Rethinking my parenting style

That last post is actually from a few days ago… I’m finally opening back up the laptop and catching up…  I just hit publish because I thought it might inform where we’ve been and where we’re going (hopefully).

What a week.

I don’t feel like I can keep up.  This week: A 104.3 fever.  A call to poison control after a Tylenol incident.  Bite marks on Abby’s foot.  Keys in an electrical outlet.  Dealing with, “YOU NEVER LET ME DO ANYTHING?!”  Overhearing, “I’m gonna cut your head off, Abby!”  Putting Abby in time-out for hitting me with a book while yelling, “Hit!”

I think I may have plateaued on the hill of how much parenting sucks sometimes.

Hey, it’s good birth control.  Call in that vasectomy.  Stat.

I’m in a fog this morning.  Overwhelmed with where we are (i.e. where I am with these kids).  I mean, how is it that they’re 3 and 1 1/2 and I suddenly feel like I woke up with two crazy wild kids and when did it start getting so difficult.  Let me tell you something, parents-with-kids-less-than-3-years-old: Don’t fear the terrible-twos.  They ain’t nothing!  Nobody told me what 3 was like…  Mouthy, sassy, independent, boundary pushing, button pushing little monsters…

Okay, okay…  that’s enough.  Sophia’s figuring out who she is, how she fits in, what to do with herself.  That’s that.  I need to take control.

We actually started a new plan, yesterday.  I realized that I have sluggishly fallen back into a natural parenting style (post 18-months ago) that is not only lazy and ineffective but also counterproductive and bringing the worst out in my daughter.  Yes, I believe that part of my daughter’s behavior is my problem, too.

She’s probably gonna yell at me if I yell at her.  She’s probably going to swing at me when she’s mad, if I occasionally spank her when I’m angry…  She’s probably going to cower when I say, “I want to talk to you” if I’m always focusing on what she does wrong.  She’s probably going to yell and back-talk if I always answer negatively to her requests…

Yah, I’m being negative.  Coupled with not enough sleep and a touch of illness, our attitudes and behavior have snowballed out of control for both of us.  By the way, I just found this book at the library.  I’ve got it on reserve.  Anybody read it?

After another great conversation with my Mom, Will and I started something new with Sophia, yesterday.  Basically it’s a behavior therapy program.  It’s very similar to the therapy that I did with preschoolers with autism.  Sophia is rewarded for good behavior with stickers and get’s a prize of some sort when she gets so many stickers.  We ignore bad behaviors (for the most part… still working that out.)  So, 5 stickers gets her a treat or a show and 25 gets her something really special like ice cream or a movie night.

It has COMPLETELY turned around her behavior (and mine, honestly).  She hasn’t had a single tantrum since we started (less than 24 hours ago… but, that’s saying something lately.)  She also hasn’t back-talked or hit or been mean or anything.

I tell you what, though, it’s been completely exhausting pre-empting her every move, ready to reward every little positive thing.  It’s so alternative to my nature.  My nature is to focus on the negative, to nit-pick, to expect perfection and judge every detail that doesn’t measure up.  I know this about my sinful nature… It’s not pretty.  It’s been exhausting trying to find ways for her to “help” me so that she can get rewarded.  This is having on my “A-game” every minute, and it is REAL HARD!  But, this is parenting.  And, I’m learning about parenting my 3-year old.  What works and what doesn’t.  What seems to be productive for us to relate to each other and for her to learn.   What I was doing was shutting her down emotionally and sending her into desperate behavior measures…

Now, we’re not going to do this reward system until she’s 15… My hope is that it will remarkably turn around her behavior in just a few days or weeks, and then we can drop it for a more natural verbal system of rewards for good behavior–kind of re-train both of us.  What it’s doing for me is changing my focus.  I’m now focusing on everything that she is doing RIGHT.  Having such a positive attitude is helping her also focus on what she’s doing right and how pleased mommy is with her.  Her attitude is COMPLETELY different.  She keeps telling me how much she loves me, asking what she can do to help me or if I will do things with her, smiling again, and just altogether acting happy.

