I am a mother with almost 6 years’ experience. If this was a real, like in an actual paying job, I would be skilled and on my way to becoming an expert in my chosen field. But let me stop you just there – I am no expert, and definitely not skilled.
This parenting thing is difficult, and the lack of a manual doesn’t help. You can read as many parenting books and blogs as you want, attend classes and workshops or speak to dozens of other parents and I promise you – you will not feel as if you have found the answer to the universe’s questions. Your toddler will still throw himself on the floor, still stick his finger in his nose, and still ignore you flat when he wants to.
Because kids are kids, and most of the things that they do that really bothers and irritates us as parents are needed for their development.
They have to throw tantrums so that you get the opportunity to help them develop emotionally. By pushing your buttons they learn how to deal with anger, disappointment (sometimes fear…) and regret. Defying you teaches them how to stand up for and defend themselves. Asking questions develops their cognitive functions, teaches them to think logically and maybe even how to find their own answers instead of relying on someone else. I know, most days I want to run away. Having 2 kids under 6 years old can be quite challenging, especially when they are so different, and I am doing it by myself. But I do comfort myself that it doesn’t last forever, and then I want to cry because my babies are growing up so fast.
Every good parent has asked themselves if they are doing a good job. But really how would you know? I used to joke that I hope I give my kids just enough emotional scars to make them quirky and interesting. No idea if I am succeeding, but hoping for that over totally screwing them up.
Because we already have so many other things that we must negotiate and fight I have now stopped worrying about whether or not I am a good mother. Both my kids are healthy, fed, clothed, have a bed to sleep in and things to play with. I have ticked all the basic boxes. For the rest, my new aim is to build the strongest relationship possible with both of them. To not be their friend, but to be their mother – the lady who not only cares about their bodies but also their minds, their souls, and their dreams. I have realized two very important things:
1. All learning and development happen in the context of human relationships.
2. Healthy and strong relationships, particularly in families, are built on unconditional love.
Whenever I feel insecure or uncertain about my abilities as a mother, I remind myself that love can make up for all kinds of (innocent) parenting mistakes. When your decisions and actions come from a place of love, and when that love is consistently unconditional, they will mostly end up ok. Being a family, even if it is a single-parent family, and being there for each other, is one of the best things about having kids. Having open channels of communication within the family is very important – without clear communication, there can be no beautiful relationship.
To foster this type of relationship is not easy.
For one, most adults believe that kids must be neither seen nor heard and whatever is going on in their little heads is of no interest or consequence to them. I differ – if you really want to know the beauty and wonder in the world, speak to a 3-year-old.
Secondly, kids are busy and they normally have very short attention spans. That means no 2-hour conversation about the meaning of life. Most days I cannot get A1 to tell me what she had for lunch, let alone how she is feeling after her day at school.
And lastly, they do not have the capacity yet to understand complex concepts and emotions. Remember the tantrums? Yeah…
As part of this whole “fostering relationships,” I am also changing my approach to discipline. A1 is so sensitive, you don’t have to hit her. Merely looking at her is enough to make her cry. A2 is still too small to really understand, but I am guessing she is going to need a more physical approach. But for now, I am going to practice the verbal approach.
Sometimes though it feels like we cannot find the right words, or what we want to say just doesn’t come out right. In these instances, it is great to have a list of things to say to take the guessing and trying out of the conversation.
I have compiled a list of 27 questions and phrases that I think will be helpful in this journey. Some will be used to get to know the heart of my kids, and others to reprimand. Some to explain, others to create:
1. Please… and thank you…. And it’s a pleasure – simple manners. Something that today’s kids are not taught, and if they do say thank you it seems as if they do not understand what it means. Manners show respect – respect for the other person as well as for yourself
2. I’m sorry – lead by example. This simple phrase will teach my kids that nobody is above apologizing and that when you do say sorry it must be sincere.
3. You look sad/angry/frustrated – by acknowledging their feelings, you teach them what feelings are, that there is a difference between feeling and being (e.g. you can feel angry but do not have to be destructive) and how to handle the feelings.
4. That must have hurt – again, acknowledge their pain but do not give them permission to feel sorry for themselves.
5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts/feelings with me – if you want to build an honest relationship you are going to have to teach your kids how to confide in you. Thank them for having the courage.
6. How can I help? – this is a difficult one. I want to help my kids, but I also want them to grow up independent. Maybe I should rather try “May I help?”?
7. What do you need from me right now? – teach them responsibility and how to ask.
8. It sounds like you could use a hug – showing affection is a great way of making kids feel safe and secure. Acknowledging their feelings can also open them up to discuss what is bothering them.
9. What do you think? – you are raising a little big person. Teach them to have their own opinions, thoughts and feelings. This will make it more difficult to fold under peer pressure later on in life.
10. Wow! How exciting! – be happy and excited for them, share in their joy even if for something that you think is small or stupid. Your kids need you to be their cheerleader so be it!
11. Tell me more… – encourage them to open up and tell you things. Good things, bad things, boring things, anything.
12. Which would you choose? – again, allowing them to develop their own thoughts and opinions. You can even ask them why they would make that choice.
13. Do you have any ideas? – stimulate their creativity, teach them problem-solving and involve them in your everyday life.
14. How would you solve this problem? – ties in with the above.
15. Let’s take a deep breath together – teach your kids how to control their emotions. I like this phrase, I say it over and over and over to myself, every single day.
16. Let’s talk about this when we’re calm – again, this allows your child to verbalise their emotions. Off course after taking a deep breath
17. I appreciate your thoughtfulness – tell your kids how much you appreciate their best traits. Things like being conscientious, courageous, friendly, courteous, and more are often overlooked because they can be seen as “weak” traits. Yes, your child must be bold and assertive, but being kind and respectful will get them much further than being critical and harsh
18. That shows courage – discuss their fears and then praise them for overcoming them
19. You worked hard to earn/achieve – this nonsense of telling kids they are smart is doing more damage than good. Rather teach kids that we can create our own narrative and destiny by working hard and consistently. A great opener to discuss their dreams!
20. Great progress! – practice does not always make perfect, but can definitely lead to progress. Talk to your child about what they enjoy doing (even if they are not great at it) and what they are great at (even if they do not enjoy doing it) and try to find something that they enjoy doing while actually being good at it. Your kids must also understand that sometimes we do things that we love even if we are no good at them – that doesn’t make us a failure.
21. I love spending time with you – one of my favourite phrases! My kids know I love and like them, and I like spending time with them. They add something to my life that nobody else can, and the time with them is precious. A1’s whole face light up when I tell her this, and it changes her whole attitude and mood.
22. You are so special – go with the previous one. I love spending time with you because you are so special and unique.
23. Nothing you do or say will stop me from loving you – unconditional love! Your relationship with your child should be modelled after God’s relationship with us. Nothing we do or say can take us from His hand, and we can do pretty awful things. He will love us and forgive us if we repent sincerely. Make sure your child understands that this is not a free pass, merely a confirmation of your love for them.
24. I’ll stay with you – make sure your kids understand and know that you will never leave them out of your own free will. Especially important in our current situation
25. How you feel right now won’t last forever – this too shall pass. A great phrase to discuss feelings, solutions and time progression.
26. You are good and kind – everyone needs to be reminded of this from time to time. Treat people as good as you think they are and they will not disappoint you. Same with your children.
27. I’ll be over here when you need me – you do not have to be part of the storm, you can wait on the sideline and jump in if needed. Or stay there until they want to come to you. This in no way means you ignore your child, merely that you allow him or her to work through their own emotions with you ready to help if needed.
This list is by no way complete, and if you have something to add please let me know in the comments.