March is very nearly here. Who’s happy? This gal. Oliver will turn 5 in March! I can’t even believe what a sweet, hilarious, astute kid he has become. Time goes so quickly and then they are full fledged humans. It’s creepy and wonderful at the same time.
This month, as with all months this year, we are choosing a focus to make life easier/better/simpler. March will be a month for getting outside as much as possible in the soggy chill of approaching Springtime. We will also be spending the not so warm moments solidifying our parenting game plan.
We’ve been doing a lot of reading the last few months to try to decide what we want to embrace as parents and as a family by way of discipline, expectations, and acceptable behavior. It’s time… we have a smart and persistent dude on our hands! It’s been my experience that kids begin to try to figure out where the limits are once they reach about fourteen months (give or take a few) and Si is no exception to that timing.
As all parents eventually learn, consistency is the key to happy family life, so this month we will be focusing on getting on the same page about how we interact with our kidlet(s). There have been so many advances in emotional psychology and childhood brain development in the last few decades–it’s so fascinating! Tim and I sort of geek out about that sort of thing as two wannabe counselors.
The mister and I have worked really hard in our marriage to create an environment where we feel safe to tell the truth even when it isn’t what the other person wants to hear, identify feelings and communicate them in loving ways (especially when they are yucky feelings), take healthy responsibility for what we did or said, and are careful about the way we speak to and treat each other (which is the hardest of all). It took committed work from both parties to get to this point and it isn’t 100% bliss (let’s not talk about the whole month of December), but we can disagree, be upset, and find solutions without getting to the point of hatefulness or blame. It wasn’t always this way–again, it took work to get here–but it’s a nice place to be. If you’re interested in the process, we are happy to talk about it, although there is no infallible blueprint for happy partnership, as we all know.
With the kind of relationship Tim and I strive for, it was pretty obvious that our parenting style wouldn’t be much different. We read up on lots of parenting styles, and I have seen a lot of them in practice working as a nanny for the last 10+ years. Between those two things, it wasn’t too hard to choose a loose path to follow. So far, we really like Parenting with Love and Logic and we also like Positive Discipline.
These approaches are both centered on being empathetic, validating how kids feel, helping them learn to deal with things in positive and respectful ways, giving kids choices from early ages so they learn how to make mistakes (and therefore decisions!) before the stakes get really high as they do in adulthood (like losing your home or ruining your marriage), focusing on finding solutions, and setting limits without getting angry (something the previous generation tends to scoff at, I’m finding).
We are in the phase where we are learning what to say (and what not to say) to Silas; Telling him it’s ok to be sad or frustrated instead of the knee jerk reaction to say “don’t be sad, it’s ok!” Of course seeing our babies sad or hurt is hard on parents. It’s easy to tease him about it, minimize it, or try to “love” it away. But the subtle message is that it isn’t ok to feel negative feelings (sadness/frustration/disappointment) which are very much a part of real life, as any grown up will tell you. At some point, children have to learn how to experience and cope with these emotions in productive ways.
Our hope is that helping Si and his sister understand how they feel will translate into knowing how to identify it and come up with a solution to make a change. Tim and I have both struggled with depression in the past. We are no strangers to life’s ups and downs. It’s part of the human experience, but we are hoping it doesn’t have to be as hard as it was for us to learn a few really important lessons. By focusing on emotional literacy and accountability, our goal is to eliminate a lot of the work we have done as adults to learn the things our kids will have in their emotional repertoire by the time they are three.
Parenting styles are very personal matters and I don’t know any two sets of parents who do it exactly the same way. Playdates are like this crazy observation fish tank where I get to watch five moms handle different kid situations in five very different ways. I can think of at least five people who will read this and think “these people are batcrap crazy hippies” and five more who will think “yep, that’s similar to what we want for our kids”. The more experiences we have as parents, the more we embrace the “to each his/her own” philosophy. The bottom line is that people do what they think is best to create the happiest, healthiest kiddos. My friend and LLL leader Claire says she has found what parents need more than anything else is support. I couldn’t agree more.
Tim and I are both continually amazed at the love our parents have for us and the things we never knew they did to create a safe, loving childhood. There is no experience that has taught us more about the love they have for us, even in adulthood, as becoming parents and wanting to do absolutely everything to keep our own baby safe and happy and loved. Cheers to all the mommies and daddies who are tired and empty who are still finding the energy to create a childhood haven for the littlest of us all. It isn’t for the faint of heart, but is there anything better than the sweet moments when you know it was all worth it?