My New Piece of Advice

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about the fam. It’s a combination of reasons, really. Three kids means not as much free time, a lot of my evenings are now spent editing photos, and frankly, motherhood has humbled me – all the advice that I once thought I had, well… in retrospect all seems a bit smug. I think I got a few things wrong.

The reality of parenting is that there are lots of great ideas on how to succeed. However, most of those great ideas forget that most days we’re just trying to survive. Trying to get through the daily grind and salvage some sanity and happiness in the midst of chaos.  While I don’t discount that helpful suggestions and well meaning advice do aid in the plight of parenthood, my sometimes one-size-fits-all approach was naive. “If you want to get your kids to sleep through the night, do this… “. “If you don’t want your kids to be picky eaters, do this…”. I’m here to tell you if your kid doesn’t want to sleep, she won’t. And if your kid doesn’t want to eat the broccoli, honey, she is not going to eat it. And if she does, you will both be a little worse for the wear. I think the worry about whether we’re doing it all just right is futile. I’ve parented my kids from most sides of the various parenting trends, and I’ve not a clue if any of those decisions will yield well-adjusted, Christ-like, productive members of society. And while that is my prayer for my children, I’m fairly confident that it won’t be because I breast fed or bottle fed, co-slept or let ’em cry-it-out, restricted screen time or allowed a free-for-all, fed them organic or indulged them with candy, spanked them or did time out. It’s as if I thought good works might get us to the parenting promised land. Not so, my friend.

So when a few years ago I’d sit down at my computer each evening and be excited to share my war stories, my triumphs – feeling certain that my insights were unique and maybe even influential and inspiring – the delusion has faded. I’ve gotten wiser. I’ve realized that not only do I truly have no idea what I’m doing, I’m no longer looking to myself for all the answers. I come home some days to one kid who was in trouble at school and is pitching a fit over homework, one kid who screams out “Mommy, mommy, mommy!” every few minutes and throws himself on the floor for attention, and one who is only happy when she’s eating snacks… and so I feed her snacks all the way up until dinner, and then shocker, she doesn’t eat dinner. They’re all screaming and running around and fighting and tattling and destroying the house and being disrespectful, and I think really, am I qualified to do this? Never mind give advice, can I even successfully raise my own kids??  Truth is none of us are qualified. Will I make it through this parenting journey? Yes. But will I act as though I’ve got all the answers? Nope – because I don’t.

Interestingly enough, though my tone may have told a different story, today was actually a really good day. All the kids surprised us with good attitudes and helpful spirits. We enjoyed each other’s company and there was minimal fighting. Homework was done without a complaint and the two littlest played contently outside. And so with kids in bed, and a little “me time” I felt like writing. Felt like sharing about my victory of a day and what lesson could be told. But as I thought about how I wanted to tell the story, how I wanted to boast about my awesome day, God laid a bit of humility on my heart. I was reminded that this perfect day was not of my own doing. I was a reminder that He is and always will be in control. And so while we can run ourselves ragged trying to be the perfect parents – of our own kids and of everyone else’s too – He does not call us to perfection. He calls us to be kind, to show grace, to treat others how we would want to be treated and most of all, to love.  To love our children and each other. I hope I always remember what it was like when I was told the “right” thing to do, but couldn’t muster the energy to execute… or it just didn’t sit right with my soul. I hope I remember my own feelings of unworthiness and failure, of judgement and hopelessness. I hope in moments where the urge comes to judge or see situations through my own narrow lens, I choose grace, compassion and humility. And so as I reflect on what I do know as a mom, the only piece of advice I feel qualified to give is this: seek the answers to parenthood through prayer, and honey, give yourself a break.

When something goes wrong, I call you.

The other night, as I was trying to get Brogan to bed, he kept calling me for various requests.  As I tromped back up the stairs and into his room, aggravation all over my face, he said to me, “Mommy, when something goes wrong, I call you.” He gave me a hug and all of my frustration went away. I feel like I wrestle with the balance of wanting my boys to be independent, but also liking the fact that they need me.  As moms, we feed hungry bellies, bandage skinned knees, wipe runny noses, grab what’s out of their reach and try to fulfill every other random request.  We do so whether or not we are shown appreciation or thanks. But it’s nice every once in a while, especially when it comes surprisingly from my three-year-old, to be affirmed that they do in fact realize that moms get stuff done; we’re the fixers and the problem solvers.

So that was the sweet side of the equation.  Now let’s talk about the manipulation.

