I went into a book-shop this morning to gather some inspiration for this blog.
I love books. I love writing. I love reading.
But my all-time favourite thing to do is to read with children.
This morning, inspired by recently baby-sitting a very sweet 2 1/2 year old, I went to the local bookshop – the only book-shop in the entire council region.
I would have had a lovely time
as soon as I found the children’s section (my favourite section) I heard
‘The Manager’ instructing his juniors on how to run a book shop.
I did not try to listen.
But I heard him. Everyone inside the shop–and probably outside the shop–heard him.
When a writer goes into a book-shop, she should almost be in heaven.
Not this morning.
When I venture into a book-shop I usually pick up a book, caress the texture of its cover and marvel at the book design; check out the title and author; and re-experience that great excitement of opening up a book that’s new to me, or a new version of an old, loved book.
And if I’m really, really lucky, I feel that delicious crisp, slidy-crackle as the page edges peel apart for the very first time.
Not this morning.
I love to pick up old-favourites and reread the pace and rhythm of great writers. I rarely leave a bookshop without reading at least one of Mem Fox’s stories, and I hear her in my memories of the audio-tapes my children listened to every day when they were small.
But not this morning.
The Manager’s voice had no rhythm.
He didn’t teach about books or words or rhymes or rhythms. He didn’t take a book and stroke it, and demonstrate how to love it.
He spoke only of shelves and sales and stock-take.
My heart sank.
I left the children’s section, went to the bargain table, picked out some trustworthy classics, took them to the counter and handed them to The Manager.
‘I’m writing a blog about children’s books,’ I said. ‘Which is your favourite children’s book?’
‘I don’t have one.’
I wanted to give him another prompt, but my astonishment rendered me mute. He continued without prompt.
‘I left children’s books in my childhood. I don’t have children. Children and children’s books are of no interest to me.’
By this time, I’d managed to pick up my jaw from off the floor.
‘So, if a parent asked you for a recommendation, what would you say?’
‘I’d ask them about the child’s interests.’
‘And how about a grandparent asking for their two-year-old grand-child?’
‘Then I’d find out more about the desires of the purchaser.’
The pay-wave machine beeped.
The Manager handed me my bag of books–which was much smaller than usual.
And I left–no longer wondering why children are losing their love of books.
There were no spiders on my garden chair when I sat down today.
The last time I went to sit on my garden chair, I used my hand to knock off a few dried up leaves from its cushions. But, as I went to brush a couple of leaves off the back of the chair, I noticed two big, beady eyes looking up at me.
I shrieked–evidently too quietly for my husband to hear me. But one of my sons yelled from inside the house
‘’You okay, mum?’
Bravely (I thought) I went inside to create the least fuss possible and sought out my daughter who had named the previous year ‘The Year of The Spiders’. That year she worked at an outdoor education camp and took it upon herself to transfer spiders from inside dormitories to outside, away from the screams of hysterical campers.
‘How big is it?’ she asked me as she proceeded to the pantry.
‘Oh, not too big,’ I said.
She raised an eyebrow at me, turned to me and held out her hands. In her left hand she held a square-round tupperware container, big enough for half a sandwich. In her right, a four-litre ice-cream carton.
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Medium-sized’.
She grabbed a different container and headed outside to my chair… and the spider.
‘Ooh! He’s a big guy isn’t he?’
My embarrassment dissolved. I felt vindicated.
I also realized how much I enjoy having my young adult kids close enough to me to have them rescue me.
The tables are turning. We rescue each other.
And I’m so glad of our investment in our relationship with them–or I’d be chasing my own spiders.
In a previous post, I wrote about how we changed from being No. Don’t! parents to Yes!parents.
Saying ‘Yes’ didn’t mean that we gave up discipline, but rather, it changed the way we disciplined.
We read lots of books and listened to people who had a much gentler and more enjoyable approach to parenting – with better results.
We discovered we had confused discipline with punishment. After lots of research, we learnt that they had little in common – especially when dealing with young children.
Show them how
To discipline means to ‘train’; that is, to show how.
Kids are much more co-operative when they know what they’re expected to do.
For example: We discovered we could show our children how to touch things ‘gently’ – placing their little fingers in ours and helping them to touch and feel things, such as baby brothers and sisters… gently.
When we began to respond with a ‘Yes, that’s right,’ instead of a ‘NO. DON’T!’ we found that desirable behaviour was usually repeated. If you think about it, ‘No. Don’t!’ doesn’t tell our child what to do next. It just breaks our communication with them, confuses them and leaves them with no options.
Learn more positive ways to communicate with our children
When the children wanted to change activity, instead of saying ‘No. The room is a mess; No, you haven’t finished your homework; No, your hands are filthy; No. No. NO!’ we learnt to answer
‘Yes, when the Lego has been put away; Yes, when you’ve washed your hands; Yes, after you’ve written two more sentences of your homework…Yes.’