It’s worth the hard work.  I can change my natural inclination to parent as a perfection expect-er….  

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Confessions of an angry mother or How often I want to throw in the towel

I think I may retitle my blog, “Confessions of an angry mother.”

I have never used more self-control in my life.  More than a sugar junkie at a free chocolate festival.  More than a 3-year old and an open bag of marshmallows.  More than a 16 year-old boy alone with a stack of dirty magazines.

Okay, I don’t know about any of those, but I have seriously never used so much self-control… and it be so stinking difficult.

I’ve been having a hellacious time with my 3-year old lately.  Shew.  The terrible twos are NOTHING compared to the tantrum threes (or whatever we’re calling it).  The talking back.  The yelling.  The screaming.  The drama.  Sophia has no idea what to do with her feelings.  She’s so angry.  She’ll take swings, or she’ll draw back to take a swing.  We’re doing a lot better about not getting into power struggles, but every once in a while I find myself in another with her because I’m trying to follow through on a bad idea…

My current thought on parenting:  Discipline bad behavior immediately and concisely (usually via a time-out). Move on as quickly as possible.  Ignore tantrums and other outbursts like hitting.  But, sometimes I have NO IDEA WHAT TO DO!!!!  I just can’t keep my cool and think clearly in the moment.  I need to chant this mantra so I have it at the ready (which would probably be appropriate in most situations): “I don’t like that.  Let’s have a time-out.”  I feel like I need to start meditating or something.  My anger just keeps escalating at inappropriate times.  Sophia knows Mommy’s anger button all too well.

Okay, there’s that pep-talk to myself….  Self-control was what this post was going to be about.

After an enlightening conversation with my wonderfully wise mother, I realized a few things.  One of which is this: Sophia needs more positive attention from me.  She’s been telling me that she wants to learn to read.  This afternoon I decided to give it a try.  After a near mental breakdown trying to figure out how I’m going to find any time to spend one-on-one with her, I let her spend 30 minutes before naptime playing a letters game with me.  She was, literally, a maggot in hot ashes.  She kept saying how much fun she was having, how happy she was, while we were playing this letter game.  All the while, she was literally bouncing off the floor to the coffee table to the couch and back again.  Over and over and over.  She did not, could not, stop moving.  She was doing okay with the letters game, though not as well as I’d hoped.  Eventually, I couldn’t take the bouncing any longer, so we moved to her little table.  The bouncing syndrome was lessened a bit, though she couldn’t at all sit still.  Then she couldn’t remember “G.”  “G.”  We’d only gone over it and over and over it.  And, then she couldn’t remember “J.”  We went back and forth and back and forth.  She was happy as a lark.  I was patient as a saint.  She still couldn’t remember “G.”  She couldn’t remember “J.”  If I had had someone else’s child, I know that the anger wouldn’t have fueled my head like it did.  I spoke softly, and sweetly and graciously, and it took EVERYTHING I had.  I felt hot, burning anger.  What the $%(*# is my problem?  It’s just the motherflipping alphabet.  And, I was trying to get an overtired, overanxious 3-year old to sit still and think.  I think my daughter is part wild-animal.  If I don’t let her out to run wild, or at least walk her, she bounces off the walls, bites my head off, or both…

Sophia loved this time, though.  She was SO happy.  She was enjoying the game.  And, other than being completely unable to sit still, she was being “good,” i.e. she wasn’t being “bad.”  This speaks to how much she longs to spend time with me.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just send them all to playschool and go get a a day job?  Yah, I’m pretty sure it’s in my DNA.

Oh, but I love spending time with the boogers.

I cried because I was so beautiful–a rant.

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about, nothing new to parents of a little girl: Do I tell my daughter that she’s beautiful?  Immediately, my gut response is “You betcha!  Absolutely!”

