As parents, it is your job to raise your children to be independent, thoughtful, intelligent adults. You are given the gift of these beautiful, innocent human beings. These precious lives are placed into your hands – completely pure – like blank pages in a freshly bound book. From the very first moment you look into their eyes, you vow to them – and to yourself – that you are going to love them unconditionally, protect them with every fiber of your being, teach them through life experiences, and bring the world to their fingertips in every way you possibly can.
Those first blissful days roll into weeks, and you’re exhausted, but drunk on life and love and the idea that you – YOU – are solely responsible for molding and shaping these little people into who they are going to be when you set them free into the world. It’s a pretty incredibly feeling. And it’s also incredibly frightening…
Parenting an infant is hard. But in so many ways, parenting a young child is much more difficult. There are so many moments throughout toddlerhood that send you spiraling to your breaking point. How is it possible to love a human being so much, but for that same person to frustrate you more than anyone in the world and leave you feeling utterly defeated and completely lost?
3 PM on a random Thursday afternoon. You’re scooting ever so carefully from the stove to the sink; and your child is clinging to your legs as you try desperately to balance a pot of boiling water in one hand while listening to the pediatrician on the phone in your other hand.
The phone that your child is crying for.
Blood curdling screams.
In moments like these, it’s really difficult to bring those early memories to light – to recommit yourself to those old vows that you made to your child on the day she was born – and to be the parent that you promised her you would be. It’s much easier to have a mini meltdown yourself, to give in to your child or to discipline without compassion out of pure frustration. Every parent on the face of the earth has been there – more often than they like to admit.
Nobody said parenting would be easy. But it’s incredibly important to understand that the things you do out of frustration – the way you respond to situations with your children – might seem unimportant in the moment, but could be detrimental to their development.
What you do with them, what you say to them, how you react to their actions, how you teach them, how you talk to them, how you respond to them – all of these things have an impact on who they are becoming – the people they are growing into. You could be crushing your childrens’ spirit without even knowing it.
Things You Absolutely Need To Stop Doing:
Disciplining Without Compassion
When you’re taking care of your childrens’ every need 24/7, it’s easy to forget that they are human beings. They might be little, and not understand the world around them in the ways that you do, but they have feelings. It might seem ridiculous to you that your toddler is crying over a piece of cheese, but to her, in that moment – in her world – all she knows is that she wants cheese, she isn’t getting cheese and feelings of despair are brewing inside of her that she doesn’t quite know how to handle just yet. So her little body draws up tears, her lips quiver uncontrollably and she does the only thing she knows to do when she can’t express how she feels – she cries.
So, what do you do? You might chuckle a little. You might tell her to stop crying. You might get frustrated and give her the cheese.
Whatever you do, it’s never ok to dismiss her feelings and to tell her she’s wrong to be feeling the way that she does. She needs to learn how to express her feelings in every situation in life; and in these early days, when her woes are numbered to whether or not she’ll get snacks and not wanting to brush her teeth, she needs to feel safe being able to express herself freely. If you tell her to stop crying every single time she is sad because the situation is not worthy of tears in your mind, she will grow up with the idea that it is wrong to express emotions.
Let her scream when she’s frustrated and cry when she’s sad. Let her stomp her feet and pout her lips and tell you “NO!” when she doesn’t want to do something. Let her explore and express her emotions, and then talk to her about why she’s feeling the way that she is. Offer her solutions to her issues in an understanding and compassionate way. It won’t always be easy. And it will most definitely be frustrating. But you owe your children the respect that any human being deserves.
Doing Everything For Your Kids
Kids are messy. And they’re slow-paced. And often times, it’s so much easier to just do something for them instead of letting them attempt to do things themselves. Spaghetti might be your child’s favorite meal, but letting her feed it to herself requires a post-meal floor mopping and a bath, every single time. So, you convince her to let you do it. You carefully wrap just enough pasta around her little fork so that it’s the perfect sized bite, reducing the opportunity for excess food to fall from her mouth to the floor while she’s chewing. In 15 minutes tops, she’s fed and the dish is in the sink. You’ve got this down. But when will she ever learn how to eat on her own if you never let her try?
If you constantly micro-manage every little thing your children attempt to do because they are taking too much time or are “making a mess”, they will never learn how to do things efficiently. And telling them to “hurry up” when they’re taking their time is sending them the message that they’re somehow inadequate in performing tasks. Occupying them with a toy or movie when they want to “help” you unload the dishwasher or stand on a chair and watch you cook is sending a similar negative message. When your children want to do something with you, you should always let them, no matter how much extra time it might take or the slight inconvenience it might cause.
Let your children learn how to do things through experiences. Let them feed themselves. Let them put on their own clothes. Let them make messes and take an agonizingly long time getting their socks positioned just right on their feet. Let them do things and feel proud of their accomplishments. It might mean a little more work for you, and you might not get out the door as quickly as you would like, but it will mean the world to them knowing they are learning how to function in their world.
Telling Your Children To Be Quiet All The Time
Children are loud. They yell when they should be speaking, they randomly squeal at the drop of a hat, they belly laugh to their own internal thoughts. Often times throughout the day, they want to “tell you just one thing” about Thomas the Train or the grapes that they had for lunch, and their stories go on and on…
When you’re surrounded by kids all day, moments of peace and quiet are few and far between. You might find yourself bribing your kids with their iPads or their favorite TV show just so you can hear yourself think for 30 minutes. You might tell them to “keep it down” when their make-believe gets a little too loud and animated. You might ask them to “be quiet” when you’re out in public.
Children need to use their voices. They need to talk and laugh and yell and be animated. They are exploring their world and finding their voices in it. Unless you’re at a concert or Sunday mass, telling them to be quiet when they’re playing or telling you a very lively story can curb their desire to express themselves, to imagine, to create thoughts and to find their voices.
Not Truly Listening To Your Children
Toddlers are chatterboxes. Every single thing in the world is new and exciting to them, and they want to tell you all about it. All. Day. Long. Throughout one single day, there are stories about the ant they found on the floor, the rain outside the window, the baby doll’s hair, how they chased the cat, the neighbor’s dog, their peanut butter sandwich, next year’s Christmas list – after a while, you find yourself nodding and “uh huh” ing and making exaggerated expressions on your face while you go about your daily tasks, scroll through your phone and make your grocery lists.
Stop what you’re doing and listen to your children.
Listen to their stories. Answer their questions. Ask them questions. Interact with them and have real, meaningful conversations with them.
Let them know that they can always come to you with the things that are important to them.
Nothing your children say to you is unimportant to them. Let them know that their thoughts, feelings, stories, and questions are important to you.
Placing Gender Roles Over Their Heads
Children are sponges. They observe and absorb everything you do and say, and their actions become a reflection of your own. If you place gender roles over their heads at a young age, you are inadvertently putting up barriers for them, halting their creativity, their exploration and their development.
Let your children be free to explore the world, untainted by outdated social norms. Let them play with whatever they feel inspired by – whether it be baby dolls, super hero figurines, Legos, kitchen sets or dinosaurs. Don’t hinder their growth by placing gender restrictions on toys, clothing and activities. Give them the platform to explore every facet of life freely.
Parenting is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. It’s stressful and overwhelming and selfless and all-consuming. But it’s so important to remember the promises you made to your children when they were born. Raise them up, not down. Let them be free spirits and guide them to choose their own paths in life. Treat them with respect and dignity and compassion, always. Who they become is a reflection of how you raise them now.
Photo credit: Marley Layne’s Closet