hard yakka on a farm. It’s hard physical work. My body aches and if I’ve had 5 minutes to sit down and chill it would have been with boys crawling all over me like an ant hill.
Toddlers. Are they freaking insane? In the interest of getting inside their crazy little heads, I have compiled a list of things I know about them.
- Toddlers never stop. Toddlers move always. Toddlers move therefore toddlers are.
- Toddlers touch stuff. All stuff. Any stuff within reach. If it’s not within reach toddlers will drag a chair over and climb on top of something to get it. And then toddlers will break it.
- Toddlers love sound. Lots of it. All the time. Nice and loud. Especially sound of own making. Yeah!
- Toddlers will not eat dinner. Toddlers will climb on you to eat whatever you are eating.
- Toddlers will mess stuff up. Toddlers do not think things should be in drawers or cupboards. Things should always be on the floor when you are a toddler.
- Toddlers will play nicely for five minutes only. After that, toddlers will hit each other, break things, throw things and scream until you come.
- If there is a drain, pipe, toilet, hole or receptacle of any description, toddlers will fill it with stuff. Stuff may include rocks, lego, shoes, bits of dinner, ripped book pages and your car keys.
- When in the car, toddlers will say Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas until you play the Thomas theme song one thousand and fifty times.
- When at home, toddlers will say Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas until you put the Thomas DVD on, whereupon they will watch it for three and a half minutes before they will hit each other, break things, throw things and scream until you come.
- Toddlers will do whatever is most inconvenient for you. If you want them to sleep, toddlers will not sleep. If you want them to stay awake, toddlers will sleep.
I was at the park today and saw a man wallop his child. A warning. This post is going to get opinionated. If you’re easily offended, or thingy about hands on discipline, then look away, there’s nothing to see here.
A crowded park on a sunny Saturday. I hear the scream of a younger sister wronged. Very quickly after that I hear the smack of a hand on the offender’s bottom. At least, I think it was a bottom. It didn’t sound like a face. All eyes turn to see Alpha Dad, right up in his own Mr 4 or 5’s face, in all his finger pointing glory. DON’T mutter mutter DON’T mutter AGAIN! Finger in the face. What happened next made my guts drop to my feet. Alpha Dad was holding a football. He fullstopped his tirade with a good hard push to the chest, using the football. Such a hard push, that the child flew backward into the bushes. Alpha swaggered away to return to his coffee and saturday morning paper. The child cowered, head in knees, sobbing in the bushes. Nobody to help him make sense of what had happened, and all eyes in the park on him and his Dad. After a few minutes he stood, wiped his tears with his shirt and rejoined his sister, wary eyes on Dad.
I will begin my own tirade by again saying I’m not perfect. I’ve yelled and smacked a little too. I’m going to leave the whole to smack or not to smack debate alone, but I am going to vent about publicly humiliating your child.
First of all, it’s very poor problem solving. You are the adult Alpha Dad. You should have a better way of getting what you want than hitting (and yelling). Is that how you behave at work? My Twin Trouble is a little hitter. Am I to teach him that we don’t hit, and do that by hitting? There is research out there that shows children who are parented with excessive punishment grow up with a greater tendency to oppositional and defiant behaviours. It doesn’t matter what this kid did, he didn’t deserve what he got.
Nobody explained anything to this child after the event. He was left to sort through a confusing set of heightened emotions all on his own. This boy, at 4 or 5, is past the critical years of attachment forming, however, the impact of disintegrative shame on a child should never be underestimated. The moment of shame, the you have done something you shouldn’t have done moment, always needs to be followed by a moment of restoration of the parent-child relationship. Shame is actually good for emotional development. It’s how kids learn which behaviour is OK and which is not. But if the shame is linked with person and not behaviour, the results can be profound. This is disintegrative shame. What happens just after a child gets in trouble is critical. They need to know that yes, I just did something wrong, but I’m still OK and my Mum/Dad still wants me here and close to them. Nobody is going to leave me because I’m unpleasant, unlikeable or unworthy. That’s not to say you can flail your child’s backside with a cat-0-nine followed by a lolly and a cuddle.
The real motivation of the discipline is really the critical thing here. If your intention, Alpha Dad, was to teach him something. Then for God’s sake teach. And FYI, teaching happens with the use of words, pictures, examples, non-examples, trial and error and encouragement to try again. But your little Mr 4 or 5, he learnt alright. He learnt that he is not really OK in his Dad’s eyes, the most important male eyes in his little world. The man who, in his mind, makes the sun come up in the morning. He learnt he has to earn your love by being good. And nobody explained to him what ‘good’ is or how to do it. You embarrassed your child Alpha, humiliated him. And you broke him a little, broke your relationship with him, just a little. But keep it up and the job will be done by the time he’s a teenager and by then, he won’t want you around anymore.
My husband and I wondered, if this is what happens in public, what happens at home? At what point would you, or should you, step in? I really wanted to go over and cuddle this boy, but I know that wouldn’t have helped. But I thought, what if the smack and the push were a bruising punch in the face? What would I do? What would you do? Is it ever OK to intervene in a situation like that, in public?
Oh man. Days like this. Tears, tantrums, illogical arguments, outrageous demands…and then there’s the kids.
I see things in myself that really upset me. I hate it. I used to see it as a teacher. Overemotional, shouting, trying to ‘win’. As a teacher, when I shouted at kids I would kick myself mercilessly for days. I would get so upset with myself because I knew how unacceptable it was. The best advice I ever got from an older and much wiser teacher was this, never, ever try to win. Once you enter that battle of wills, you have lost. Even if you win. Because the damage that you do a relationship with a child by winning at their expense is irreparable.
If I was attending an anonymous anything group, it would be shouters anonymous. I said sorry to Mr 4 the other day for shouting and his reply was but why do you say sorry and then keep shouting? Ouch. The painful, brutal honesty of kids. I must, must do better. The irony of it is, that I can do the same thing, get the same message across, hold up the same expectations and move no behavioural boundaries but do it in a calm voice. I know I can. I have done it. I do it at work every minute of the day.
Funny that this post should follow my last ‘sanctimonious parent’ post. Like I said, strengths and weaknesses. The only thing I can do is to keep going back to him, keep saying sorry, keep telling him that shouting is not OK. Keep showing him that I am not perfect but that I won’t ever give up trying.