While I fully embrace the idea of consistency (of schedule, of rules, of rituals…) as a comfort to little ones, I also think it can make us unwittingly model for our children how to be stubborn. And who wants to mother a toddler who refuses to budge or a kid who gets stuck or teenager who always wants “their way”? I learned this one from another mom: sometimes it's ok to cave. It’s ok to say "You know what? I changed my mind." It will get us out of some tough spots and it will show our kids how to let go and be flexible. I love when my kids are mid-tantrum and then say, “I changed my mind."
PRESENT A UNITED FRONT.
It's a blessing to have a co-parent who can tell you when you've gone too far. Sometimes they're wrong and sometimes they're right, but we are all bad parents from time to time. Why is it so important that my husband and I agree on everything? I don’t mean that you should confuse your little one, but it’s good to show them how two people can peacefully resolve a conflict. Knowing that people can disagree and still love one another is a revelation to kids who are picking their friends based on who wears pigtails just like they do. But if my husband says no dessert, and I think my daughter has eaten well all day and a bite of chocolate is a small indulgence, is not a big deal. You can disagree, Out loud. In front of the kids. If you can do it in a way that teaches them something—save the ugly, everything-you-do-is-just-wrong fights for alone time. When my we give different answers to the kids, we just say something like, “Daddy and I disagree, so we’ll have to talk about it and figure it out and let you know.” Teaching your kid how to fight nicely is a good thing.
DON'T INTERVENE UNLESS THERE'S BLOOD.
I understand that siblings—and friends—need to work things out on their own. But how will they know how to do that unless we show them? No human is born knowing the best way to solve a disagreement. Two-year-olds, or even six-year olds, are still learning the skills they need to happily navigate the world. And we are here to teach them. So, sure, sometimes it’s ok to hang back and see if kids can figure out how to solve a problem on their own, but if we wait until things get out of hand before stepping in, we aren’t teaching, we’re disciplining.
SPANKING ISN'T A BIG DEAL, AND EVERYONE DOES IT.
No. Just no. I have never met a parent who spanks their kid who wasn’t spanked when they were a kid. No one who wasn’t spanked thinks, “You know what my parent should have done? Hit me to get me to listen.” That’s one reason it’s clear to me it’s an unproductive, wrong-headed way to parent. And I really don’t understand that people who spank seem to think that it’s ok to do it to kids who are toddlers, but would never ever think it’s ok to hit a teenager. How could it possibly be more proper to hit a small child? Riddle me that. I know parenting little kids can be crazy-making hard, but physical violence doesn’t solve anything and will never be a good way to parent. If you feel headed in that direction, do whatever you can (read, google, ask friends or family) to get some more tools for your parenting toolbox.
IT'S OK TO YELL. (OR: YELLING IS AS BAD AS HITTING.)
This one is so grey, which is probably why most parents either think that’s it’s totally fine or totally wrong. When I feel myself starting to yell, there’s are questions I try to answer for myself first—How much of this is about me and how much is about them? Am I having a bad day? Have I dealt with this bad behavior better another time? Could I have done something differently an hour before things came to this? There’s a big gray territory between verbal abuse and occasional slips. But when the occasions come too often, see above about the parenting toolbox.
TIME-OUTS ARE A GOOD WAY TO DEAL WITH BAD BEHAVIOR.
This is a very common way for parents to deal with those “All-Stop” moments (as my favorite preschool guru would call it). When a kid is hitting or biting or throwing a tantrum or venturing into that zone, the idea that setting them apart from everyone else, fixes nearly nothing. It is embarrassing and not instructional, even if it sometimes seems like the only option. I like to think that giving myself a time-out, so I can cool down or think straight, works better. I like the idea of having a time-in instead. Yes, you should first make sure the kid who has just been bitten is ok, but then it’s time to talk it out with the biter. Just because it is a cry for attention, doesn’t mean it’s wrong to give them attention. When kids behave in an out-of-control way, they need something. From you. Figure out why.
IN THE BEGINNING, YOU'LL NEVER SHOWER (AND THIS I OK.)
Please shower. Not because you stink or haven’t been able to wash your hair for a week. Shower even if your baby is crying—just force yourself to do it. You know those morning shower epiphanies? It’s no coincidence that when you take a step back from whatever you’re all wrapped up doing and can breathe your own air, you have your clearest thoughts. I once heard that the biggest source of stress is feeling indispensible. As a mom, it’s so easy to get stuck thinking that no one can do for your baby what you do. Maybe it’s true, but even then, don’t let yourself be the only one who can watch the baby. Put the baby somewhere safe, even if that's a bouncy seat just outside the tub. Let your husband do things wrong. Let your mother have some grandchild time alone. The five or ten minutes you gift yourself with in the form of a good old shower, will make you a better mom when you return. Even if they have to cry. Also you're not going crazy if you hear phantom baby crying in the shower. I can't explain why, but I do know that lots of other moms hear it too.