Start now and never stop.  Tell her through those awkward pre-teen years.  Tell her during the difficult teen years.  Tell her when she starts dating and gets stood up for the first time.  Tell her when she realizes her “first love” was a d-bag.  Tell her when she gets married and is walking down the aisle.  Tell her when she feels like a whale pregnant with her first child.  Tell her.  And, then tell her some more.

Does that make me a bad mother?

I want my girls to feel beautiful.  Are they going to feel beautiful just because I say so?  No.  I realize that there’s much more to it than that…

Comments on appearance is such an icky topic.  It always brings up weird stuff in people.  For me, it brings up the wicked teenage years when I lost over 30 pounds at the vulnerable age of 16.  I got comments on my physical appearance for the first time in my life.  It was off-putting.  It was always the same people over and over, too.  I just got tired of it.  Talk about something else!  And, some people, honestly, I didn’t believe.  Like, once I got the strangest compliment from a gorgeous and popular, thin girl in my high school.  (I think she was dating the quarter back at the time.)  She actually told me, in line at the cafeteria in front of God and everybody, that she thought I had a great butt.  Maybe, I’m just not “girly” enough, I don’t know how girls talk to each other, but this was weird… right?  I had such a horrible self-image, and all of these comments made me more obsessed with my appearance and more obsessed with keeping my body a certain size and shape.

What is the message that my daughter is getting when I tell her she is beautiful?  There’s a difference in my story.  No one told me I was “beautiful.”  Well, at least that’s the difference that I see.  People were commenting on my new thin body, on new muscle tone, downed pant sizes and tight buns, apparently…  But, none of my peers, or teachers or friends ever said, “You are beautiful.”  The only ones that ever did were boys…  and those I clung to like a starving tick behind your dog’s left ear.  I fully invested myself in these relationships because I didn’t have enough self-esteem to believe it myself.  When I put on make-up and voraciously fixed my hair, it was to do just that: “fix” myself.  When I dressed up, I never thought I looked good, I always hated the first 10 things I put on and settled with number 11.  (That’s all normal teenage stuff, right?)

There was a definite shift in my thinking when I was pregnant with my first daughter.  I felt the undeniable feminine beauty of housing and growing a child.  I was becoming a mother and knew that this was beauty that could neither be denied nor taken away.  Becoming a mother is a lot like being a child of the King, my relationship with God can’t be taken from me.  It is.  And He is mine.  And, it is beautiful.  So it is with being a mom.  The God-given gift of carrying a child in your womb is one of the most inherently beautiful miracles of the world….

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  When I stepped on the scales at the labor/delivery ward to be induced on that fateful day 3 years ago, the number jumped passed two bills…. And, I knew it would… Did it sting?  Sure, how couldn’t it?  Did I feel beautiful?  Yah, I did.  A mighty beautiful and swollen, pregnant mama carrying within her the mostly beautiful baby girl her eyes had yet to see.  This began a beauty revolution in which I wanted my girls to know that they’re beautiful–that they are God-made and He said “It is good.”

Let me tell you where my thoughts are coming from.  As you can imagine, my little 3-year old is a parrot.  A parrot and a mirror.  She repeats everything she hears.  She takes it on.  The most hilarious thing that she says is a quote from a book that I am not recommending… maybe, you’ve heard of it: Pinkalicious.  It’s a bit of a sensation, I think… Oh, what a book.  We’ve read it 18,000 times.  We’ve nearly worn the jacket right off that library book.  We’ve had it for well over a month and read it more than once a day sometimes… Shew.  I like to hide it sometimes.  Anyway, in case you haven’t read it, it’s about a girl who turns pink from eating too many pink cupcakes.  This is what she says about being her favorite color, “I cried because I was so beautiful!”

So, out of nowhere, I will hear Sophia say this.  She often hollers it out throughout the house.  It’s quite hilarious because she’s quoting a very funny moment in a book.  But, I also here her calling out things like, “I’m pret-ty!  I’m pret-ty!”  She also told me in the library a few days ago about “the most beautiful little girl in the purple sweater.”  It’s sinking in.  She’s commenting on other kids…

Here’s why I don’t think it’s so bad.  I’m a thoughtful person.  I know that beauty is not just what I see with my eyes when I look at my daughters.  I know that it’s also about what I know about them, about who they are.  It’s also about what I feel about them because I know them.  It’s about who they are and who they will become.