Save NO’s for those times that are really, really necessary.
You can imagine our children’s surprise when we began to say ‘Yes!’ much more often than ‘No!’ But as they got used to it, they listened to our instructions much better. And on the rare occasions we did say ‘NO!’, they knew it was important and respected it.
At about the same time as we discovered this, our fourth child
joined our family. We named him 'Noah'. You suddenly become aware of how
often you inadvertently say 'No!' when you have a little one who
responds every time you say the beginning of his name.
Look through different eyes
We began to look at our children through eyes that looked for signs of discovery and wonderment rather than eyes looking out for trouble.
By observing our children we could follow their lead in learning new things, playing, seeking reassurance and rest. Our job was to provide a safe environment. Their job was to explore it.
Children whose needs are being met are much more eager to please their parents than to disappoint them.
When expectations of a child’s behaviour are consistent with the child’s development and ability, discipline becomes much more realistic and manageable, and parenting becomes enjoyable.
My mother-in-law Ruth and her sisters are extraordinary cooks. So family get-togethers of our three generations are a great celebration of good, old-fashioned German cooking, with lots of cream, and belly-aches for the uninitiated who tend to be overfilled by too much great food.
At any family gathering, the aunties bring designated dishes. Auntie Audrey makes brandy snaps and pavlova. Auntie Doreen makes pink jelly cakes, with cream in the middle. Ruth makes jelly-slice. And Auntie Joy makes cream-puffs. But that’s just dessert.
Before then, home-made sausage rolls and little meat-balls with home-made tomato sauce are for entree. That’s where the newbys get into trouble. The rest of us know
‘Don’t fill up on sausage rolls because there’s an ocean of food yet to come.’
Then there’s Ruth’s soup: The best chicken noodle soup in the world. Main course provides mountains of turkey and duck, chicken, ham, lamb and corned beef with lashings of creamy coleslaw, potato salad, and whatever else the in-laws bring along as salad.
Cooking, like housework, is not my forte, and I struggled for years to find something I could happily contribute to my in-laws’ family table.
But, a couple of decades ago when we lived overseas, I asked their mother Ruby for her kuchen (German streusel* cake) recipe. When I was little, I watched my own grandmother making kuchen in her tiny kitchen, and helped her to use the same dough to make doughnuts and kitchener buns. So I wasn’t intimidated by the thought of cooking with yeast.
After Ruby died, when the family was facing their first event without her, I baked Ruby’s kuchen. The taste and smell that were faithful to Ruby’s original recipe brought back many happy home memories. I was really pleased to contribute in a very important way to the family’s memories.
Though all the sisters thought that kuchen was too difficult to make, it didn’t take Ruth very long to work out that if I could cook something, almost anybody else could!
Recipes are like that, aren’t they? Some of them are intimidating. Some of them call for ingredients we just don’t have in our homes, or are too rich to make too often. And some of them just don’t suit our tastes. But some of them are just right.
I’ve found that parenting tips are like recipes: Many are passed from generation to generation; some are intimidating; some leave a bitter taste; and some are just too yummy to use too often.
But some of them are just right: they fit us, our family and our situation. Once we’ve tried them a few times, we can’t imagine life without them – even though we may tweak them according to our own tastes.
I’ve had the incredible privilege of running parenting seminars, courses and groups. They include a collection of parenting ‘recipes’ that I’ve learnt along the way, received from colleagues or acquired at a training course. Or they are a complete course, such as Toolbox. They’re all backed up by decades of research.
What I have found though, is that listening to me is not nearly as encouraging to the parents as discovering that others share their joy and frustration — and even their pain!
‘Oh, that happens in your house, too?’ is the most common question I hear. As soon as I hear that, usually within the first five minutes of a seminar, I know that somebody is going to go home feeling much more encouraged, knowing they are not alone in their struggles.
The best bit is to see a parent’s eyes light up as they hear about a different approach, another way of looking at what their kids do, and when they say ‘I reckon I can do that!’
Most of the time the camaraderie that comes from knowing somebody else shares your experience can be positive. But this can be ambushed by a sense of judgement or failure if particular styles or methods of parenting are imposed or implied as particularly better than others.
Because we have different circumstances, personalities and backgrounds, the way we parent will be different from the way others parent. And it will be deeply affected by the way we were parented. It may also differ among our own individual children.
Most of us have memories of promising, ‘I’ll never do that to my child’. But if we don’t find another way to deal with that particular situation, we may discover ourselves reverting to the only way we know how, especially in times of crisis.
The good news is that we don’t have to stick to the recipes that don’t work or we don’t like. There are plenty of options.
So, where can we find healthy parenting ‘recipes’? How can we tell which methods are the best to follow?
