Nearly two years into my role as a mother, and I still don’t have a clue what I am doing. Every single day, I come across situations where I don’t know what the right course of action is. And I am faced with numerous behavioral dilemmas I don’t have the answers to. What is the right way to handle a tantrum? Am I hovering over her and giving too much attention? Is she too young to be disciplined? There is an endless list of challenges I face every day and I tackle them by either doing what seems right for my daughter or unfortunately at times, according to my current state of mind. Sometimes I am surprised to see a counter-intuitive approach working perfectly to avert a toddler crisis, at other times I am left with an even bigger problem than the one I had initially set out to solve. I don’t know if I will ever figure out this parenting thing or if the skeptic in me will ever have enough confidence in her abilities to raise another human but I find some consolation in the fact that I am trying very hard to be a good mother. And then there are a few rules I adhere to when I am dealing with my daughter which are a source of comfort to my self-doubting mind. This post is about those rules.
I am always honest with my daughter. So far this is something as simple as her wanting to open a bag of chips in the grocery store. I tell her we can’t open it here but we will as soon as we get to the car. Then I make good on my word and let her have the chips when we are in the car, much to the annoyance of her father. I also remember to say something positive like, “Thank you for listening to me there and waiting.” I find that with time, she is getting more patient when I tell her she can do something later because she has seen that I am not just saying it to distract her. If I tell her that she can have ice cream if she finishes her salad, she gets ice cream after she is done with enough of her salad. If I had promised her a trip to Chuckie Cheese on the weekend, I make sure that I take her, no matter how many errands I leave unfinished. But I make it a point to tell her that this is what I told her we would do and here we are doing it. I believe she understands me. I will try my best to keep up this practice, hoping this will help her trust my word when she is grown up and starts believing that my mission on earth is to make her life miserable. I wish this thought process will come in useful then.
I am attentive when she talks to me. My older sister once told me something like, “Always listen to your child, no matter how ridiculous the tale they are telling is or how weak their argument is or how many times you have already heard that story.” For now, it is only about how upset she is that her father got angry when she wrote on the wall, or how hard it is to switch on her robot dog, or how desperately she wants to pull Tutu’s tail but he keeps running away. Nevertheless, I leave what I am doing, get down to her eye level and listen to her babbling. I am mostly sympathetic and helpful, but sometimes I have to be honest with her which I am sure she finds brutal. I hope as she grows, she will remain confident that she can come to me with the most trivial of matters and I will always listen.
I let her take her time. I am a terribly impatient person and have the habit of getting irritated when things go slightly against how I have planned them in my mind. In fact I consider irritability my worst vice. With my daughter, I am working very hard to change this about myself and I am happy to see that I am progressing, slowly but surely. If I ask her to choose her shoes whilst I put on mine and I go to her room and find her contemplating the limited choice of footwear she owns, I stand back and wait. If I see that she is distracted, I remind her and help her out. But it takes everything in me not to choose something in a hurry and put it on her. If I see that she wants to hug all her stuffed toys before we head out of the house, instead of taking her hand and rushing her, I wait patiently at the door. I know that we can’t necessarily keep up with this as she grows older, but I am hoping that my reminders will be gentle and if she still likes to stop and smell the roses, at least she won’t be worried about putting me in a bad mood.
I play with her, every day. I am sure all parents play with their kids and especially stay-at-home parents like myself, spend most of their day playing with their toddlers. What I mean here is that I set out one hour every morning, where I switch off the TV, leave my phone in another room and play with my daughter. We explore her toy baskets, race cars, slide toys down her plastic slide to see how they land and have a tea party. No activity last more than five minutes but it is a lot of fun for both of us. We have been doing it for so long now that my daughter has come to see this as our hour. And if I get a call during this time that I have to answer, she gets quite upset. I enjoy this distraction free hour, where I can teach her something new or be surprised by all that she has learnt without any help from me.
I am teaching her to respect every person she interacts with in her daily life. This is very important to me, because I have witnessed a serious lack of respect towards helpers, servers and even teachers in the society where we are raising our daughter. And since the best way to teach a child is by example, The Husband and I make it a point now to be way more polite, kind and attentive than we ever were. The least that we expect from our daughter right now is to look the person who is serving her meal or bagging her groceries in the eye and say thank you. And I genuinely appreciate the kind words and smiles she gets in return for being polite. I love how she follows our lovely maid to the door when she is ready to leave and says precious phrases like “Thank you aunty, love you aunty, see you later.” Warms up my heart.
I always give her a valid reason when I say NO to her. My aim here is to show my daughter that I am a rational person and won’t say No to her unless I have a good enough reason. Instead of flat out refusing her, I always tell her why she can’t have another ice-lolly, why we have to switch off her tablet now or why we can’t stay at the play group all day. It doesn’t always work but whenever she accepts my reasons, she does so with a lot of grace and displays an understanding and maturity quite beyond her age. I know that it will not always be like this. There will be a time when she will not agree with my reasons for refusal, but I will not stop explaining myself. I owe this to her and her intelligence.
I use as many positive reinforcements as possible when talking to her. I once read that the way we talk to our children, turns into their inner voice as they grow older. That is why it is very important that we appreciate our children for all that is good in them and regularly express how proud we are of them. And another lesson that I learnt from my sister is that if you have to reprimand your child for something that they have done, make sure that you are very clear that they are not bad, only what they have done is wrong or unacceptable. I always keep this in mind when dealing with my daughter. I constantly appreciate her for her patience, resistance, efforts and understanding. And I avoid even the smallest and seemingly harmless negative words such as “naughty” when talking to her.
I apologize to her when I make a mistake. In spite of being extra careful of my temper and words when dealing with my daughter, I sometimes lose self-control and behave in a way that is unacceptable under any circumstances. Unfortunately, this occurs if I am not feeling well or having a bad day in general. But whenever it happens, I take a minute to calm down and apologize to my daughter. I tell her that the way I acted is not okay and I will make sure that it doesn’t happen again. She usually comes up to me and touches my face or gives me a hug, because of which I am sure that she understands my apology. I want her to know that it okay to make mistakes, but you should have the courage to admit that you were wrong and apologize rather than leaving your loved ones hurt and confused.
I am aware that these rules will get difficult to follow as she grows older and the situations get more complicated. But I hope that by then at least I will be well-conditioned to treat her with the respect and understanding that she deserves. I am making most of my parenting rules as I go along, but I am determined to do a good job and keeping my fingers crossed that hopefully my daughter will turn out to be a kind, strong and stable individual, unscathed by my inexperience and uncertainties.
Thanks for reading. Cheers!