Monday, March 23, 2009

The TMI Files. Guiltfree Parenting.

One thing that we all know is that kids come without a license, and without an instruction manual.

These days, we have all these images around us that tell us what we should be doing to be the Best Parents We Can Be.

Here are my thoughts on parenting.

disclaimer. this is my opinion only, there are no studies to back up anything I say; it's my experience and how I see things.

1. You are your child's parent. You are not his or her friend - there is time enough for that when they are grown up and can support themselves and do for themselves.

2. You are not your child's entertainment system. You are there to provide for your child, and that means food, shelter, clothing, educational opportunities as well as fun. If you are trying to keep it fun all the time, you are doing both of you no favours. The real world is not nice, it is not easy, and it is not always fun.

3. Say "No." Say it loud, say it often. I get asked, Mum, why do you always say no? I reply, because near everyone else says yes to you. (They do, too. All she has to do is bat her eyes, and use her manners - she does have uncommonly good manners.)

3. Insist on manners. Manners, politeness, civility, work. If you just say please, a lot of doors are opened. This works for children as well as adults.

4. Be prepared to smack if necessary as a last resort. My girl has been smacked on the hand and on the bottom. She gets a warning so it's not a surprise; it's a consequence of poor behaviour that she takes on knowingly. "If you continue x behaviour, you will get a smack."

Lots of people like to say that you can raise a child without resorting to corporal punishment. Yes, you can, but it's a hell of a lot more difficult, and when used sparingly can lay the foundation for a more controlled (and I use that word loosely) child-rearing.

5. Give lots of hugs. We have a bedtime routine that sometimes includes reading, sometimes not. That depends on how late it is, and if The Procrastinator has dragged out bedtime. In our case, I lie down for a snuggle with her, and we swap kisses and hugs (8 of each, and the last hug a bearhug where she tries to strangle me).

6. Speak to your child not at your child or down to your child. Children are not imbeciles or incapable. They just don't have our adult faculties with language or nuance. For me, it gets difficult at times, since I like big words, but Magilla has an excellent vocabulary for her age, and uses it in context. Mostly.

7. Lay some ground rules for talking to each other. In our house, adults swear, but kids don't. That's because some words are rude and only grown ups can use them without getting into trouble. Because they're grownups. There is one exception, which is the term "shut up." Years ago, I heard someone explain that she felt that when you tell someone to shut up, you are telling them that what they have to say is not worth hearing. There are other ways of asking someone for quiet. So we don't say shut up to each other*.

I'm proud to say I've never told my girl to shut up. Since she could talk under wet cement, I'm very proud of that accomplishment.

8. It's okay to have times when you don't particularly like your child. You'd be amazed how many parents get jacked off by their offspring and then feel guilty about it. Why should you feel guilty?

This is why the bonding process is so important.

Your child is a completely new person. They are not you. They have a different personality and all the quirks that go with it. Your best friend will piss you off at times, so why should you always adore your child? Remember that you are living in close confines with an autonomous being who sometimes seems to be thwarting your will every way you turn. This is normal.

9.Allow your child to deal with their emotions and accept them. This does not mean accommodating tantrums. If Magilla had a tantrum in the supermarket when she was really small, I would sometimes just walk off a small way and let her carry on. I would tell her that such behaviour is not acceptable and I will not tolerate it. So I didn't.

I am in charge, because I am the parent. When she is an adult like me then she can be in charge. It's that simple. She learned not to act out her anger physically, and she knows she can tell me anything. If she's upset with me, sad with me, angry with me, she tells me in no uncertain terms.

I acknowlege that, and we can talk about it and she learns from it. As I've explained to her, everybody gets angry, and that's okay. It's when you go around hitting people, or breaking things that it's not okay.

