Coming back from the bathroom at 4 am, I lay down on the sliver of mattress that is available. Because the horizontal 5-year-old owned the middle plot. As I snuggled in beside her grinning like a fool, I was comforted by the fact that I could hear her breathing. This wasn’t an odd occurrence. She usually appeared around 3 am to claim her space and there are never any objections. Only a shifting of her parents to let her in the middle. Well, her and the usual suspects that she drags with her. As I drift back to sleep, there are no guilt fairies buzzing around my head. Lots of parents would have sent her back to her own bed, but… I’m just NOT “that kind” of a parent.
My Aha Moment
I actually came to this realization about a year ago, in the wee hours of a Friday morning. I was getting dressed for work, in the dark, and couldn’t figure out why my sock was fighting me. After the 7th try, I realized that it was my daughter’s sock. So, I flung it into the corner and went to grab choice #2.
“Mommy what are you doing?” she woke up, from the center of my bed, and asked.
“I’m getting dressed to go to work,” I whispered.
“Don’t forget to kiss Daddy and get your lunch. Oh yeah, and don’t forget our Friday Tradition.” She said falling back to sleep.
I giggled at the words of my grown-up little 5 yr old.
I never forget to kiss her daddy goodbye, but I’m always forgetting my lunch. And I would never forget our Friday Tradition, she’d kill me! So, I whispered back that I wouldn’t forget anything. I said my goodbyes, gave kisses to both before I left for downstairs, and drove away……without my lunch.
Before she had awakened, I was sitting in the dark thinking about how unconventional a parent I am. I was never even a conventional person from the first. Awkward, socially dysfunctional and a Quirky black chick yes, but not conventional. And I had always winced at the idea of being someone’s parent.
In The Beginning…
I grew up watching T.V. shows from the 60s-80s. Seeing the struggles of my own parental units, my friend’s parents, and parents out in public made me cringe. I had nightmares of becoming a parent. Like, seriously I more often than not woke up in a cold sweat hearing someone call me Mom in the dark! Forget the boogie man in the closet, what if there was a kid in that closet? (gasp) Was my carefree life all a dream? Was I in fact a mom who needed to respond to a little person’s cry? A glance around the bedroom, devoid of child paraphernalia, usually brought me back to reality. But it sometimes took a few heart-pounding minutes.
Thinking of Minivans, PTA meetings, sleepovers and playdates made me nauseous. And then life happened. The hubby and I decided 11 years into our marriage, at the start of our midlife, to procreate. We were feeling adventurous and ready to take responsibility for a child’s upbringing. Only, my reproductive equipment had taken my threats seriously. And so our beautiful Boss Baby daughter was baked by another oven.
The whole parent thing (even though we read books, took a class and collected much-unsolicited advice) came as quite a Shock and Awe experience. The battle was Poopy but brief and soon (several years) we had all settled down into a lifestyle that worked for us.
The Here and Now of It
Societal expectations on what it means to be a good parent nearly drove me crazy and ruined the relationship between my daughter and me. OK, maybe ruined is a bit strong, but we certainly wouldn’t be as close as we are now.
- I don’t freak out that our 5 yr old doesn’t go to bed until 9 pm, even though research says she should be in at 7 pm. That works for her. She wakes up feeling great and launches herself into another day full of adventure.
- I don’t care that she still has a security blanket at 5 almost 6. Yep, it looks like a post-apocalyptic refugee from the CDC’s Most Wanted Poster, but she remains confident, and adventurous when she knows its near.
- Our 5 yr old goes thru a nightly bedtime routine and falls asleep in her own bed, in her own room. When she gets up for a pee break at night, she sometimes comes and gets in our bed. I don’t make her feel bad about not being a “big girl.” I know she changes every day and these moments of snuggling won’t last. So I enjoy them as long as I can.
- When my daughter and I disagree on things like the difference between wanting and needing a thing, I don’t end the conversation with, “because I said so!” I believe in open communication. Giving an explanation and reasoning for my decision helps to teach good decision-making and problem-solving skills.
- I’m not that kind of parent that says, “if you don’t eat what I’m eating, then you don’t eat tonight. My husband likes spicy food, I don’t. He likes stews, they freak me out. My daughter likes veggies and not meats and detest any flavoring other than salt. So we basically eat the same things, just less of some, more of others and some things are more flavored after they are plated. We plan ahead of time and prep our meals accordingly. It’s not that hard, really…
The Truth of It All…
We are warm and nurturing parents who listen and reason with our daughter. We are firm but kind. And we are supportive and open-minded parents. I know that some old school parents are rolling their eyes but just like older folks, little people deserve respect as well. If we want them to be respectful individuals and to respect us, then we need to earn it by modeling that behavior first.
In my experience, children who only know blind obedience turn into young adults who only know how to follow and be led. There’s nothing wrong with reasoning and allowing give-and-take discussions. You still have to be the responsible adult and decide in their best interest. But a little more time spent on thoughtful reasoning shows your kids that they are respected and that their opinions have value.
I prefer positive discipline to shouting, spanking or threatening. Our family has doable and regular routines that keep us on track. We’ve set clear limits on behavior while consistently enforcing boundaries. For us, this helps to avoid a lot of unpleasant moments.
The Future is Bright
When I threw away the books and ditched the Mom Guilt, so many things became easier and clearer. Yes, I still listened to other parents talk about their kid-tastrophes, Aha Moments, and parenting triumphs. I still asked advice from reputable sources (kids alive, not in jail/rehab, have all limbs). But, I selectively choose what makes sense for our family. And I try very hard not to judge another parenting styles.
I feel that our parenting style is respectful and intuitive. We pay close attention to her emotional and verbal communication. And we listen to our own inner voices and gut instincts. I believe that being older parents got us to this benchmark faster than our younger contemporaries.
Like all good parents, we want the best for our daughter. Our little person with the 9 pm bedtime, sleeping in a makeshift fort in the hallway is happy. She’s also smart, kind and confident. So, I know we’re doing an awesome job! If she takes over a small country by force and demands that everyone eats Cap’n Crunch every day, then we’ll talk about therapy. And maybe a bloodless coup. But, for right now, I’m cruising Mom-Guilt Free, in a happy household!
What are your thoughts on parenting styles and societal expectations? Leave your comments in the section below.