Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Parenting other people's children

Make yourself comfortable. This is a longun'. I mean it. Grab a cuppa...

I was such a good parent before I had children. I even had the 'Best Practice' stamp from the Education Review Office for behaviour management. That has to be a bonus, right? I'd cast eye-rolling glances at the toddlers daring to make noise and be small and naughty near me (inwardly, of course - juvenile cues like that don't improve behaviour ;)) and had the solution for every issue that could possible face a parent ironed out and ready to utilise.

And then a funny thing happened. I became a parent.

Suddenly, all lines that had previously been crystal clear in black and white became blurred. Every decision I made in this game potentially had dire consequences. If I was to believe the reams of research I devoured at every crossroads (stroller vs baby carrier? Routine feeding vs demand feeding? Solids at 4 months or delayed until 6 months? Baby capsule vs convertible car seat? Back to work or at home and broke? Sleep training or co-sleeping?) I was doomed to fail my child in some catastrophic way. It. just. isn't. easy.

And this brings me to today's adventures.

I have been blessed with two children who have size 9 personalities. One (the Mark II version) is loud, jovial and social. He loves a good laugh and and gets up to unholy mischief. He is charming, but when he blows his stack, the whole world knows about it. Thankfully it's usually short-lived, because there's fun to be had somewhere, and he's wasting a good time by screaming.

The other (Mark I) is quieter, but stubborn (okay, I'll be positive: determined and resilient) and a master of working a situation or individual to her advantage. She has an admirable ability to use her mood to bend others to her will, and will go far in life through sheer tenacity. When she is happy, the whole world is happy with her. When she is in a foul mood (which can last days) the rest of the world will be too. She will make sure of it! Her mind is constantly thinking, musing, filing information and reading situations - she has been like this since she was born.

I have read a great deal of material about managing children's behaviour, and as I have previously bragged about, I'm not bad at controlling a class of extremely revolting 10 year old boys prone to violence, swearing and general foulness. What I have noticed since being blessed with these wonderful, incredibly different small people, however, is that one size does NOT fit all in the parenting stakes. I get a tad eye-rolly at people who suggest 'positive behaviour management' techniques or sticker charts when they catch a glimpse of Sophie in full flight. It's just not her thing. Caleb loves a good compliment. You can literally see him grow an inch taller if you praise his behaviour. Sophie is a 'glass half empty' person though. She notices the negative things in life. For her, the greatest compliment you could give her is pointing out the revolting behaviour of some other unfortunate child (Not her brother. I'd never do that **darty-eyed glance**) and allowing her to join in the critique and be mother superior.

A classic example of their differing methods of influencing others is often acted out when little old ladies stop and admire them in public. I'm unashamedly biased, but they are pretty darned cute. As soon as they swoon, Caleb starts grinning, giggling, and showing off, charming the pants of them. However, the moment the inevitable comment about Sophie's glorious curls comes out, so does her venomous stare, followed by pursed lips and a sharply averted head. Old ladies usually wither and scarper within seconds.

I really like the book 'Of course I love you, now go to your room' by Diane Levy. In this book, besides appealing to the anal teacher side of me that needs strategies and venn diagrams, she devotes several chapter to differing personalities and the need to parent them differently. It's not fair or productive to respond to my children, who are so obviously different in many ways, in the same, textbook manner. She gives some hilarious scenarios and strategies that seem to work around here with my 'sanguine' son and 'choleric' (though possibly 'melancholic' also - surely the poor child couldn't be cursed with the same personality as her mother!) daughter. Worth a read.

So today. Preschool day. Many mothers with feet firmly placed in the 'SAHM' (Stay At Home Mum - being conversant with acronyms is a sign of successful motherhood) camp would now be casting knowing glances about their tight-knit circle after hearing that information. THAT is exactly what caused the whole debarcle. What my children need, is a full-time mother, not one that fobs her off-spring onto some near strangers just so that she can resume her career. Selfish choices, etc. Who knows if they're right? I probably knew before I HAD kids though. Anyway, it's certainly not helpful information.

