How To Be A Better Parent All The Time At Everything

Dear Parent,

You’re probably thirty-something. You probably have a child or two under the age of four. You never knew you could feel SO MUCH LOVE, but you also never knew it was going to be THIS HARD.

There are moments of sheer delight, but they’re often separated by long, mundane hours that range from busy to infuriating. You feel guilty that you miss your pre-parent life.

You wish you never lost your temper as often as you do.
You know your spouse is supposed to be on the same team as you but often they feel like The Enemy.
But most of all, there is this nagging suspicion that you are messing it up. mug

Parenthood, Your Child, Marriage, Life.

You used to feel like someone who could manage stress, who knew how to handle, who had a game plan. But between discipline and diet, health and safety, tantrums and tired, you’re just not sure anymore. Not sure you can do it. Not sure that you have what it takes. You’re not even sure what exactly you’re supposed to do when your 3 year old throws their cereal across the room and breaks the bowl and now there’s glass everywhere and you lose your temper and you’re already late for work and you’re not supposed to give hidings and you ARE supposed to be calm and now they’re going to be hungry at school and neither of you are going succeed in life.
The End.

If you’re not sure what the next right thing is, how can you be sure you’ll do it properly?

You are not alone. 

In the past two weeks, I’ve heard of two different couples with a small child whose marriages have unravelled. I’ve had two conversations with tearful parents of under-4’s who are at their wits end. I’ve had my own sit-on-the-kitchen-floor-and-clench-my-fists-and-hit-the-tiles moments. And I can’t help but wonder why it seems like so many of us are struggling?

So I asked my dad. I asked him about his childhood. I asked him about raising us. I asked him why he thought so many parents in our generation find parenting so difficult. Was it like this for you, Dad?

And what he said was profound…

He said he thinks our expectations are too high.
He said he thinks we’re not used to saying “no” to ourselves.

And so when we either don’t achieve the standards we think we should, or we don’t have the luxuries we used to have, we freak out. Whether it’s anger, or guilt, or desperation, we assume that because it’s so hard because we’re doing it wrong.

  This really hit home for me.

Our expectations are too high. 

He told me how when my folks had kids, they just knew they weren’t going to go out and socialise that much anymore. It was a given. It was normal. He observed that for myself and my peers, we generally tried to keep our lives as close to what they were pre-kids, while he seemed to think that for my folks – well, they basically just lowered their expectations of life.

Woah. Interesting theory.

I started to think about it. And I came up with some reasons why I think he may be right…

We like to think we ‘won’t let our kids change us’.
I know I was guilty of thinking this way. I saw couples with kids change, and ‘give in’, and ‘lose themselves’ to parenthood. And being the inherently selfish, usually otherwise and somewhat cynical person I am, I decided I wasn’t going to “let my children change who I am”. Come on…how many of you said something like that? So we set out on a mission not to let our post-baby life look different our pre-baby life and IT JUST DOESN’T WORK. We drive ourselves crazy trying to be the same people, have the same lifestyle, and do the same stuff.

We’ve been told we can have it all.
As a woman, I’ve experienced opportunities that were not as readily available to previous generations. Education, career, travel, domestic help, hands-on husbands. But along with those privileges comes the assumption that it’s a realistic possibility to Work Hard and Play Hard and Parent Well and Partner Well ALL AT THE SAME TIME AND EQUALLY BRILLIANTLY and that there are people out there getting this right and if you aren’t, well, what is wrong with you? The reality is for generations before us (and many women around the world still) if you worked hard, you didn’t spend a lot of time with your kids. If you had kids, you never socialised like you used to. If you weren’t working, you had less money. But we’re told we can have it all.

There is so much information. We can read any number of parenting books and blogs, and we’re exposed to so many models and theories and suggestions that we have A MILLION WAYS TO KNOW WE’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH.  I’m so grateful for the resources that have helped me, but in every article and on every page there is something I’m NOT doing right. And I know all about it. I know every time I do something wrong and how it will inevitably scar my child for life.

I certainly don’t want to diminish the effort, love and attention you give to your kids.

But seriously, dearest fellow human.

Lower your expectations. 

Or you could go Google how to be a better parent and do All The Things in all the blogs and chat about it at Wine Club and write a blog and start a Pintrest page on dealing with children’s sensory development and go on a parenting course and start another small business to earn more money so you can send them to a better school and also stop fighting with your husband.

Or you could lower your expectations.

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Rookie Mom: A Pretty Ordinary Day

4.00am – “MAMA! I’m awake! Look, it’s a morning! What’s today?”

