Category Archives: Parenting

The Facebook Parenting Generation

There’s a certain joy about watching your friends’ children grow up – when you knew one or even both parents long before those little mischief-makers were a glint in anyone’s eyes. It would be lovely if we could all live on the same street as our childhood or high school or college best friends all our lives, just for that experience, but life doesn’t work that way. (And maybe for the best…)

However. This generation is the first to raise children communally in a way our parents never did, thanks to social media. I feel like I’m sharing the experience of parenthood with all the friends who are doing it at the same time because we’re right there on each other’s newsfeeds, with updates about poop and puke, teeth and tooth fairies, photos and disasters and cries for help and offers of solidarity. Our parents didn’t have this.

My mother may have had coffee mornings with her friends when they got together and discussed their perms or their handbags or their golf handicaps, other mothers may have gossiped over the garden fence about whatever it was that was going on in the world. They may even have talked to their best friends or their sisters about how best to potty train little Dennis or why Mary Margaret wouldn’t eat her dinner. But for the most part I’m willing to bet that the concept of Pinterest Parenting – only showing your best side to the public, I mean – was more prevalent then then than it is now, whatever the Internet would have you believe.

I mean, my mother was always very concerned about what the neighbours might think. The neighbours, I’m sure, had more to be thinking about than us, but that was how she saw it. The worst thing you could do was provide other people with things to talk about. And because you never heard about anyone else’s problems, you certainly weren’t going to admit that you had any. Life had to be seen to be “Pinterest perfect” a long time before Pinterest existed. (Though crafting ambitions were definitely not so lofty back then.)

But now, between blogs and Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, the Internet has taught us that whatever our kid is up to, someone else’s is at it worse. That whatever disaster just happened in your house, somebody out there has already cleaned it up in theirs. Or even if yours is the flat-out worst thing that could possibly happen, at least you can have the tiny satisfaction of telling everyone about it so that they can marvel at your terrible luck. (And, not so tiny after all, send virtual hugs and messages of support and empathy, and maybe even some offers of real-life help.)

More than that, I know my friends’ kids – at least the ones on Facebook; sorry, everyone else! – and they know mine at a much lovelier level than I could possibly have had the opportunity to do with all but those families living closest to us in the past. People post “I love that kid!” when my status relates the latest hilarious statement from my daughter or highly logical action of my son, and I know they do, sort of, just as much as I love to watch their children grow up online, exploit by exploit.

We may not all have the same close-knit real-life communities that our parents had, but I’d argue that our new ones are better. We’ve made parenting a communal experience instead of a lonely road of self-doubt and frustration. (Okay, sometimes that should be “as well as”.) It’s something we do with our friends – because heaven knows, we’re not going out partying with them every weekend any more. And this way, we can get to know everyone’s kids as well, whether they’re on our street or on another continent. Ain’t the Internet grand?

Faking it

Yesterday in the car, Mabel made one of those piercingly self-aware comments she is sometimes prone to.

“Sometimes my voice sounds confident, but inside I’m feeling shy.”

This girl. She slays me.

And I was really glad she’d said it because it was a great opening to tell her something I wished I’d known sooner, something I want to become one of her mantras.

“That’s great, I said. “Because if you sound confident, and you pretend you’re confident, you’ll turn out to be more confident. Fake it till you make it.”

(I may not have said that last part. I didn’t want to confuse her with unfamiliar idioms. But we talked about feeling shy and looking shy, and how nobody has a face that looks shy – she thought she did – but if you act shy by hiding behind your grownup or not wanting to talk, then people might think you’re shy. But also, it’s okay to be shy, of course…)

Later on we went swimming and found some friends at the pool. Mabel wanted to tell her friend’s mom about The Princess Bride, but she wanted me to do the telling.

“Remember what we talked about this morning?” I asked her. “About acting confident even if you don’t feel it? Why don’t you ask her yourself?”

And she waded out from behind my back and went up to her friend’s mum and asked her straight out, without so much as an introduction to the out-of-left-field topic, “Have you seen The Princess Bride?” They had a great old chat, and my friend remarked that Mabel was very talkative today.

