Being a parent is hard. It’s the absolute best thing I’ve ever done (and I’m not just saying that) but it would be significantly easier if there were some kind of manual or user’s guide that came along with our darling little bundles. These are some basic principles I’ve discovered so far, in my first almost 3 1/2 years as a mom (as much to write them down for myself as to spread my wisdom, such as it is). Please don’t misunderstand my intention — I don’t claim to know it all, have all the answers or have it all figured out. (I know that I don’t.) I don’t think these ideas are new, either — I’ve heard them about 100 times each (or more), but they’re just now starting to sink in — these are just some things that I’m learning as I go.
“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work. No matter how much I try to instill better behavior in my children than I have myself, I keep seeing the parts of my behavior that I like the least come out in their worst moments. The whining, the frustration, the anger: I recognize it all. (Hello, me!) Nothing is going to serve my kids better than me getting my own self together. That’s the plus side to this, though — the things that I do right come out, too.
I have to take care of myself first, or nothing is going to go well. If I’m exhausted, hungry, unshowered or in desperate need of a bathroom, my patience for even the smallest frustration, inefficiency, mess, disobedience or whining is zero. Being a parent is a demanding job, and like any such endeavor, I’m going to perform best when I’m rested, fed, relaxed and when I’ve had a couple of hours to myself in the past week.
It’s not about me. This may seem at odds with the last idea, but it really isn’t. I have to take care of myself so that I’m in top shape to keep up with this adventure, but the focus on this journey is on my little ones. I need to make sure my needs get met so that I can meet my kids’ needs. As we go through the exciting, challenging, difficult, frightening, embarrassing or painful moments of our day, it’s my job to take care of them. It doesn’t matter that we’re running late and I just got pooped on, it matters that the diaper gets changed, everyone gets cleaned up and we go on about our day without making a big deal about it. That isn’t the time to be exasperated at the kids for “making me late” — they’re doing exactly what kids do, and it’s my job to execute the day to the best of my ability. It’s good for my kids to understand that I have needs, and for me to express them, but I can’t put it on them to make sure those things happen. It isn’t up to them to do or be any particular way in order for me to have a good day. It’s my job to meet their needs, and it’s my job to meet my needs.
Actions are more important than words or ideas. It’s great for me to tell my kids I love them or that I like to play with them, but what they’ll remember is what I do. They’ll remember that I got down on the floor and played trucks . . . or they’ll remember that mommy was always too busy when they asked. They’ll remember that I showed up when I said I was going to . . . or they’ll remember that I had good intentions but didn’t follow through. Taking the time to do the little things in their day — playing, reading, cuddling, talking — is what lets them know that I love them. Hugs and kisses are good, too, but they aren’t enough.
Perfection is not the goal. The process is where the learning happens (the fun, too). This means struggle and failure will and must occur. (Eek!) If you hold yourself to a standard of perfection, they will, too (see the first idea above). No one does things right the first time — if the feeling is that perfection is the only acceptable outcome, risks won’t be taken, boundaries won’t be pushed. How do we learn more: by only doing things we can succeed at, or by pushing through challenge and failure to accomplish something new? Is it more important that the cookies are perfect or that the kids helped? Is it more important that the house is clean or that everyone had fun with stickers, paint and glitter? Is it more important that I was on time for an appointment, or that my little one put his shoes on by himself?
I am pretty sure, from what I’ve experienced so far, that all of these things are true. On a good day, I remind myself of these throughout the day, and on a really good day, I remember to think about them before I’ve done the opposite (most often, I have the “oops” thought right after I catch myself saying or doing the wrong thing). Some days are better than others: yesterday, I got frustrated with Benjamin for starting the washing machine before I put the soap in; today, I remembered to play trains instead of sweeping. It’s a process. Every day, I’m working to put these ideas into practice, because I know that the rewards, for my entire family, will be tremendous if I can manage it.