Joe was an awful baby. He cried when I wanted him to sleep. He slept when I needed him to wake. He only smiled when no one was around. And often he would squish his face in disgust when anyone walked into the room. He never ate. When he did eat, it came right back up. In desperation, I weaned him off of the boob and onto food only to be told that we had to go back to breast-feeding a month later. What troubled me most of all about Joe was that I had no idea what I was doing. I was defeated. He was my fourth kid – it should have been a cakewalk. Yet, I felt hopeless, helpless, and deeply inadequate as a mother.
To make a long story shorter, I eventually figured it all out. Thanks to our beloved Dr. Lisa, I realized that I knew nothing. She taught me that raising children is a combination of learning to juggle fiery knives and trying to predict the weather in Kansas from within an Alaskan cave… while knitting socks for elephants… and humming the Ave Maria. The only thing that I could do is learn to listen to my babies and give them what they needed – not necessarily what I decided. As babies, my children were not exactly good communicators. But, I learned to hear their cries, giggles, coos, and translate accordingly. As toddlers, I learned to interpret the whining and No! into requests for food, sleep, and cuddles.
Now as kids and – yikes! – teens, these little people have the same needs but a different language. They are more capable of doing for themselves and actually have responsibilities and society. While I can certainly call the school and gear up my “Helicopter Mama” ways, I know that it doesn’t help them to learn to live in this world. Instead, I have to teach them to be independent and free to discover the realities of the world. Even if those realities are sometimes harsh and less forgiving that we want our children to experience. Since then, I’ve discovered there are varying degrees of allowing children to experience the world. The best practice I’ve found as a parent is to equip them for success and allow them to fail.
“The environment itself will teach the child, if every error he makes is manifest to him, without the intervention of a parent or teacher, who should remain quiet observer of all that happens.” – Dr. Maria Montessori
How this plays out in daily life is the reason that a Mother’s job is so challenging. Here are my best tips:
1. Assign Responsibility. In our house, everyone is responsible for their own “stuff”. Clothes, toys, books, homework, pets, etc. However, everyone has a checklist for what needs to be done on a daily or weekly basis. No one is above a checklist.
2. Teach. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to unload a dishwasher, fold a towel, or even feed the dog. If you expect your kids to take responsibility, at least give them an opportunity to learn how to do the task. Not only will they be equipped to meet your expectation, but they will be proud to have followed your lead.
3. Reward. Let’s be clear. Sometimes the reward for doing something is that you don’t have to suffer the consequence of NOT doing it. Whether or not you decide to pass out ice cream cones or just give a big hug should always depend on the situation, the task, AND the kid! (Joe is often given a simple “Good job! It looks nice,” for making his bed and Ted often gets a ticker-tape parade for doing the same!)
In the end, my job is to do the best job I can to grow good people. The task is always daunting and never easier than it seems. But the rewards are unmatched.