Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Personal Toolbox

Image credit: boeke on Flickr
The Natural Parenting Blog Party is still going strong!  I have met some amazing blogs through this, and I still need to catch up on the newest entries.  On my journey to as a natural parent, I am learning the incredible importance of filling my toolbox, not only with tools for peacefully parenting my children, but also for helping to repair things in myself.  This was originally written as a guest post for Authentic Parenting.  :)  I will be sharing the other tools here, or you can head over to Authentic Parenting and read them there.

One might think that having more than a decade of experience as children ourselves should make us experts at raising our own kids.  We know how they think, how they respond, and what works or doesn't and why.   At least in theory.   In many cases, it creates some strong ideals.  How many of us remember vowing, "When *I* have kids, I'll...".  Yet there is often a gap between our ideal and our reality.  In our idealized world, we are patient, we don't yell, we are confident and truly enjoy our precious and amazing children.  Then we get trampled by real-life days when we are grouchy, exhausted, and all we want is a few moments of uninterrupted *anything*, a chance to use the bathroom alone, and clothing that doesn't have unidentified sticky substances smeared on it or smell like sour milk.  Days where despite our conscience, we feel like screaming or hitting or ignoring or shaming.  

There are several things that can help us as we strive to grow into the parents we desire to be. In fact, many of the same tools you use to gently guide your children into becoming the people they are meant to be work for you, as well.

Nourish yourself.  

Image: Chin Yan Keat on Picasa
We all know that hungry, tired kidlets are prone to meltdowns.  So are hungry, tired parents.  Try to get plenty of protein, especially if you are pregnant and/or breastfeeding. Stay hydrated!  As for sleep, I tend to snort rather unbecomingly when I read advice to sleep when your baby sleeps.  Sure, that is nice if your baby actually sleeps in stretches long enough for you to fall asleep, too, and if your house is quiet and peaceful, etc.  I have four kidlets at home, and I shudder to think what would happen if I tried that, even for the incredibly brief segments in which my baby sleeps.  However, cosleeping at night has been a lifesaver for me.  My children's night-time needs are met and honored and my need for sleep is met.   

Limit negative influences.  
I am surrounded by people close to me who disagree with many of our choices, such as homebirth, child-led weaning, non-punitive discipline, etc.  I know that despite the intensive amount of research I've done and the strong convictions I have, raised eyebrows and disapproving comments from the Babywising moms in the church nursery can leave me subconsciously second-guessing myself or my children.  The pediatrician who questioned why my three year old was still breastfeeding left me shaking, even though I know all the recommendations and stats.  Intellectually, I throw out the garbage. But on some emotional level, I internalize it. I find myself slipping into an adversarial mindset and resenting childish behavior that didn't bother me before.  I need to limit some of my exposure to those who would influence me in a negative way.  Which leads me to...

Create a support community. 
Especially if your choices are going to be met with resistance by people around you.  I've learned to seek out loving and gentle mamas who shower me with grace and acceptance and encourage me to extend that same mercy and peace toward my children.  If you don't know people who support your beliefs in real life, find message boards, blogs and other sources. They can encourage you, brainstorm solutions, and listen when you need an ear.  

We spend a significant amount of time studying for our careers.  Being a parent is far more important than anything I will accomplish in my job--shouldn't I at least show the same diligence?  Some believe that it should be instinctual.  I agree that most of it is.  But sometimes our instincts get clouded by our upbringing or culture.  There are many books available by authors with wisdom and experience. If what you read goes against your own heart, then toss it out.  One of the most helpful things in my parenting journey has been studying child development.  It can save your sanity when you realize that your child is not deliberately trying to push your buttons, and that what they are doing is completely normal for their age.  Naomi Aldort's Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves, Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting, Pam Leo's Connection Parenting, Crystal Lutton's Biblical Parenting, Lawrence Cohen's Playful Parenting and Margot Sunderlund's The Science of Parenting have all been valuable resources to me. 

Don't act on your old recordings.  
Most of us have grown up with a litany of mental recordings that pop into our heads any time our children do something we think they shouldn't.  Often the are the same shaming words that we heard as children.  I can't believe you did that!  How stupid/dumb!  Why on earth would you do that?  You always/never...   If we let those thoughts pass through our mind without acting on them (because it is almost impossible to eliminate a mental recording that has been active for years) then we can dismiss them and replace them with Truth.  Let the thought play out, then replace it with a new, true thought.  Operate with the mindset that your children are doing the best they can in any given situation.  They aren't your adversaries.  You are on the same team. Beware the Defiance Boogeyman or the Myth of the Manipulative Monster Baby that presumes a negative motive on the part of your child.  Your children love you and any misbehavior is just a misguided attempt to get their needs met the best the can.

Shame off you
Just as they are with your child, your anger and frustration are expressions of unmet needs.  *Shaming yourself because you get upset won't make those needs go away.*  Guilt is only useful in the sense that, like the pain of touching a hot stove, it alerts us to a problem.  Rather than berating yourself because you feel like hitting your child, stop.  Examine where those feelings are coming from, especially when they are out of proportion to what is actually going on.  A friend used to feel enraged when her daughter created a mess or spilled something.  Upon reflection, she recalled how angry her own mother would become and how harshly she was scolded as a little girl for similar incidents.  As she dealt with her own feelings she was able to view her daughter's accidents from a much more reasonable place.  If there are ongoing needs that aren't being met for you, work on a plan to get what you need.  Ask for help!  Apologize when you fall short of your ideals, and accept the same grace and forgiveness that you show your children.

There are no perfect parents, of course.  Yet there is a lot we can do to acquire the skills we need to be the parents we want to be for our children, to eliminate deliberately hurtful actions, and to nourish and strengthen our bond.  I love Pam Leo's thought, "Let's raise children who won't have to recover from their childhood!"


Chantilly Patiño said...

This is great! I can't wait to see the others in the series! :) Great points!

Amyables said...

Loved reading this! I have been having some really hard moments with my toddler since bringing home our newborn, and I was feeling guilty about them. . . now after reading this post, I'm starting to accept my feelings and looking at them pragmatically.

I am seeing that Abbey and I are more alike emotionally and personality wise than I ever realized before. . . and with that knowledge, I think I can start to make more sense of those hard moments and find compassionate ways to get through them with no harm done to either of our psyches!

dulce de leche said...

Thank you so much! <3 Amyables, hugs to you. I have found that my buttons are most easily pressed by the child who is most like me. The Peaceful Housewife had a great post on that recently:
But like you point out, the upside of that is that you are also more easily able to find solutions and reconnect. :)

Rut Montes said...

Your post was what I needed today. I have been feeling guilty since my milk is drying up, I'm pregnant and my 20 months old little girl keeps on asking for more. I wanted to feed her until she weaned herself and now I feel like I'm forcing her to do so. You can be so hard on yourself sometimes, I needed a reminder to be kind to myself too. Thanks.

dulce de leche said...

(((Rut))) Oh, mami, I have been there (three times, as a matter of fact). It is so hard. Much love to you and to your babies. I have several posts on breastfeeding during pregnancy, too. <3