The problem is that my girls really are physically beautiful.  (Is that a problem?)  Well, they get comments all the time.  Abby’s red hair is a magnet for all gushy,over-talkative,pseudo-aunties.  Often during said gush session, Sophia will yell out, “My hair’s beautiful, too!”  Or, “I’m pretty, too!”  Just yesterday a man on the square told us that our girls looked like they came out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  Nice.  Lovely.  Yes.  I eat it up… But, what are these messages sending them?   Will they stop?  And, what happens when they do?  When they go through those awkward years of 11-14?  I’ll still be telling them how beautiful they are.  Will they believe it?  And, what about when they’re 16, 17.  Will they believe it or will they look for boys to tell them that?  And what about sibling rivalry?  I didn’t have a sister, but I’ve seen enough made-for-TV movies to fear what jealousy may exist between the two of them…

I’ve read all this stuff like “When you tell your daughter she’s beautiful, make sure you say ‘inner beauty.'”  Or, flat out, “Don’t tell your daughter she’s beautiful.  Tell her she’s smart, she works hard, she’s good at ________.”  Or, “If you do tell her she’s beautiful, be sure to greater emphasize her other characteristics.”  What the #@#!#%$!  Besides this being totally confusing, I want her to know she’s beautiful!  Is that so bad?  I want her to know that I think she’s beautiful!  I also want her to know that she’s smart…  and strong… and kind… and loving… and nurturing… and independent…and interesting… and worth knowing… . I also want her to know that she’s loved… and adored… and cherished… and enjoyed… and loved by the King…  I want her to know that the Father thinks she’s beautiful.

It’s like beauty is this thing that some people have and some people don’t.  That’s just not true in the eyes of the Father.  That’s because the Father truly sees.  He truly sees the whole person, the whole forgiven beauty that is His child.  I want to love like He does. I want to foster that in my girls.

But, how do I do that?  How do I navigate the ugly stigma that is attached to “beauty”?  I don’t want to tack on “inner beauty” to every compliment like some caveat or some over-used cliche that my girls will need therapy for. I can’t (won’t) keep my girls out of our culture.  At the same time, I don’t want my girls to be obsessed with their physical appearance, worried that they have to look just so or worried about when it will fade.

That’s what they say, right?  “Beauty fades.”  May I respectfully say, “Bull $#*@!”  My grandmother was the most beautiful woman I can remember in ALL OF THE WORLD!  Not a touch of work done.  White as a ghost and very overweight in her old age.  But, skin as soft as silk and a heart of pure gold.  An absolute gem of God’s pure light.  And, her husband loved her boundlessly, with a lifetime of faithfulness to prove it.

What can I do other than thoughtfully parent every age, hoping to nurture my girls into strong, beautiful women. Beautiful women who know who they are, know they are loved by me and loved by God.  What else can I hope for?  Does telling them they are beautiful sabotage that?

I don’t think so.  What do you think?

Ultimately, my daughters will have to navigate within themselves a feeling of beauty–of inner beauty, of outer beauty… everything.  They’ll have to navigate within themselves every kind of self-feeling.  I’ll nurture what I can.  But, I want my daughters to know that I think they’re beautiful.

UTAH.

Utah.  It’s hot.  It’s sunny.  It’s dry and desert-y.  It’s stinking gorgeous.  But, I may not want to go back for a while.