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 2.15.03 PM

We’ll never go out of style – T.S

Stumbling out of bed, I switch on the kettle. One bottle of rooibos tea with honey, one bottle of formula, one cup of green tea. The boys and I lie on the couch sipping on our beverages of choice, while I play “This Little Piggy went to Market” on the Two Year Old’s toes. It’s like one of those stock photos of the perfect family. Until….

4.07am – “MY car! “MY car! “MY car!”

The negotiations begin. About 87% of my day is spent negotiating between two small humans with very undeveloped brains.

  • If you want your brother’s car, find him another one you can swop with.
  • Sorry, boy, you can’t have Salticracks for breakfast. Cereal or oats?
  • No, you cannot go to school naked.

These are just a few things I find myself saying fairly regularly and it becomes quite difficult to know what’s sinking in. But then every now and then, I realise that they actually do hear what I’m saying. Yesterday, the Four Year Old and I were playing “Good Guys, Bad Guys” and after he put me in jail, he told me “Sit here, and you can’t come out until you control yourself.” It would appear someone HAS been listening.

Insert here school runs, snack time, nap time, wrestling matches to get nappies changed, running races to get noses wiped and a trip to the homeopath.

Just an ordinary day

Just an ordinary day

Fast-forward twelve hours.

4.00pm – “MY truck! MY truck! MY truck!”

4.07pm – “MAMA! I’m hungry. Look, there’s a moon. What’s for supper?”

Same tune, different words. In the next twenty minutes, I clean up the Two Year Old’s swimming costume that has been pooped in (the kind that zip all the way up to the neck), I grab a runaway bottle of Domestos out of the Four Year Old’s hand and scoop up an entire tub of yogurt that was chucked on a suede couch from a highchair. Note to prospective parents: suede couches may or may not have their origins in the pit of hell. Do not buy one.

Our evening routine starts with the celebration of Dad’s arrival home – dancing, tears of joy and leaping into his arms.

The kids are usually quite stoked to see him, too.

The double pram is loaded up with bikes and skateboards as we meander around the block, and our arrival back at the gate is usually announced by the Four Year Old’s meltdown – the stick we found earlier is too short, or the pants he’s wearing are too orange, or his brother keeps looking at him. Being four years old at five o clock in the afternoon is difficult. So is being one of our neighbours, I would venture to guess.

Dinner (left overs).
Bath (bubbles, of course).
Bed (finally).

Another bottle of rooibos tea, another bottle of formula and one spilt bottle of Panado.

Did somebody say “wine”?
Yes, please.

It’s a pretty ordinary day in the life of this Rookie Mom. It’s the ordinary day after day after day, at the end of which I collapse into bed with achy feet, wondering if I’ll ever NOT be tired again. However, I forgot to mention a few things.

Like how the Four Year Old told the cashier at Spar his new joke.
(What do cows do on a Friday night? Go to the mooovies.)

Or how the Two Year Old said “Hi, guys!” to everyone we walked past.

I didn’t mention how the Four Year Old makes his cross-eyed funny face to get his brother to stop crying, or how the little one hides under the table and squeaks while we all look for a mouse in the house. No one except me hears a little voice whisper, “I love you bigger than the whole world, Mama” or feels two smooth, squashy little arms hugging my neck at bedtime. When these two kids laugh, when the Four Year Old tells me a story, when the Two Year Old runs up to me and grabs my legs and throws back his head to look into my eyes, I melt. (And NOT from exhaustion). I melt with love, and gratitude, and the realisation that I am privileged and honoured to have these gorgeous children entrusted to my care…every ordinary day.

As the Husband and I lie in bed at night, exhausted, grumpy and each convinced we work harder than our spouse, we start to talk about our kids. About how smart and funny and cute they are, about how much we love them. Sometimes we actually want to go wake them up and play with them. This is usually the sign that we are crossing over into post-traumatic delirium and really need to sleep, so it’s lights out and eyes closed.

Did I say this was a pretty ordinary day? I meant it was another beautiful ordinary day.

Rookie Mom: How to Partner with Teachers

And he's off.

                             First days.

If you live in South Africa, this week your Facebook feed has been filled with pictures of kids on their first day of school. If you’re like me, you’ve been sending messages back and forth about kids who are fine, mothers who are not, hints of tears and declarations of wine.

When I imagine having twenty-eight little 3-4 year olds in classroom for the first time, I feel an overwhelming desire to lie down and curl up into the fetal position.  Once I spent thirty minutes at Will’s play school and afterwards I added “pre-school teacher” to my long list of Jobs I Never Want. (Other careers include chef, occupational therapist, accountant, person who keeps things organised and neat.)

Teachers are freaking awesome. I know there may be tired, jaded, cynical teachers who don’t care, or who forgot why they got into it, or who keep hip flasks of whiskey in their top drawer. But I think most teachers are freaking awesome.