(I suppose for other people sometimes she’s quiet. It’s not a side of her I see too often.)

Mabel running through long grass

Just like Little House on the Prairie, right?

The trouble with writing parenting articles

The thing about writing serious parenting posts is that nobody really wants to read them. You might happen to catch someone just there at the point where they’re either pregnant and reading everything they can get their hands on, or going through exactly that problem and wanting to learn about it. But mostly people just want to read things that support what they’re already doing. Nobody wants to read an article slapping them on the wrist about the way they’re parenting badly. They’ll just click away. They want to be validated. They want to be told that the kid is like this because they’re a kid, that’s all. And that they’re doing the right thing. And possibly that they should trust their instincts, because that’s the same as saying “You were right all along.”

I know this is true because it’s how I approach articles. I read them if they appear, by the headline, to be confirming what I already believe. If they fall into the category of “other”, I might skim them in order to see if I can ridicule them, but I’m more likely to just ignore. I don’t want you to tell me all the things I’m doing wrong. I probably know about them already anyway, and I don’t surf the internet because I’m not feeling guilty enough already.

In fact, the longer I go on reading parenting articles the more likely I am not to bother reading any new ones at all, because I know what they’re going to say. Even if I write them myself (my favourite kind, of course, because I agree with every word), it’s all getting pretty boring and samey at this stage of the game. So unless you have genuinely come up with a new angle that I haven’t thought of yet – and can convey that to me before I decide not to bother reading your piece – I’m probably not going to bother.

If you’re funny, mind you, I might stick around. If you have nice pictures, you might reel me in. If you make pop culture references that I understand but are just niche enough for me to know not everyone will, you will make me feel smart, and I will listen more closely to what you have to say, because you think I’m smart.

So I’m unlikely to change anyone’s mind with anything I write. My bubble of Internet is one big circle of self-validating parents, high-fiving each other for our good choices and making in-jokes about Republicans/Gina Ford/people who don’t watch Doctor Who.

Converting others, then, is a lost cause. We may as well all just flex our tolerance muscles and stick to entertaining each other as best we can.

To my children

Kids, as that old-y time-y TV program, How I Met Your Mother likes to begin:

I am so damn proud of you. Whoever you are, whatever you do, already and in the future, I am proud of you. Because, heck, you came out of nowhere and took over my life, and it takes a lot to manage that because I’m inherently both lazy and hidebound and I like my little ways and I like my stuff just the way I like it.

But aside from my dislike for change, which you have challenged every morning, noon, and night (especially night) of your lives, you are amazing people. You are so much yourselves, and nobody else. You listen even when I think you don’t, you take on board information I have trouble processing myself, you know what you should be doing even if, even as, you make an informed decision not to abide by it. You stand up for yourselves, you demand attention, you shout, dammit. (Shhh. My ears.)

Don’t ever lose the self-assurance you have now, in your pre-tween years. It may be damped down a little in adolescence, when you strive for acceptance among your peers by trying to fit in or by keeping quiet when something inside you would rather sing and dance. But bring it back as you emerge from your chrysalis, shedding one skin after another as we do in our teens, trying on one persona and then the next like so many pairs of jeans, until we are finally left with ourselves, whether we like it or not – and then we have to learn to love what we are, or be miserable ever after.

Take your parents’ love for you, our delight in you, our trust and belief and our assurance that you’re beautiful and that you’re worth all of it and more, and keep all those things in your heart, so that you demand that worth from the people you encounter, the ones you love whom you want to love you back. And from yourselves.

I’m proud of you, because you are you.

 

Assertiveness training

Every year, I go to parent-teacher conferences. Every year, I look forward to being told that the child in question, whichever one, is a genius, startling in their intellect and destined to go far. Increasingly, every year, I have a sneaking suspicion that I might hear something else instead, because my children are children, just like everyone else’s.