10. Tell your child you love them. This sounds like I'm stating the bleeding obvious (I am), but sometimes it's difficult to do. In my experience, in my family we didn't say "I love you" very often. I don't remember my parents saying it much at all. Perhaps my siblings remember it differently. It doesn't mean my parents didn't love me - they did and I always knew that. It just makes a difference hearing it from your parent.

11. Plan for the future. I'm not talking financially, or educationally, although they are important. I mean that everything you do now has an impact on your child as an adult. When I was a child of perhaps 6 or 7, my dad came home from somewhere. As he was in the army at the time, it was probably another exercise. I remember being so excited to see him, that I just had to give him a hug and a kiss. Of course, I didn't stop to consider that as he was embracing mum at the time, it might be a bit awkward. I just wrapped my arms around the closest part of him, and planted a huge kiss on his backside. He wasn't impressed at all; he was actually rather dismissive and told me to stop that and get away. As an adult, I can see where he's coming from and empathise, but I can also still feel the rejection I felt then.

Children will always learn that actions have consequences, and you need to always consider what the outcomes of their actions will be.

When I tried keeping a diary as a teenager, my mum found it, and got great amusement out of it at my expense. I never had a diary again, and I rarely confided in mum until I was in my 20s.

Magilla is confident enough in me that she can tell me who she's going to marry, and if someone picks on her at school. If she's making up stories for sympathy or attention, she rarely does so to me. She doesn't get sympathy unless it's deserved, but if she is in a situation that is troubling her, she knows I will deal with it.

And I do.

She told me when another, older, child was behaving inappropriately with her. I didn't go nuts (although I wanted to). I just asked her for a few more details and kept it calm and non-committal. I also told her I believed her. Since she rarely lies to me, and I do not tolerate untruths, this was very important for her to hear. She told me something that could have been seen as attention-seeking behaviour, and she's also been known to make up stories. For her to tell me, even though she'd been enjoined to not say anything, shows a confidence in me as her mother that is hard won. It has been years in the making, but children need solid foundations.

Even if the parents don't always get along, children need to be secure in their position.

Parenting isn't about buying stuff. That's fun, but not really necessary. It's not about going hither and yon, although that's fun, too. It's not about fun, actually.

It's about providing your child with the tools they need to deal with an adult world. They need the shelter of your example and support, so that they can learn and make mistakes in a safe place.

It's okay to get angry with your child - it's not okay to take your anger out on them. You don't allow your child to do that to you, so why do it to them?

It's okay to love your child to bits. Just not to the extent that you try and prevent them from taking risks and failing at things. That's life. Stuff like that happens.

It's okay not to feel like playing with them, or to want to do your own thing at times. You're still an autonomous person yourself.

Just remember that you are you, and your child is your child. You are the example they follow, and if you set a good one, then you should be okay.

*okay, the Godmother and I have occasionally told each other to shut up, but we've also been mates for years, and it's said in jest. Just not within hearing of small ears.


At 11:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excellent bit of advice Nilk. It always helps, especially when, as you say, they don't come with a manual.

At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You'd be amazed how many parents get jacked off by their offspring and then feel guilty about it. Why should you feel guilty?

Are you kidding?

You let your kid do that to you?

And you don't feel guilty???

At 11:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If all parents used half of parenting skills you outlined this would be a much better world.

At 11:33 PM, Blogger Nilk said...

Thanks, MK. I just know a few too many people who second-guess themselves all the time, and as a good friend of mine once said: you're a parent, not a kindergarten teacher.

That sort of stuck with me.

Anon 11.45am, sorry, just a mistranslation lol. I should have probably used pissed off.

Sort of like how rooting in Australia is different to rooting in America.

And Anon 11.28pm, thank you.

At 7:52 PM, Anonymous Colonel Neville said...

Dear Nilk:

Great stuff on parenting and all true, eh?

Oddly, I haven't been able to locate my own son six-year old since his last bath. One minute he was there, then...

I looked under the soap and the mat. Hell, I got better things to do than look for lost children!

ALl the best from Colonel Robert Neville blogspot com


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