I had never been out West.  I had never been much farther west than where we live right now.  Until we took a nearly impromptu family vacation to Moab last weekend.  The conditions weren’t quite right, but we thought we better go soon if we were going to go this summer.  I was itching for a camping trip; it was really still too cool to go here.  And, we’d neer been to Moab and really wanted to visit the national parks there…

We looked at the forecast and planned the trip.  Just as soon as we got everything in order: asking for time off, booking a campsite, etc., Will got some kind of stomach virus (the Monday before we were to leave Friday morning.)  Will, the strong-man that he is, didn’t let on how debilitating this virus was to his body.  He powered through, as he always does.  (Maybe, he can give birth to our next two children?)  So, not knowing how yucking his illness was, we continued on with our planning.

After stress building because of his recent illness (and my unknown onset) and a regretful argument the night before, we were on the road by 7 a.m. on Friday.  Woohoo.  May I count the plentiful reasons to leave so early!  Wowee.  It was the most wonderful car trip we have ever had.  It was perfect, really.  The kids had breakfast in the car, “read” 20 books a piece, had more snacks and sang songs, and all of a sudden we were half-way.  We stopped at a park for a super-early picnic lunch (10:45).  After letting them run their energy off, they sacked out in the car right as we crossed the UT border.  We made it by 2:00!  It’s like 430 miles!  Anyway, great trip over.  We were able to set up tent, get some ice cream and head into the park for a little sight-seeing, all well before dark.

Dark.  That’s where things turned evil.  In the night, Abby kept waking up making these wretching sounds–like dry heaving.  She never cried for me to get her up, but the wretching was awfully disturbing.  She had had diarrhea that evening.  It got me to thinking about my own constitution.  Queezy.  I tried not to think about it.  Only imagining it, right?  By the time morning came, my belly was not in the mood for a 7 a.m., 5-mile desert hike.  In fact, my belly was only in the mood for diarrhea and vomiting for the next 12 hours.

After crapping my guts out in the camp bathroom about 30 different times,  my body ached and my fever got up to 101.4.  Since we were camping and the forecast now told us the highs were around 99 for the next two days, we thought we had better pack it up and head home before things got worse.  At 11 a.m. Will miraculously got the tent packed up, and we headed out.  He was such a trooper that day.  You can imagine that we had to stop a few times on the 430 mile drive back home… It was rough.  I’m not gonna lie.  We all napped, though.  A LOT!  I was basically asleep the whole time.  My girls were so wonderful.  They could tell I was miserable, and the minimal amount of whining and crying can only be attributed to a gracious God.  We made it home, and now have the stories, the memories, and the pictures…

YAY!  Pictures.  Here’s a few fun pictures of what we did get to see during our VERY short trip to Utah.

A Mother’s Wish

I want to make a memory of today, of something I just witnessed.  I want to make such a vivid memory that I can recount every detail to my girls when they’re adults.  My mind is always so foggy, my memory so disjointed and unclear (thyroid symptom?)  I fear I won’t remember.

Today’s been pretty rough day.  It began abruptly at a 5:45 bang on our bedroom door, followed by a 5:46 climb into bed over the top of me.  Yup.  Sophia.  She needs some boundaries. (By the way, I was up past midnight last night; so, I did not welcome this sweet face so early.)

As I groggily came downstairs at about 6:30, I was met with the unmet tasks of yesterday–horribly crusty kitchen with a sink full of dishes, 2 new shrubs to plant out in our front flowerbed, the next week’s grocery shopping, 2 loads of unfolded laundry, and a houseful of tornado-toddlerdom, i.e. every kind of toy everywhere.  (I’ve been taking some time off from housework.  Still recovering from a recent stomach illness.  More on that later.)

This might not be so bad if I had woken up a bit cheerier… or let’s say, if everyone else had, too…

So, Sophia went to bed after 9 last night, and she woke up before 6.  She is CRANKY today.  She is every bit of 3 years old today. The way she is talking to me sends my head spinning, my eyes rolling, and body shaken.  I tell her to do something, and she yells at me, “NO! I DON’T WANT TO! THIS IS MY KIND OF LIFE AND I CAN DO WHAT I WANT!!!!!”  You can be sure that this kind of behavior is met with time-outs and apology sessions…

How’s Abby today?  She’s getting new words every day.  Just a few days ago she finally started verbalizing “no” and doing it very well.  Now, she yells (in a very sweet 18-month old voice) “NO!” after I tell her to do something.  Then she rolls all over the floor laughing.