This morning I went along hoping to hear that Mabel has a prodigious vocabulary; that her teachers have noticed her propensity for metaphor, her facility with rhyming words, and her endearing imaginative play. I was slightly terrified that they’d tell me she was a horribly spoilt prima donna who couldn’t take no for an answer and that it was all my fault. (Obviously.)

They told me she needs to be more assertive.

I really wasn’t expecting that. I mean, I don’t know if you can tell from the blog, but Mabel isn’t exactly backward in coming forward, as my mother might say, when she’s at home. She tells us how she feels, loud and proud and repeatedly, often with emphatic gestures (let’s say) to drive home her point.

On the days when I help at school, she tends to act up, getting clingy or defiant sometimes, but I disregard that because I know the children often behave differently when a parent is there – it’s hard for them to have their two worlds clash. But I hadn’t realised just how different Mabel’s school persona is from her home one. At school when I’m not there, she is quiet and reserved, shy and compliant – and sometimes she lets other kids boss her around so much that her teachers have noticed it and want her to stand up for herself.

It feels strange to have to coach Mabel in standing up for herself when I see her do it so effectively every day with her brother. But that’s family, at home, and that’s different. I know she’s shy out in the world; she sometimes takes refuge in bad manners to shock away a stranger who makes an unwelcome friendly comment. She’s five, and five is not old, though it’s old enough to be very aware of who you are and how you’re different from everyone else, just because you’re you. I need to remember that my daughter’s confidence needs bolstering even though – maybe exactly because – she makes me think it doesn’t. I need to remember that it’s not enough for me to think she’s awesome: I have to tell her, early and often, just like the little girl in The Help, that she’s important.

Because she is smart and good and delightful and full of amazing potential and nobody should ever make her think that she is anything less than just as important as everyone else in the room. If I have to put up with a few tantrums in the post office and a few offended strangers while she figures out how to be herself in public, I’ll do that.

Mabel happy outdoors

Negotiations (no love songs)

You do this too, don’t you? Child says “I want to do blah,” but you want child to do blee. So you say “First you do blee and then you can do blah.” That’s how it works, right?

Maybe this will work better with a concrete example:

Me: Time to brush your teeth.
Mabel: Read me a story.
Me: First we’ll brush your teeth, and then I’ll read you a story.

But then she turns the tables on me.

Mabel: No. First, read me a story, and then I’ll brush my teeth.

And so it goes. The thing is, I can’t really come up with a convincing reason why we should do it my way round every time. Where’s the justice in that? “Because I’m the parent” is tempting but unconvincing, in spite of its undeniable truth. “Because I want to go downstairs and watch Sherlock before I turn into a pumpkin” will likewise win me no accolades from my tough audience.

And I feel like I should give her a chance to prove herself and agree to try it her way. Except that I don’t trust her as far as I can throw her (I mean, I could throw her, but I generally restrain myself) so I’m pretty much 100% certain that she’s going to renege on this deal.

But I need to show her that I do trust her, so sometimes I go along with it. And then – surprise! – she turns out to have been bluffing and I’m left without a leg to stand on and another story down and teeth no nearer brushed.

I’m clearly doing something wrong here.

Injustices perpetrated upon her

Miss Mabel is having trouble with bedtime at the moment. The biggest problem with bedtime is that it’s not fair.

Nothing about bedtime is fair, but in particular the fact that she has to wash her hands and brush her teeth is not fair. It’s not fair that she has to brush her teeth because now, after all those books I read her, she’s hungry.

And it’s not fair that there are strawberries in the freezer and she can’t have any because all I’m giving her is a waffle. It’s particularly not fair that I won’t read her book upon book before she brushes her teeth and it’s not fair that when she finally does brush them, she still doesn’t want to.

It’s not fair that she has to get up again and go and wash her hands because she didn’t wash them earlier but she knows she has to wash them. (Note that I did not say she had to. At this stage, I really didn’t give a monkey’s uncle what she did so long as she lay down and shut up.) It’s also extremely not fair that her hands get wet when she washes them because it takes so long to dry them and that’s just not fair.