Knowing that moms come to the rescue, and sensing our weak spots, kids will exploit the you-know-what out of you.  My soft spot is hunger.  I never starved growing up, but for some reason the thought of my children being hungry is something that does not sit well with my soul.  This drives my husband crazy. He can see that sometimes (notice I just can’t give him all the time) Brogan takes advantage of this fact and tries to prolong naps and bedtime by telling me he’s hungry.  Here’s the thing, statistically speaking, I know there are times when he’s pulling one over on me and he’s not really hungry.  I do truly believe, however, that there are other times when he is, in fact, hungry.  The problem I have is that my overwhelming fear of starving my kids clouds my vision and I can’t tell when it’s real and when he’s faking it.  So what happen? 98% of the time I give that little slickster some food.  I really wish it ended with the food.  In the 20 minutes that I’ve been typing this post, in addition to the “I’m hungry” episode, I’ve been called on to turn off his fan because it was shaking. “Mommy, come quick, it’s an emergency! My fan won’t stop shaking!” And while I was up there, “Please turn off the bathroom light.” Oh, and, I need some medicine because my legs are hurting (eczema). And once I returned back downstairs to continue my writing, he declared that he wanted more milk.  On the simple fact that I don’t feel like cleaning up a wet bed in the morning, I said no.  But dammit, I said yes to the rest.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that while I was cuddling with him in bed, he asked me to read him a story. I explained that I had just (downstairs) read him three stories, and that was enough for the night.  He then reminded me that Daniel Tiger says, “It’s almost time to stop, so choose one more thing to do.” And then that, “so mommy, you said it’s time to stop and so I get one more thing, and that means one more story.” You know that feeling, when your three-year-old beats you at your own game (if you only knew how many times I’ve used Daniel Tiger to get him to do things), yeah that sucks.  So another book it was.

And I sit here knowing that I was worked over multiple times tonight.  And I wonder how and if I will react differently tomorrow when I’m faced with this recurring dilemma.  Honestly, I’m torn.  Logically I know that no should mean no and lines need to be drawn, but emotionally, being met with a “mommy, I love you” each time I oblige makes it really hard to refuse.  My husband, by the way, is going to love this post.  He rarely gets me to admit that I’m a softy (I really try to hide it). Well honey, you’re welcome, I’m a softy.  But the kids still aren’t going to bed hungry 🙂

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We Speak Opposites in My House

This may be a shocker, but our three-year-old doesn’t like to do what we say.  It’s not just that he doesn’t like what we have to say, or that he doesn’t want to do what we ask of him, the simple fact that it came out of our mouths makes it utterly unappealing.  We’ve been observing this behavior pattern for a while.  When it first started and was still “cute” we would mess with him and tell him not to do things that we really wanted to do.  After a couple rounds of “don’t you play Joe Diffy!” to get him to sing and play his guitar in front of a crowd, my husband and I thought that this was not an act we wanted to encourage.  So we backed away from the blatant oppositional requests.  But then slowly, and unintentionally, we started agreeing with him on things that he suggested, and guess what… he no longer liked his own ideas! It was like our blessing on an idea was the kiss of death for him, like if mom and dad think this is a good idea, it must be no fun!

As most parents know, getting kids up and out the door in the morning can be a challenge.  Some mornings, they just flat refuse to go.  So my husband and I began agreeing when he starts up.  The exchange goes something like this: Brogan says, “I don’t want to go!” we say, “Ok, then we’ll leave and you can stay here” [slowly walking toward the door] Brogan, “Nooooo!!!”  Even something as minor as his snack selection: Brogan, “I want a cookie!” Me, “Great, a cookie sounds good!” Brogan, “No, maybe a banana.”  Oh, the mind of a three-year-old.

So we’re trying to manipulate the manipulator without him thinking it’s a game.  In some ways I’m trying to give him the independence to make his own decisions, all the while guiding him to make the decisions I think are best.  Is this wrong?? Is this what all parents have been doing since the beginning of time, and I’m only now catching on??  As this technique has gained success, I’ve been testing it in scenarios that used to be very trying and it has worked like a charm.  At bath time, Brogan tells me he doesn’t want to get out.  So what do I do, I take Beckett out, dry him, dress him and tell Brogan he can stay.  And what does Brogan do? Change his mind, pretty much instantly.  It’s like when he realizes I’m not going to fight him on it, it has lost all of its fun and he might as well comply, because, let’s be real, the bath water is getting cold and he no longer has anyone to play with. “Mommy, I want out too!!”

I can’t decide if our plan is pure genius, or if we’re only days away from it blowing up in our face.  One thing I’ve learned from having kids is that just as soon as you’ve settled into a routine, or think you’ve got them mastered, boom! They turn it upside down just to see if you can walk on the ceiling.  So I guess we should get ready for the day when he outsmarts us, turns the table and calls our bluff.  And then it will be back to the drawing board with the rest of the parent population.

Upside down Brogan

Crime and Punishment: The Age-old Parenting Dilemma

We’re facing the age-old parenting dilemma – how do you effectively punish your children? How do you strike that balance between teaching them boundaries, respect and the difference between right and wrong, but at the same time, not make your home a no-fun zone where you are the dictator?  Theoretically, we know what we’re supposed to do.  You’ve got to be firm and consistent.  Be loving and nurturing.  We’ve been taught to count bad behavior – we’ve read 123 Magic – we’ve actually got the book and the DVD.  But philosophical guidance does you no good when you are toe-to-toe with a three-year-old, and you are unwilling to let him win.  It is the execution of these principles in the real world that is the hardest.

