My sister-in-law hates Chiff Chaffs. These little migratory birds arrive in the UK in April or May, perching in the tops of trees, calling out a repetitive CHIFF CHAFF CHIFF CHAFF sound that seems to go on and on. She says that the call is incessantly annoying. I’d never thought of it that way: to me it’s a welcome sign of spring, and I delight when I hear my first Chiff Chaff of the year. It makes me feel as though all is right with the world: in spite of everything that’s happened in the year, the migrants have returned. The Earth continues to turn. It’s reassuring.
A few days ago I was gardening, trying to eradicate those ferocious weeds that grow up between the pavers behind the house. It’s hot, unhappy work. Glancing up to draw the back of my hand across my forehead, I saw the children playing with the running hosepipe. It was fun water play. I turned my back, and when I turned again and walked toward the house I saw something that made me drop everything and run. The hose had been trailed in through the back door and water was running all over the kitchen.
When a friend told me to listen to my instincts when I was a new mother, I wondered what she could mean. At the time, not only was I unable to tune into my instincts, I had little idea that they even existed. My instincts might have been a group of old women, draped in shawls and patterned head scarves, amulets and herbs in their pockets, crowded in a corner of my consciousness, waiting to be heard. What would they sound like, if I were to listen to them? Would they be shaking their heads in frustration at being ignored for so long? Would they be sitting with arms crossed, watching me with their heads cocked to one side, chuckling at my inability to find my way through this labyrinth of new parenthood without their help? Would they be brewing up a cup of tea, ready to offer me a seat when I chose to be in their company?
I’m the only parent struggling right now. Everyone else seems to be fine. Parenting is such a challenge and I’m part of the minority of people who feel this way. Why don’t my children behave like other peoples’ children? If I told people how I really feel, what would they think of me?
How often do you feel this way?
Though it’s not often (or not as often as when I was a new mother), when I’m at a low ebb, it’s easy to give over to these negative thoughts. When I’m thinking like this, I convince myself that it’s only me who feels this way. Down the rabbit hole I go, where reason and logic hold no purchase.
He wanted another one. He’d been collecting those little Smurf figurines, and he knew that we’d stopped at a shop where he could get another one. As his mother explained that she didn’t plan on buying him one today, he squeezed his eyes shut, threw back is red head and let forth a frustrated roar. This was a big tantrum, and his many brothers and sisters braced themselves. He sat on his mother’s lap, shook from side to side and in his anger, lifted up his two year old hand and hit her on the arm with all his might.
A child too, but a little older and thinking myself wiser, I remember thinking, “I will never let my child hit me like that! Why isn’t she punishing him?!” But instead of hitting him back or yelling at him, this little boy’s mother reached out and hugged him.
Trying to get out the door with several children in tow should have been one of the labours of Heracles. Whether you’re home educating, or sending your children to school, at some stage you need to be on time somewhere, and it’s not easy. Not unusually, this week yet another friend expressed her frustration at how difficult it is to get her child ready and out the door on time to get to school.
It’s an upsetting situation. I’ve been there. There’s a lot to do to get three children (for you it may be more or less, but no matter) out of the house for a trip to school, or for a trip out for the day. Sandwiches to pack, water bottles to fill, where’s your book bag, and HAVE YOU BRUSHED YOUR TEETH? When my middle child was five, we’d get halfway to school and she’d say something like, “Oops, I forgot to put underpants on today.” Tempers are running high, the children seem mystified as to why I am so cross and frayed at the ends. I end up losing my temper, we get to school, kiss goodbye and then… that’s it. They’ve run through the door, and there’s no chance to make amends, kiss and make up or start over. For the rest of the day I have to carry the weight of our unmadeup argument in the pit of my stomach. I wonder, “how is she feeling? Why did I have to be like that?”
I know it’s a common problem from discussions with other mothers in the plaground. But even at home ed group, which I attend with one of my children, parents turn up with that same hassled look, as though to say, “I just performed a miracle simply by being here!”
Some people use reward charts to motivate their children to get ready. I don’t really have strong views about reward charts. They’ve just never really worked for our family. Over time I’ve come to see that getting ready on someone else’s timetable is developmentally quite difficult for a young child.
As in so many cases, the best parenting ‘tip’ I can give is to simply adjust your own expectations. That’s not going to sell books, but in many ways, it is that answer to many parenting quandries. A child under the age of ten cannot, in my view, manage her own time to the extent that she can think through the steps required to get ready in the morning, consider what time she needs to leave to arrive at her destination punctually, think backwards to decide when and what time she needs to start getting ready and take appropriate action. Shouting, “we’ve got to leave in ten minutes!” is meaningless to a six year old.
Young children do not inhabit the world of time, yet. And in a way, this is a beautiful and magical thing. We adults are constantly getting hot under the collar about being on time or the consequences of being late. It’s stressful. Children don’t need this stress.
My eldest daughter (10) is a bit of a dreamer and a dawdler. My seven year old is stubbornly autonomous, and doesn’t like to be told what to do. For her, it’s a matter of control. For my youngest, he likes to pick what he wears, regardless of the weather, and that can sometimes be a battleground.