Sweet child, you need to save some of this not fair for when you’re a teenager, because then you’re really going to need it.

Mabel looking grumpy

Terrible mother seeks redemption: dinner-time edition

Here is my secret shame. Which I can only tell you about now that I’m doing something about it. Because up till now I’ve just been a bad parent, and no matter how much everyone pretends to blog about their terrible parenting, nobody really does.

Increasingly, totally, I’ve been feeding my children their dinner by bringing a plate into them while they watch TV. Dash, we know (bad parenting already acknowledged), has a sandwich on a plate. Mabel might have a bowl of pasta, which she would eat with her fingers although I definitely gave her a fork. There might be some broccoli in there. She might have had an apple or there might not. There might be some chicken, which I would offer and she would reject. It was all very terrible and reeked of atrocious parenting and yet I was powerless to change it. It made my life easier because once they were nominally “fed” I could make something nice for B and me and we could eat it in peace while they continued to watch TV. Mostly, I was lazy and blaming it on the children.

Two nights ago I decided I’d had enough. I was sick of being the waitress in the movie theatre of my home. I called a family meeting, got out my trusty notebook, and wrote a list.

This was basically how it went:

  • Aim: We need to eat dinner together at the table.
  • Difficulties: They don’t want to wait till 6pm. B can’t come home earlier than 6pm. How can I get them to wait longer, and then to turn off the TV and sit with us?

The answer, as usual, was bribery. Sorry, I mean a star chart. They now both have clear motivating factors – an Anna doll (from Frozen, that Anna, of course) for Mabel and more money for Dash, who likes acquiring money and has no immediate plans to spend it on anything.

I put forth my plan, as follows: That we all have dinner at 6pm every night; that we all sit together and eat our food with nice manners. That in return, I will provide food that people like, and also a hearty snack at after-school-time so that they can wait until six for dinner.

Then I got them to help me list food they like for dinner (Mabel, that is) and for snacks, so that I could go shopping. And we agreed on the star system, of course. They can earn a total of three stars per dinner: one for eating at the table, one for using good manners, and one for trying/eating a new food. (Definition of “trying” is at my discretion. Because for Dash sometimes a lick counts; for Mabel I expect a bit more than that.) And I get a star for every dinner-for-four I get on the table, because mums need motivation too.

Once Dash stopped shouting at me because he wanted to have the meeting in what he had decided should be the “meeting room” (aka the front room) and I wanted to stay at the kitchen table, the rest of the discussion went down a treat. They loved being part of the decision-making process, they really did.

Last night too, things went surprisingly well. I’m still making three (mostly) separate dinners, but first things first. Dash sat at the table while we ate cooked food that he could smell (quinoa, kale, chicken) and didn’t complain about it. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but for him it’s a big deal. Mabel ate her pasta and peas with a fork. They both tried some raw carrot: Dash didn’t like it and Mabel has found a new favourite food. (They have both had carrrot before, I promise.)

I made the table a bit more exciting by letting them both drink their milk out of small, sturdy wine glasses, which they loved. I’m thinking tonight I might put fancy napkins at each place, if only to stop Dash wiping his fingers on his sweater.

So we all got our stars last night. I have decreed that they will earn 5c per star, which doesn’t sound like much but works out to 1.05 at the end of the week, which effectively doubles Dash’s allowance and will get Mabel to her Anna doll a lot sooner than she otherwise would. I have not yet decided what my reward will be, but I’ll be making sure I get one.

Will it work? Will it fall by the wayside like so many others of our star charts? Will I be ferrying food back into the TV room in a week’s time? I suppose it’s up to me, really. I do feel better for having started it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a pizza to put together.

Children sitting at the table

Dash dictates exactly how much pizza he might taste.

Siblings Without Rivalry

And here’s that post about the book.

I’m finally reading Siblings Without Rivalry, after two people mentioned it to me in the space of a few days and I decided it was A Sign. I know I should have read it years ago, possibly as soon as we had Mabel, but there you go, I didn’t.