So the trend in our home is Brogan is pretty consistently disobedient.  He is in trouble just about every night for one or more (or all) of the following:  talking back, not listening, playing with his food, not getting ready for bath, splashing the bathwater, pushing his brother, taking his brother’s toys, crying, whining, screaming, not picking up his toys, not wanting to go to bed, and the list goes on.  Typical three-year-old antics.  So what do we do about it?  We’ve tried counting to three leading to a time-out.  The problem with this is that you can’t always do a time-out.  If we’re in the car, it’s not feasible.  If we’ve just gotten in the bath (and it’s just me and him and Beckett), it’s not feasible.  If we just sat down for dinner, it’s not feasible (we’ve tried sending him to time-out during dinner, and this is a sure fire way to ensure he will not eat his dinner).  So what are the other options?  Taking things away! Brilliant!  So we do this – we take his guitars, the stuffed animals on his bed, his tractor Youtube videos, doing fun things (park, pool) etc., etc.  This bothers him more than time-out, so we feel like we’re making progress, except… the behavior doesn’t change.  Ever.  We keep going through the same routine, and he keeps misbehaving.  He knows he’s doing it.  He shows remorse.  But it’s almost like he’s unable to stop the behavior pattern.  And so here is my dilemma – are we setting him up for failure when we know he can’t behave?  Is it wrong to say, “if you’re a good boy and pick up your toys, we can go to the pool” if, based on past behavior, I’m pretty certain he can’t complete the task at hand?  Obviously there are those things that are never acceptable (hitting, for example), but are there some things that we need to let go of?  Or do we ride him hard until one day (he may be 16), it just clicks and he listens?  One of my biggest fears as a parent is contributing to the “wossification of America” by raising an entitled child who has been babied, has had excuses made for him and sheltered from natural consequences all his life.  But I also don’t want to make all fun experiences contingent on him, at three, being obedient.  How do you remain consistent without punishing for every indiscretion?

I know there is no right answer.  It’s a shame you can’t just reason with them.  Sit them down and say, “Hey, here’s the deal. If you do what I say and don’t throw a fit, don’t whine and don’t hit, you won’t have to go straight to bed. You can keep your stuffed animals and we’ll even go to the pool tomorrow!” and their response be “Thank you mommy for explaining it! That makes perfect sense! Of course I’ll be good!” Oh, if it were only that easy.  But it’s not.  So as parents, without a rulebook, or a handbook, or an instruction manual, we must figure out what in the heck will work for our kids – hoping that we find this magic potion before they’re grown and we’ve screwed them up.  And the unfortunate fact is that we may never get it right.  In the end, they are unique individuals with personalities; each with a different set of circumstances and needs.  I guess all we can do is try our best to solve the riddle, to break the code, to guess the winning numbers.  So I’m hopeful, yet realistic, about the prospect of getting this right.  But I’m hoping the odds are in my favor.

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The Difference Between Moms and Dads

Let me preface this post with a couple of statements.  This is not meant to belittle the role of dads, or to say that dads don’t pull their weight.  This is not a rant post or me complaining about all that I have to do.  I am sure there are families where my theory does not apply.  It is simply an observation of the roles within my home, as well as many of my friends’.  But here goes.  I realized soon after the birth of my first son that there is a distinct difference in the roles of moms and dads.  Sure there are the stereotypical ones about moms being more nurturing and dads being more disciplinary, but this goes deeper.

They say raising kids is a full-time job. I think it’s more than that – to me, it’s like running a company.  Your household is like a business, and it takes a similar amount of effort and maintenance to keep it running.  And just like with any company, there has to be someone in charge – someone who takes ownership of the process and whose responsibility it is that everything is done.  And that is the role of a mom.  Sure the big decisions are made together, and the ultimate success of the household depends on teamwork, but the moms are the ones that keep the ship sailing.

My husband is an awesome father.  He has been very involved with our boys from day one – I think he actually changed more diapers than me in the first couple of months with our first.  We would take turns getting up in the middle of the night; when there was only one, he did all the baths.  He has totally been a hands-on dad.  But his role is more of a participant – he looks to me for what to do and when to do it. I pick what they’ll wear – he dresses them. I decide what they’ll eat and he feeds them.  I set their routine, and he follows it to a tee; I make sure we have diapers on hand and he changes them.  I go to bed at night thinking about what they need for the sitter’s the next day, but he gets them ready and out the door. I’m thinking about their next doctor’s appointment, but he will take time off work when they are sick. I worry that we’ll run out of milk – well, never mind, I do all the grocery shopping too :).

So what it boils down to is that most moms don’t do everything, they are just responsible for everything. They steer the ship. They worry about it all. They take the micro-management approach, feeling that if they aren’t involved it won’t get done.  But here’s the thing.  While it can be exhausting to carry this weight on our shoulders, would moms really want it any other way?  I wouldn’t.  If the roles were reversed, I would go crazy.  Now this may have something to do with my Type A personality, but mostly I think moms are just wired to take charge of running their family. It’s not fair. It’s not equal. It’s just the reality.

Family pic