Today I've got another gorgeous guest poster for you. Chris Cooper writes for Bits and Pieces, largely about her experience as a mum who is emerging 'through the other side' of parenting with her two daughters mostly grown. I'll let Chris tell her story but suffice to say when I read her reflections on what she feels has worked for her in parenting over the years I felt she was the perfect person to come and visit the blog and to share her tips and experience with us.
Ellen asked me to write a few thoughts on being a parent and journeying through those satisfying but often challenging years. I started a blog in April of this year, primarily about parenting as I’ve come “through the other side”. My daughters are now 20 and 18 and are really lovely young ladies. I’m proud of them and who they are - the way they communicate, their empathy, their humour, their sense of right, their kindness, their manners.
My husband and I really had no idea what to expect when we had children. Does anyone? But looking back I think we were successful in instilling the following - tell the truth, listen, share, don’t hurt, help, say sorry and stand by your friends. I feel we gave them a sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
It’s not like it was a walk in the park. Of course there were times I wanted to pack my bags and run away, but that wasn’t feasible when the children were not even school age!
One of the biggest realisations was how very different our girls were, and still are. Whereas our first child was strong-willed and knew exactly how things should be done (even as a three year old), our second child was quiet and compliant. I thought parenting should be the same with either child and I think I went too far with our second child as I continued to raise my voice (yell) at her as I did with our first child, when my raised voice wasn’t needed at all.
Here are a few things that worked for us, to enable our family to find the balance between love, fun and discipline:
- When you are leaving the hospital after having your second child, forget the baby and concentrate on the older child. I let my husband carry the baby and I gave all my attention to my toddler - I had been away for a couple of days and I wanted to reassure her that she was just as important as the baby. I didn’t want there to be any jealousy.
- I think it’s so important to go on holidays every year as a family. It wasn’t always grand but we made sure that we went alone as a family and never took any other friends. Actually there was one holiday when we overlapped with another family. There was talk of it happening again until Ruby said, “But mum you never talk to us as you are always talking to your friend." She had a point, so that only happened once. We have such fond memories and it really brings the family together - you only have each other to hang out with.
- We were really disciplined about how our kids should talk to each other. If they were ever fighting, and let’s face it that happens, I’d just say, “Imagine if your dad and I carried on like you two are - how do you think that would make you feel?” Also in their teenage years if they were really rude to us as parents I would pull them up and say something like, “How dare you speak to me like that. I’m your mum. I don’t speak to you that way and I certainly don’t expect to be spoken to in that way”. It sounds unrealistic but it worked.
- I tried as much as possible to really listen and even bend down to look them in the eye if I knew it was of real importance. It seemed to give them a sense of worth and it also worked in my favour if I needed them to listen to me - even as little ones.
- You are your children’s greatest teacher. Teach your children by being an example. Children watch and listen to you more than you think. They do what you do, not what you say.
- Don’t be afraid of apologising to your children if you know you’ve been in the wrong - even when they are little. I remember doing this when one of the girls was really young and the response, in a sweet little voice, was, “That’s OK mum, I forgive you. I love you."
- Impress on them how important manners are. I encouraged the girls to always say 'thank you for having me' when they were leaving someone’s home. Also use good manners (say please and thank you) when asking your child to do something. Respect works both ways.
- We've always had an open door policy at out home. I was happy to have kids over to play and to create a safe place. Now our home is often filled with teenagers and young adults - and they are great to talk to and hang out with.
- When trying to explain why your child needs to do something they don’t want to - it can be a simple as saying, “Because it’s the right thing to do”. I can’t recall the number of times I said that (sometimes in exasperation).
- We’ve always encouraged our children to encourage each other and to be each other's biggest supporter. I “brain-washed” them from an early age, saying things like, “But she is your best friend” and “She loves you so much”. I can say with confidence that my girls are best friends - of course they still have arguments, but they are each other's biggest admirers. As I’m typing this, my eldest daughter just said, “Oh I must call Eloise - she will have finished her exam. I wonder how she went?” This is because Eloise is doing her HSC. Warms my heart knowing that her sister cares so much.
- Lastly, my girls have a great dad. He would make a decision before he walked in the door to try and leave his stress behind. Not easy, I’m sure. When he came home he would burst through the door and say “I’m home!" with a big smile on his face and open arms. The girls would jump up and just run into his loving arms. I’m tearing up thinking about this - they now have enormous love and respect for him and his advice in their lives.
It’s not always easy, I can remember being so happy to see Geoff walk in the door after work so I could hand them over and go and plonk on the lounge (often with a glass of wine). And I’ve certainly made many mistakes - like the time I was so annoyed whilst we were driving that I stopped the car and said, “Get out of the car now!” To be met with, “But Mum, we’re not home yet!” Then later that evening tucking said child into bed and having little arms come up to hug me while being told, “I love you Mummy”.
We all know it’s not always easy, but parenting is one of the most satisfying journeys you will ever take in your life. It sometimes doesn’t seem like it when you are in the middle of it, but childhood is so short and fragile, and the rewards of having well-balanced, nice, caring kids far outweighs the demands placed on your lives navigating this thing called parenting.
Love Chris xx