It was written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, who wrote the laboriously titled but very helpful How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. You may remember me raving about one of its techniques last year when Dash was stuck in the terrible six-and-a-halfs. Siblings Without Rivalry takes much of the same material, but applies it specifically to situations that come up between siblings. It’s really quite eye-opening.

On Saturday morning I was reading it at the breakfast table as Dash and Mabel fought their way around the house, disagreeing over what or how to play, bugging each other, pinching and hitting and screaming and then laughing again. I called them over and asked Dash to read the title of my book. He spelled it out. They remembered what “siblings” meant, but I had to explain “rivalry.”

“I’m reading this so that I can figure out how to stop you two fighting,” I said. They were impressed that I had to read a book to discover such a thing. Dash grabbed the book and sat down at the other end of the table, opening it at the first page and starting to read.

“I’m going to find out what it tells you, so we can not do it,” he said, with an evil grin.

I was delighted to see him reading, so I did the washing up and left him to it.

Brother and sister

****************

Anyway, I thought I’d share my notes, since I have to bring the book back to the library soon. I recommend reading the whole thing to understand where the authors are coming from and see lots of examples of these techniques in action. The book also shows them in cartoon form, which makes it quick to read and easy to remember.

  • Siblings are essentially always in competition for their parents’ love/time/attention. As soon as you take sides in a dispute or punish one for hurting the other, you are building resentment and rivalry, and therefore making things worse.
  • When they complain about their sibs, you should verbalize how they’re feeling for them: “You sound furious.” “It makes you mad when he does that.” Acknowledge how they feel about each other.
  • Encourage them to express their feelings with words: “Tell him how you feel.” “Let him know how mad you are with words.”
  • Tell the other one why you’re listening to the one right now: e.g.,
    – Mabel, interrupting: I have to tell you this thing.
    – Me: I know you do, but right now I’m listening to Dash tell me about school. I know it’s important to him so I want to hear it. Then I can listen to what you need to tell me.
  • Treat them uniquely, not equally. They get the things they need when they need them; they don’t both get things at the same time just because. (I’m not sure that “because Mom went to Target and I was with her and I whined” counts as needing something, exactly.)
  • Don’t cast them into roles, and don’t let them do it to each other. Tell them how you want them to be:
    “I know that Dash is generous, so I’m sure he’ll give you a turn when he’s done with it.”
    Or, better, “I know you’re both smart, so you can work out a solution to this.”
    Then leave the room so that they don’t act up for your benefit.
  • Never compare, even favourably. It reinforces perceived roles and encourages resentment between sibs. When one comes tattling about the other, say “I don’t want to hear about him right now. Tell me about you.”
  • Encourage teamwork rather than pitting them against one another. So “Let’s see if you can work together to tidy up before the timer goes off” rather than “Who can pick up all the toys first?” I am so guilty of saying this. You know why? Because it works! (But it’s bad. Bad Mommy.)
  • When they’re fighting and it’s escalating, state the problem and tell them you expect them to work it out. No tolerance for hurting. If one is in danger, separate them.
  • If they can’t work it out, sit down and make a list with both of them, the way we did for one with How to Talk so Kids Will Listen.
I think I need to print this list out and tape it to my fridge.

Things that are put on the high shelf

  • All the Nerf guns, one by one, having been confiscated
  • The TV remote control, because you’ve had enough TV time for now
  • The craft project that I really don’t want to bring down until you’re old enough to read the instructions and do all by yourself
  • One notebook that was fought over
  • A packet of highlighter markers, because you have enough markers for now and those aren’t even washable
  • The glockenspiel, until you can make music instead of just hitting each other with the mallets
  • The lighter for the grill
  • My tin whistle
  • The Ikea piggy bank you wouldn’t let go of when you were two so I bought it, but then it became a dangerous projectile so it’s been up there so long that we’ve forgotten it even exists
  • The TV digital antenna, because we’re like in the dark ages, man

What’s on your high shelf?