WHAT the WHAT?!

Where was I?  Was there a scene I wanted to savor?  It wasn’t them helping dig the holes for the shrubs… or them helping me get new soil mixed in… or even watering them…  though, it sure made me think a lot about how God is working on my patience…

About 20 time-outs later sometime after cleaning up lunch, I hear, “Abby’s hugging me, Mommy!  Abby’s hugging me!”  I look around the corner, and both my girls are on the ground.  Abby has tackled Sophia from the front, arm tight around her neck.  She sitting on her knees, hugging her heart out, laying her head on Sophia’s shoulder.  Sophia’s smiling ear to ear, trying to be patient enough to hug her back, her legs wrapped around behind her.  There is only sheer joy.  “Abby’s hugging me, Mommy!  Abby’s hugging me!”

They’re becoming best friends–following each other around everywhere, wanting to be just like each other.  They’re playing together better all the time and also doing their share of fighting and wrestling.  It’s the most beautiful thing a mother can see.  I want to savor it.  I want to pause and make this memory of this moment last forever.  I want to tell my girls when they’re in the late 20s about this day.  I have a feeling if I remember it, I will tell it through choked back tears.

The Ongoing Fun of Two

Oh!  My kids are SO hilarious right now.  And, by hilarious, I actually mean ornery-as-can-be!  The newest development in the sage of raising two is time-out behavior.  For a while now, when Sophia cries her heart out, yelling “Cooooooow-booooooy,” during a 3-minute time-out, Abby will go on the search for Cowboy and bring the stuffed animal to her.  This morning, after taking Cowboy from Sophia’s hands during a time-out, Abby goes after whatever toy she can find to take to Sophia–over and over and over.  I take it away from Sophia.  Tell Abby, “No.  Sister’s in time-out.”  And, she goes and finds something else to take to her sad big sister.  Here’s the tension: It’s sweet, right?  Abby’s compassionate.  She wants to give Sophia something to make her stop crying.  I want my girls to relate sweetly to each other as sisters.  I want to encourage compassion and empathy–sticking up for each other, etc.  But, it’s a time-out.  When will she be old enough to learn that when you’re in time-out for doing something wrong, you can’t have a toy?  I guess, at this point I need to just pick her up and take her away for 3 minutes.

–I just looked over at Abby, and she has unzipped my wallet.  When did she get old enough to do that?—

We’ve started time-outs with Abby, too… and this is also difficult.  She’s throwing toys and hitting, unacceptable things that Sophia never really did.  She goes to time-out almost excitedly.  You know, it’s “big girl.”  Sophia does it.  Well, yesterday after Sophia and Abby had an altercation, Abby went to time-out at the bottom of the stairs.  I went to Sophia to console her sore head.  I asked her if she wanted me to kiss it.  Immediately Abby jumps up arms stretched out making kissy faces and noises.  It was all I could do not to fall all over the floor laughing.  Straight face.  Discipline.  Follow through.  This is important.  Poor Abby is not getting the same parenting that Sophia got.  I’m coming to grips with that fact.  They’re going to have different stories.  They’re going to be different people based on a lot of facts–internal and external… and birth order is one of the unarguable facts.  They will get parented differently.

–Alright, I just put Sophia in time-out again for getting water from the faucet unattended–AFTER I gave her a vase that I told her she could “pretend” with, “no water.”

She’s whispering to Abby, coaxing her, “Abby, go get Cowboy for me.  Abby, please….  Please Abby, go get my Cowboy.”

Abby takes her a shoe. “Shoe,” Abby says.

“I don’t want a shoe, Abby.  Go get my Cowboy.”

Abby doesn’t get her Cowboy.  She walks off and plays.  HAHAHAHAHA!  —

Okay, I should probably go parent these little monsters.  😉