“I was a wonderful parent before I had children. I was an expert on why everyone else was having problems with theirs. Then I had three of my own.” Adele Faber
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This quote by Adele Faber the author of “How to talk so kids will listen” – the only parenting book I actually read all the way through and which I consider to be my parenting bible, described how I felt my first few years of parenting. In theory, I knew what kind of parent I wanted to be, my keyword was – Present. I wanted to be there for my kids and I thought I knew what it meant.
The whole “being a present parent” things seemed like a no brainer. My husband and I made some lifestyle changes when we learned we were about to become parents to twin boys (and then 2 years later to a girl). I transitioned into working from home, we moved out of the city, found a community we loved that had that “Villiage” feel that it really does take to raise a child. I thought we were doing alright – never missed a preschool/school event, always volunteered for the kid’s school and after-school activities, always take them to school in the morning, always waiting for them at home when they got back. It took me a little while to realize I was physically present all the time, but mentally I was present much less. As always, the most important lessons, I learned from my kids, who are the best parenting experts I could ever have.
To be in your children’s memories tomorrow,
You have to be in their lives today.” Barbara Johnson
My kids have the ability to figuratively smack me on my forehead and give me a much-needed wake-up call.
“Mom is busy” was the answer my daughter gave her dad when she asked him to play with her and he told her to ask me to join too. I was sitting right next to her, going over something on my phone. It was the weekend, I wasn’t really working, but apparently, I was mentally checked out, enough for my daughter – who knows I work from home, to just assume I was too busy to play.
Every now and then I have to give myself one of those wakeup calls too. I run my business and the day to day life on schedule, and sometimes I forget that you need to let go of that sometimes, and just go with the flow. One of those wakeup calls happened during a family hike we took over the weekend. I found myself rushing the kids for no good reason, just out of habit. I realized I do that all the time during the week, to get them to school or to after school activities on time. That type of language was used by me far too much. It dawned on me that maybe I should leave the tight schedule for my work planner, and try to live in the moment with my kids more.
SO how do I practice that elusive “being present” or “being in the moment” slogans we parents here so much? I wrote down – a few “bullet points” as a reminder that I need to SEE and be SEEN by my kids, not just be there.
Patient and nonverbal communication
I am a task oreinted person. If I see a problem I NEED to fix it, and I like to be prompt and efficient about it. At times I can see and recognize my kids are going through something, that they are upset and not their usual carefree selves. All I want is for them to tell me what is wrong so I can fix it for them, so I can feel like I am DOING something about it. Unfortunately for my personality traits – that’s not how it works.
“I don’t want to talk about it” is a sentence I always thought I’d hear from a teenager, not from my first-grade daughter. It’s not that they don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to talk about it right now, not before they processed things. At first, my immediate reaction was to panic and try to press them into telling me. I used sentences like “If you don’t tell me I can’t fix it”.
That clearly doesn’t work. They don’t need me to fix it, they need me to help them figure out how to fix it for themselves, or they need me just as a sounding board. What does work is calmly saying “I am here for you if you want to talk to me about it, maybe we can figure out together what to do about it “. I also stay close to them, hug a lot, cuddle, kiss them on the head while they do something else, a nonverbal reminder that I am there for them.
Yesterday, my son was upset, wouldn’t say why. I stayed in arms reach of him all through the afternoon. Before bedtime, I just cuddled with him a little while he was getting ready, and then suddenly he started talking to me, crying a little. We talked out his problem and I got the best compliment of this week so far – “MOM you can be annoying a lot, but you are a really good mother” 🙂
The art of the open yet specific question
Parent – “How was school, honey?”
Child – “OK”
End of discussion. How many of us have the same dialog with our kids every day? Doesn’t work. Kids are not prone to disclosing details on their own. However too specific questions can make them shut off. A few years back someone recommended these talking points to me. While sitting down to dinner with them we do the “best thing about the day” “worst thing about the day” and “funniest thing about the day” round. I start off by telling them about mine, and they follow one by one. This proved to be the best way to get them to share actual details of their day. It helps them focus on details but not in a pushy way. I try to practice this form of questions in different areas and subjects, it usually works.
Be mindful of your language
If I am not mindful of the type of language I use, I can end up sounding more like a project manager then a mom on busy days.
“It’s time to…” “Hurry” “We have to be there in 5 minutes” “Did you finish your homework”. On some high-stress days, I do end up sounding like that. It’s almost unavoidable when you have 3 young children to shepherd through their day and get everyone to where they need to be while still managing my own work and duties. However, I do try to contain my “get it done” attitude and use calmer language and instead of handing out orders I try to make suggestions. One of my sons HATES getting dressed in the mornings, remains of his SPD that is mostly gone now. He needs a relaxed more fluid morning, to feel like he is doing things at his own pace. After many frustrating mornings and combative attitude on both our sides, I learned to suggest options with a specific advantage pointed out. “If you get dressed now it will take you 5 minutes and then you will have 30 minutes to read in peace”. Works like magic. ( I still have to repeat it every day though:) ) Instead of me being the one handing out marching orders all day – I give reminders. “At 6 o’clock dinner is going to be ready”. I also give lots of positive affirmations when they get things done on their own. I try very hard to raise them to be responsible for their own duties, give them some space to take over their own tasks without me “policing” them into it. When they do that, I give lots of praises and tell them how proud I am of them.
Set out a time in the day to be there exclusively for them.
My kids (8-year-old twins, and a 6-year-old girl) are busy! They have they have after school activities 4 days out of the week. They don’t have that much free time with me. In the time we do have during our afternoon-evening routine, I set out an hour and a half that is solely theirs. No phone answered, no laptop (which is normally like my third arm permanently attached to me) in reach. There is some music usually playing in the background while I make dinner and dance around in the kitchen, sometimes they join me or they hang around moving about in the kitchen if there is something they can help with, and we talk. doesn’t matter what about. Half the stuff they tell me, I don’t really get (after 2 years of them doing Dungeons and Dragons I still can’t wrap my head around it, sorry).
I ask questions, they love explaining things. Even their grandmothers know not to call at these hours because it’s our time together.
Have daily rituals
I have one with every child, specifically for him. they are 3 totally different little people with their own likes and preferences. We try to do activities with each of them separately at least once a month. At bedtime I go over to their beds, I sit down with each of them once they are tucked in, we talk for a little bit, and there is a goodnight sentence that I say every night to each of them, and each child has his own sentence. It’s like an anchor in their nightly routine, they expect it and enjoy it. I have been doing the same thing since they were babies. It’s a calm loving end to their day and it is a meaningful part of our day.
These are the little bullet points I keep each day to help me center and remind myself how to keep myself focused on my kids in our shared time together. Do you have parenting practices you use daily to keep yourself present for your children? Would love for you to share them with me.
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