It has helped me enormously to empathise with my child and consider why we are having this problem. Is it that she wants autonomy over the process? Is it that she’s dreamy or just wants to play? Does she dislike the clothes she has to wear? Or am I expecting too much of my child? There’s no one-size fits all solution, and different ideas have helped each of my children.Here are some ideas that we’ve tried:
I found that when my children were five, I often expected them to get dressed by themselves, and then would feel frustrated when they didn’t do it. Sometimes getting down on hands and knees and physically dressing them myself did the trick. It might sound like yet another thing to do on an already-busy morning. Or you might think, “Well I think he’s old enough to do it himself.” But consider this: if you are about to spend the day apart from one another, isn’t the tactile experience of getting this little person dressed *just* the thing that you both need? Maybe your child’s resistance to getting ready is simply a request for attention.
For the child who likes autonomy, a checklist can help: “These are the jobs you have to do before we leave, so you tick them off as you finish them.” This has really helped my 7 year old. We made a colourful one, laminated it and put it up in the kitchen. It’s not a reward chart, just a list of what needs to be done. The thing that can be tricky with this is that find myself nagging her. Recently she said, “I don’t like it when you nag me to get my jobs done in the morning.” I said, “But I’m worried that you’re running out of time.” She said, “If you just tell me how much time I have left, I’ll do it.” So I promised not to nag, and she really surprised and pleased me because she now does her jobs without me having to nag. I think this is completely developmental, and she could not have done when she was any younger. It also works for her because she is methodical and really likes to play with white board markers, laminated sheets and tick little boxes! It helps her because she enjoys the autonomy.
If your child has to wear a uniform, and prefers not to, it might help to find ones that have little embellishments or details she likes; or even pants, socks, tights, vests, hair clips, etc. that can make her feel unique.
My dreamer now needs to lay her clothes out the night before. She is at the age where she wants to get dressed alone, so getting up and doing it before anyone (i.e., her siblings) has realised that she is awake is really working for her.
Think about bedtimes, for you and for your child. An earlier bedtime can help; maybe she’s tired in the morning, or maybe you are? If you can cope with getting up just a little earlier (I am amazed at the effect of just 10 minutes) to get your jobs done, you may find that you have more time to give your child the concentrated attention s/he needs to get ready.
Consider the role of TV in the morning. We don’t have one, but my friends say it can be a real time-suck. On the other hand, you could use it as a distraction if your child is hating getting dressed, “How about if I dress you while you watch Timmy Time (or whatever)”? Or, you could try singing a song together as you dress her.
It seems obvious, but plan to leave earlier. Once my mother-in-law came to visit and she said, “If you always aim to leave at 8.55 but you run late, why not just leave at 8.45?” It wasn’t rocket science, but why hadn’t I thought of it earlier?
Let go of being on time. This works for some, but not for others. Personally, I like to be on time, but many people will understand if you’re late, especially if you’re pregnant, have a baby or other such circumstances. Sometimes just asking yourself, “What’s the worst case scenario?” can bring fresh perspective.
It’s so easy to get taken away with getting out and being on time, and that becomes the focus, rather than our relationship with our children. Only after the confrontation and stress, when we are finally there, do we feel the let down, the regret, the sadness that this seems to be the way things are nearly every day. But it doesn’t have to be like this. We can make connection the centre of our lives, the cornerstone upon which we build our days. Some days will be better than others. Some days we will be late. Some days it will seem as though we are at loggerheads with our children. But we can stop, breathe and recall that our children are only small, that we are only human and that compassion for them and for ourselves can transform a moment.
I’d love to hear about whether any of these ideas have resonated with you, or perhaps you have a particular story about what’s helped your family. Leave a comment below (comments open for five days), and know that when you struggle to get out the door, you are not alone!
Photo credit: By mwheatl.Mwheatl at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Overnight, five inches of snow fell. We awoke this morning to find the world clothed in white silence. Soon, we heard that the local schools were closed. We knew we were having a ‘snow day.’
We have had a wonderful day. A morning of playing in the snow, then coming inside to get back into our jammies and drink hot chocolate, gave way to an afternoon of skimming down a hillside at top speed. Everything we were supposed to do became secondary. All those jobs that needed to be ticked off the list got put off til tomorrow. Some might say that I got to spend ‘quality time’ with my children.
I’m dubious about the concept of ‘quality time,’ as though we must schedule in particular times when we can enjoy the company of our children. Continue reading →
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One of the most astonishing things about become a mother for the first time was the feeling that I would never again be a unitary being. Holding my baby in my arms, looking into the tar-black pools of her eyes, I knew that I would always be connected to this person. I would be responsible for her til she was an adult, but even then, wouldn’t I always be thinking of her and wondering how she is? Here was a piece of me, nestled in my arms, and soon she would be walking, talking and moving swiftly in the direction of independence.
Two things happened today that have focused my thoughts on how much we learn from trial and error. First, my daughter and her rocket. It took her ages to build. She glued two cardboard toilet paper rolls together, formed a cone for the top out of paper and added some windows and foil embellishments. After painstakingly making a stand for it out of cardboard and getting the matches, she was ready for lift-off. We took it outside, lit the matches and waited. Things started to happen. We heard popping noises. The matches lit and the rocket began to shake. But it wasn’t going according to plan. Flames licked up the sides of the rocket and within minutes there was nothing left of her hard work but a pile of ash.