It was 4:45pm. We had just driven into town for a doctors appointment. The kids were tired and cranky, and at home, I would have sent them outside to ride bikes or otherwise burn off some steam. Or sat them in front of the TV to zone out. Whichever was easiest, TBH (To Be Honest - learn those acronyms, there may be a test later) because after all, I'm a lazy, working mother. Etc. Is there a chip on my shoulder, or am I just walking crooked?

After the appointment, we had to go to the chemist, which was packed with people like myself, desperate to get their scripts filled before 5pm. Caleb decided that he had to handle every. single. item on every. single. shelf and I didn't feel that was appropriate behaviour. I told him so. Behaviour continued. I repeated earlier statement of dissatisfaction with said behaviour, and informed him of consequence if it continued - sitting in boring corner until he was ready to look with his eyes. Desire to handle every. single. item on every. single. shelf won over fear of consequence, so small child was plonked (gently, of course - can't be seen to be showing physical force in these says where 'reasonable force' is considered illegal) in the boringest corner in the chemist. I stood behind him, preventing escape (though his sister would have easily found a way out - excellent problem solving skills) and he performed the 'Sonata of the Hard-Done-By-Child'. This act was repeated several times in the 15 minutes it took for the prescription to be filled. Think loud, dramatic screaming, copious tears, and periods of silence where he found something more interesting to think about than the gross injustice of not being allowed to handle fragile merchandise at the responsible age of two. Every now and then, he'd declare "I'm ready now. Be a good boy. Look wiff eyes" and he'd be released from his prison, only to find the temptation too great, despite having Mummy at his ear reminding him, and he'd be marched back to the corner.

I could have taken him outside, but I had two children with me, and 'outside' was a carpark. I could have locked him in the car, but the chemist was going to close soon and being a working mother, I'm lazy **wink-wink**.

I actually felt that I was doing the responsible thing by disciplining my child in an appropriate, gentle manner given his personality and the situation. I'm sorry that others had to bear witness to my less-than-perfect child performing embarrassingly badly. But why do these 'others' feel the need to glare, mutter rude remarks to themselves, their workmates (I HEARD you, chemist girls - we teachers have super-sonic hearing!) and total strangers about someone else's parenting when they are obviously trying and being consistent.

If I was ignoring my child, and letting him handle all merchandise to his heart's content, I'm certain that I would be judged. If I smacked him, I'm certain I'd be judged. If I left him alone in the car, I'd be judged. No matter what course of action I followed in this situation (and any other, for that matter) I faced judgement from a room full of people convinced that they could do a better job of raising my children than myself.

And this is sad. I'm tired of the assumptions that because I'm a mother, I'm a bad one. That because I work, my children are missing out on something. That because I started solids early, I set my kids up for allergies. That because I didn't crack a full year of BF (breastfeeding - an important one!) Sophie, she has a lower IQ than she otherwise might (though God help us all if I had fed her longer if that is the case!). That because I shut my children's doors at night, I am encouraging a fear of the dark... If these sound like ridiculous assumptions, it's because they ARE. And the guilt imposed by opinionated others and sidelong glances from strangers are unnecessary and unhelpful. Next time you see a mother trying her best, give her a smile and choose to applaud her for putting in the hard yards. The children that are being hurt and neglected in our society do not belong to these mothers making parenting choices that you may not approve of. They belong to the mothers who choose not to make decisions at all.

Phew. Heavy reading. Sorry!


  1. "The children that are being hurt and neglected in our society do not belong to these mothers making parenting choices that you may not approve of. They belong to the mothers who choose not to make decisions at all."


    And, even if everyone's attitude changes the mummy guilt will remain. Even though it's considered Ok to stop breastfeeding at any time, I still felt a tad guilty about stopping!

    Your kids were sent to test you - the better you are the harder they push you so take any challenge they give you as a compliment.

  2. Brilliantly written - I did lots of head nodding and yip yip yips. Would you believe I've had that book on my bookshelf for a couple of years now and have not found a chance to read it, you've inspired me to read it all now not just the back blurb :-) Keep up the great parenting ... our kids will take over the world one day, and I know it will be for the better!!