I wondered about what advice teachers would give to rookie parents like me about the long road of schooling ahead, and so I asked on Facebook. There were 27 comments. TWENTY-SEVEN! Just from teachers. You guys, teachers want to partner with us parents. They want our kids to rock out at life, and growing, and learning. They basically want the same thing as we do – happy, loved, growing kids. How cool is that?

Here is some of what they had to say…

As most teachers go ALL in, they do have a plan and direction for where they wanna go. Trust that they know what they are doing, they are trained, have experience, and are so dedicated that they spend their own money to get extra resources! If you don’t understand or if the teacher has not communicated the goals, ASK! That way you can team up, and follow up SO much better at home (homework especially), which will be a tremendous strength in your child’s learning! – Monika

Teachers are human too, so we appreciate friendly, supportive parents who we can communicate with easily. – Jolene

Trust and support your child’s teacher! If you communicate openly and honestly you’ll do well! – Colin

Communication is the biggest thing! Also realizing that the “partnership” is actually three strand.. Parents, children, teachers. If there are clear lines of communication between all three, a blissful educational experience is a guarantee! X Also.. Making expectations clear from the start, from all sides! – Abi

I think respecting a teacher and giving her opinion credit is a huge thing. There are a lot of parents who assume they know more about teaching or about their child’s development. This is what we have dedicated our lives to, and we do know what we are talking about! We often see a parent not listen to a teacher early on, and then only 4 years and 4 teachers later eventually listen… after so much time has been lost!! – Kirstie

Trust that we know what we doing. Well at least most of the time… Also remember we make mistakes too. If theres something going in at home that the kids upset about let us know. I got a note about the death of a beloved pet snake! – Melissa

There were many more like this. Catching a general theme?

Communication. Trust.

We can do that, can’t we? It seems like it will go a long way.

There were some other real gems, too.

Communication is very important. Also, avoid the temptation to become a “snowplow parent” (one who snowplows all their kids problems away so they never have to learn to deal with healthy adversity). I see this a lot in high school and when things don’t go their way, they blame the teacher instead of trying to work with their kids to develop strategies to overcome obstacles and achieve success. – Christie

I always tell my parents I promise to not believe everything I hear about you as long as you promise to not believe everything you hear about me! The parents I’ve absolutely loved while teaching have been the ones I have felt have been on my side, given me grace and had faith in my ability ( even when they didn’t know I had any! ) The moms who were not apart of the car park gossip were generally the ones I knew were trustworthy. Appreciation is always so encouraging as a teacher. Before voicing a issue with other parents go straight to the teacher and try sort it out – this means so much! – Kimber

Gotta agree with communication and sending your kid to school with the basics covered so they can hit the ground running in the morning. BUT, on a personal note, from you to the teacher, it’s always nice when a parent acknowledges something I’m trying to do, that might go unnoticed. A quick note in the child’s agenda, or an email, a note of thanks goes a loooong way to feeling like we, as a teacher, are understood by the parent. Also…I take everything my students tell me about their parents (ie. “I didn’t get my homework done because my parents were yelling at each other all night”) with a grain of salt and ask that they do the same when the child comes home saying, “Ms. McClure wouldn’t help me with my math questions at all.” We can get it all sorted out through communication in the end. – Heather

Some good stuff there.

Appreciation. Avoiding car park gossip. And (I LOVE THIS!) take some things with a pinch of salt.

And finally, I saved the best for last. I really think this will go a long, long way to helping teachers to do all we hope they do with excellence and honour.

It pretty much comes down to the present at the end of the year for me. So maybe tell them what it’s going to be in advance? – Phil

I agree with Phil its entirely possible to buy a teacher’s love. Gifts and thoughtful gestures throughout the year (especially at concerts, open days, report time etc) be that parent, I won’t judge you – Tammy

A few months ago I was at a friend’s birthday dinner and I sat next to his mom, who has been a teacher for many years. I asked her what her advice would be to a new mom like me? And she basically summarised this blog for in two beautiful pieces of advice.

If you need to speak to a teacher, make an appointment. Don’t try to have important conversations just as all the kids are arriving, or when all the parents are coming through the door. Give her a chance to hear you without distractions, and you’ll have a much better outcome to the conversation.

And, don’t be a part of car park gossip. It just creates division and suspicion. – Corinne

I’m just a rookie mom. I haven’t had any tough experiences yet, and I know there are plenty of you out there who have travelled down this road and have a story to tell. But regardless of who the teachers are, and what our kids are going through, I think we can do these things. Communication. Trust. Appreciation. No gossip.

Let’s work together to make 2015 a great year for our teachers and our children! In the word’s of another teacher friend,

“We’re on the same team!”

Little Luke heading off into a big world

Little Luke heading off into a big world