We hear a lot form "experts" in parenting and childcare that children thrive in a routine. "Bedtime" routines and "getting ready for school" routines. "Get baby into a routine otherwise you'll make a rod for your back" (Where are all these rods? If they really existed we could build something awesome).
I hear about routine all the time. My favourite one is at the end of the summer when every other parent I meet tells me they cannot wait to get back to school to get their kids back into their routine.
Well I hate it. Seriously! and so do my kids. But I tell you what they love and what they need, it's rhythm, and here is what I mean by that...
I’ve just been to the cinema with my husband (a very rare treat these days!), and we saw the film Lady Bird. Have any of you seen it?
It is basically a story of a teenager’s relationship with her mother as they go through her last year of school and applications to college.
There is a scene in the film that really struck me. Lady Bird is asking her mother for approval, and her mother comes out with “I just want you to be the most perfect version of yourself you can possibly be.”
And Lady Bird replies “What if this IS the most perfect version of me?”
It actually infuriates me when people say these things, and yet I used to listen and believe them.
So what the hell is my problem? Well I have at least 5 actually...
You cannot take it back and your feelings, all of them - the joy, the grief, the pain, the regret and shame - they are all valid. You need to feel them to change and to do better. Because as parents we are always trying to do better even if in any given moment we do not succeed. So what comfort can I give, if it is not to tell you not to worry? Listen up...
I’ve brought my very nearly 4 year old daughter back into bed with me this week. She has been generally unsettled, waking frequently, having bad dreams, very emotional during the day. So I figured lets just have her back in bed with me again all night so I’m already there for all the bad dream moments.
She has been sleeping in a big bed with her brother for the past year now, so it’s prompting all sorts of old memories having her back in with us. Some lovely (oh delicious warm soft sweet baby smell). Some less lovely (foot up nose at 3am).
And today somebody asked me if I worried that because I’d done this, it would now be really hard to get her out of my bed again, and I’ve ‘given in’ and ‘gone backwards’.
The answer to which is of course I worry about that! Because I worry about everything! My subconscious is always busy with random irrational panics about what I’m doing wrong as a mother.
Such as the time I woke in the middle of the night when my daughter was 14 months old frantically worrying that maybe she hadn’t grown any teeth yet because I hadn’t fed her any meat…
My rational brain will sometimes come to my rescue though, and at the moment, this is what my rational brain (along with my not insignificant knowledge and experience of small children) is reminding my subconscious worries:
You don’t foster independence by pushing your child away from you into independence. You foster it by making them feel as loved and safe and secure as possible in their relationship with you. The child who knows their parent’s arms will always open ready for a hug when they ask, is the child who will be happiest to venture away from that parent to discover their own independence.
I’ve just seen this doing the rounds on Facebook, and I love it.
I love it for two reasons.
Firstly, because a time out is exactly what parents need sometimes. And a time out that feels like a treat, like something special, is just what our overwhelmed, stressed out selves need to regroup.
I’m not (necessarily) advocating getting drunk to cope with parenting. But I want to emphasise the concept that a time out for a parent should consist of something that that parent likes! And that helps that parent to feel restored and revitalised.
Time out should FEEL GOOD!
And the second reason I like this picture, is because the idea of time out being a chance for a treat, can be equally applied to children as it is to their parents.
Children (just like us adults) act out when they are overwhelmed.
Think about the moments that you snap at your partner? Are you tired? Hungry? Feeling unappreciated? Facing unrealistic expectations? Still processing a stressful day at work?
We act out when we are overloaded and overwhelmed, and our children are exactly the same. Every time there is some seemingly purposeful negative behaviour from our child, have a think as to what the underlying reason might be.
I have a list of five things that seem to be at the heart of every single problem behaviour I see in my kids: