The Internet says: Only feed your kids organic foods with no sugar.
I’ve discovered: Feed them whatever fills them up so they don’t wake up at 4:00am because they didn’t eat their organic quinoa cakes with free-range chicken patties and raw milk that you had for dinner.
The Internet says: Reason with your three year old [who has the emotional range of a sociopath].
I’ve discovered: You can’t reason with a 3-year old at all. I just have to discipline her. After all, she can’t even pronounce the word “reason” yet, let alone understand it
Internet says: No screen time until school-age, and then only 30 minutes a day.
I’ve discovered: This doesn’t make sense to me. Does the kid’s head explode at 31 minutes? This rule seems egregious and arbitrary. Television and films can be just as artistic as books. Use YOUR discretion, not the voices of the Internet. Remember this fact: YOU are the parent.
Those are just a few parenting suggestions (and my reactions) that I’ve come across during my limited reading of parenting blogs. (Which is close to never). To be honest, if I read anything from a parenting blog it is because my wife suggested I do. I just can’t get behind them, and so it’s actually hard for me to write a parenting blog post.
This came up today because when I was trying to think of a blog post. My wife suggested I write a parenting one.
Not easy for me, and this is why: Every family is so different. Every child requires different parenting techniques or needs a different type of discipline. What works for your child, may not work for mine.
Your child may need a gluten-free diet, mine may not. Your three-year old may be compliant, mine may be strong-willed. Some kids shouldn’t watch television for whatever reason, but it may not really affect mine.
Our kids need a lot of down time and get really tired of structured extracurricular time (like playing on a team or doing dance or whatever), but your child may thrive in that environment.
The kind of parenting advice I can get behind, though, is the kind that spurs you on to foster the really important qualities in your child: being kind to one another, obeying her parents, putting other’s needs before her own, trying to be honest, that type of thing.
Because let’s face it, the kids we are raising today are going to be the adults of tomorrow. And, we all have interactions everyday with people who needed more of the virtue-teaching by their parents rather than another ballet class or more organic vegetables.
So here’s my parenting advice to you (and me) today: focus on the really important stuff and remember to teach it to our kids, not just through our words, but through our own actions.
I’ve already written about doing things “Dad-style” vs. “Mom-style” and encouraging creativity is no different. Here are some things I’ve noticed lately about that…
Crafting, Mom-style: The wife likes to get out paper, ribbon, glue sticks, markers, crayons and, the ultimate in obnoxious craft supplies, GLITTER, and go to town with the girls.
Crafting, Dad-style: Take a few pieces of wood, and hand them to the kids, and see what they can do with them. Occasionally, I’ll allow them to paint them or hammer them together. But under no circumstances are they allowed to use glitter.
Creative activity, Mom-style: The girls love play-doh, and so my wife will get out the little tubs of dough, and then also the bucket of cookie cutters and other accessories. She will sometimes even give them fancy little dishes to play with.
Creative activity, Dad-style: I hate play-doh. It stays on our carpet for weeks afterward. So, I just tell the kids to go outside and play and make up elaborate scenarios with each other. They pretty much have free reign of our yard, and usually end up making quite a few mudpies. At some point, a child will probably get a minor injury, but we have plenty of bandaids, so it all works out.
Inside playtime, Mom-style: My wife will play dolls with the girls, fixing hair, changing outfits. In other words, my worst nightmare.
Inside Playtime, Dad-style: We'll play the XBOX-360 wrestle, tickle, or just build something with blocks, either wooden or lego. We can have a big battle or knock it down, or whatever. (Usually, if we play, they just ask what my name is over and over. That, or invite me over to some party their toys are having.)
Clothing Choice Creativity, Mom-style: My wife lets them choose their own outfits, but will often help them and talk to them about it.
Clothing Choice Creativity, Dad-style: I’ll let them create their own fashion style of whatever clothing items they want to wear for the day. They aren’t allowed to ask me my opinion (I'll say, "Ask mom"), and I don’t butt in with my thoughts about their outfits. Win, win.
This is usually accomplished by a simple command of mine. “Get dressed.” I figure it is the first step in teaching them independence.
Once, a long time ago, when we just had one baby, we ran into a friend of ours in the chip aisle of a grocery store. He had several young daughters of varying ages at the time, and offered us this little gem of Child Development to my wife’s question of “What’s your favorite age of your children”:
He said something along the lines of this: “Oh, they’re all my favorite. You get to one stage, and you think that this is the best stage. But then you get to the next one and you realize things are even better.”
I agree with him. Every stage that a child goes through is unique and brings with it a new and different aspect to your child. You spend your life raising a child as you get to know her. It's a life of discovery.
For example, last night, we taught our older girls how to play 9 Card, a card game that we play a lot with friends and family. It’s a fairly simple game, and they picked it up immediately. So… now we don’t have to wait for others to come over to play it. This is one reason why we bought so many board games for 4 or more players when we were first married. The goal was to one day be able to play them with our kids.
Well, here we are now, 11 years later, having that first game night, not playing kid games. It’s my favorite age, in that respect.
But then, I look at our four year old, Caroline. She’s finally getting out of that 3 year old angst, and, instead, fully inhabits that funny and clever stage that is the Four Year Old. The things she says are priceless. For example, last week, my wife was reading The Little Mermaid book to her. Caroline interrupted her at one point and started comparing and contrasting Ariel to herself and my wife. Their conversation went something like this:
Caroline: Ariel has long hair like me!
Wife: Yes, she does.
Caroline: But Ariel’s hair is red, and I’m a blondie.
Wife: That’s right!
Caroline: And her lips are red! But not like yours, yours are bland.
Wife: (trying not to laugh) You’re right, her lips are very red.
Bland lips. Point taken from a four year old. Interactions like that make this age my favorite too.
Then, there’s the One-and-a-Half year old. This age sometimes really is my favorite age, even with all of her destruction. Nothing is safe with Emily around right now. Nothing. She rips up books and colors over her sister’s schoolwork and dumps out whole bags of potato chips.
A few weeks ago, she stepped on a mini cupcake with blue frosting and then managed to walk all over the living room, smearing that frosting in large quantities all over our (already tremendously stained) carpet. Blue food coloring does not scrub out. My wife has sworn to never buy mini cupcakes from Walmart again.
I'm not sure why she did it in the first place. (I guess my 9-year old convinced her.)
But then, she’s so cute when she’s copying her older sister’s dance moves or making them up all her own. Or when she’s trying to help wash the dishes, or when she lectures the cat. It’s such a fleeting time. Maybe that’s what makes it my favorite age.
Sometimes when kids are having a hard time with life, it’s easy to get bogged down with the negative attributes with which they are currently struggling. It’s encouraging to realize that the stages they go through aren’t permanent. That’s why you can just hang on and wait some of it out. On the other hand, it's sad that they move on. Growing older and the passage of time strikes me as really sad. These moments are brief. We should hold on to them as long as we can. If not, they'll probably be broken by the 1-year old. Oh well, move everything to the top of a closet until they are about four... unless it's the carpet.
You'll just have to eventually change it.
I'm not a quitter. Sort of. I can finish things, and I don't usually procrastinate.
But sometimes I kind of forget about things. Maybe it's on purpose, maybe not.
The funny thing is, even writing this post, I had such a hard time finishing it. Is that irony?
We have this new goal to have the girls read a certain number of books every month or they lose their screen time. We're not starting it until February, though. So...
I'm not really sure where I was going with that.
My wife was the one to bring this up. When I mentioned this new Reading idea to her, she thought it was a good idea, but then said that she doubted we would follow through with it.
I asked her what she meant by that, but really, I already knew.
See, we sometimes have "good ideas" like this that sort of just fizzle out. You want some examples?
Once we had this idea to all wake up early every morning and have a large, hot breakfast. At the time we were having a problem with the girls balking about their schoolwork. If we all got up early (before my wife went to work), we could eat breakfast together and start the day on a good note (that was the thought, anyway).
I think that plan lasted about a month, maybe 5 weeks. I'm not even sure why or when it stopped.
My wife had an idea for a chore chart, probably with stickers. I'm not sure how long that one lasted, but I don't think it was more than a week. (Frankly, I don't think she ever made the chart.)
I used to come up with a detailed daily schedule for school subjects, complete with lunch and snack times. It wasn't too long before those plans were derailed. I didn't even bother to do it this year.
As I'm typing this, I'm starting to see a trend. I think the reason we feel the need to start something new is because we're in a bad habit, and we see the need to get out of it, but to do that we need structure. And maybe a hard turn to get us out of the rut we're in.
In all of the scenarios that I've described, we just needed to redirect ourselves on a better path. Once we did that, we didn't have the need for the stringent system. We're not really Type A people, so we don't thrive with regular rigidity, but everyone needs a wake up call at some points in their lives.
We can follow through with things, I told my wife. After all, I worked for years to get published, we've directed many plays, we finish projects we start.
Having things fall through is not exactly the same as not following through.
We have this new goal because we see the kids aren't reading as much as we want them too. Hopefully this system is all we need to get back on the track we want them to be. And if it fizzles out, but we keep the good habit, all will be well.
And, look, I finished this blog post. I guess I'm not so much of a quitter after all.
Scott Keen is the author of three young adult fantasy novels, Scar of the Downers, Rise of the Branded, and War of the Downer King.