Perhaps start off with a bit of basic biology. Books and dvds and websites are a great place to begin to learn basic anatomy and physiology. It’s great to be aware of how babies grow, what they need in order to develop and how best to meet their needs. Then you will be able to describe and understand anatomical features when you have a medical or child-health appointment.
It will also help you to discern good advice from the rubbish you might read.
Find out what’s normal, so that you don’t get upset when your baby starts dropping things from their high-chair over and over again; your two-year-old says ‘No!’; your three-year-old asks ‘Why?’ three hundred times a day; or your eight-year-old argues against everything you say.
Knowing what to expect will help you to feel more comfortable when asking somebody how to work with this next stage. That’s much better than believing that your child is rebelling against your parenting style, or worse, is attacking you personally.
My favourite place to find useful and practical ideas about parenting is www.theparentingplace.com. But like any recipe, there are bits I add or take out, according to the needs of my family.
Take a look at that site and others. Try them out if they seem like they might work for you. Tweak them as necessary. Ask others what they think. Observe other parents and try to see the cause and effect principle in action.
If parenting ideas don’t sit right with your tastes or ingredients, don’t feel obliged to stick with them. If something doesn’t work, try something else.
And remember, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.
Perhaps the best way to measure parenting recipes is to hold them up against a popular list of ingredients found in the bible in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Add a dose of fun and you have the greatest recipe for warm and happy memories that your kids will want to pass on for generations.
*Streusel is a crumble topping made with flour, butter and sugar.
Some people have told me how talented they think I am, and inside I laugh. The most important lesson I’ve learnt in the process of writing is that practice makes better.
Very occasionally, writing these articles happens easily. I wake up very early in the morning with a thought in my mind, get dressed, grab my glasses and my car keys and head to a coffee shop, and voila, 40 minutes later an article is born. But more often, they are a slog—an enjoyable slog.
I became a writer quite accidentally … well, so I thought, until I took a look back at how it happened.
Our little family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, when our children were four, two and not quite one. Even before we were married we’d planned to move overseas for Chris to do post-doctorate research. We figured that I would be stuck at home with little kids during this time, so it didn’t really matter where we were.
But we had no idea how homesick I would be, being so far away from everybody we knew. It was before the age of computers in homes. These days I can communicate with my sister in the UK using Skype or Facebook.
In Memphis, I wrote letters. Ten pages of letters per day, every day. And in the process of writing letters,
I learnt to write.
My mother kept all the letters I wrote to her and presented them to me in a large folder only last year. The letters stopped after about 18 months, by which time we’d settled into the Memphis community and I was no longer so homesick.
After we came back to Australia, moved houses, had another baby and settled all the kids into school, I went to university and learnt more about writing … and word limits. Writing essay after essay helped me to learn to be more concise, and reading article after article, book after book, I learnt to be more discerning about styles and word choices.
‘Success means getting up once oftener than you fall down’
Being surrounded by toddlers in my work reminds me of their persistence. Toddlers are determined to get to where they want to go. They get up and fall down, and get up … and fall down. They keep getting up, over, and over and over again. I’m sure that whoever it was who said ‘Success means getting up once oftener than you fall down’ had been watching a bunch of babies.
Younger children just want to learn and keep doing, over and over and over again. They don’t seem to care how well they do anything. They just keep at it
But as children get to school age, that determined endeavour seems to disappear in some of them.
Children aged between five and twelve years of age need to become good at something
Chris and I attended an excellent ‘Family Wellness’ course a number of years ago. The kids were dragged along for a couple of sessions, too. A key idea of the course was that children aged between five and twelve years of age need to become good at something.
With a new perspective from the course, I looked at the people I knew who were confident and accomplished in what they did. Whether they were artists, engineers, architects, cooks, farmers or athletes, every one of them had worked hard to be where they are now. Talent had very little to do with their success.
Skyscrapers, bridges, planes and ships are not designed by people who suddenly decide to build them. Great buildings begin with wooden blocks, Lego, meccano and piles of sand being moved from one spot to another. Great artworks begin with painting dots and squiggles, and experimentations with shade and light, correction and starting from scratch, over and over again.
Admittedly, some people are born to be more athletic or musical or artistic than others. But without determined, intentional, frequent practice, people do not become great at something.
Life is about learning; making mistakes, correcting mistakes
I recently heard an interview on the ABC with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the world-famous singer. She said,
‘You never stop learning … The moment you think you can’t learn anymore, I think you’re dead. Life is about learning; making mistakes, correcting mistakes … If I did two hours a day on vocalese, seven days a week, it would never be enough. Think of the tennis player. How many times has he hit that little ball? It’s a lifestyle, not a job.’
So, armed with our new perspective on parenting 5–12-year-olds, Chris and I looked at our parenting. We were familiar with our kids beginning new ventures: joining a basketball team, learning a musical instrument, playing a game.
They were eager starters.
Everything was new and interesting.
For a while the practice was a novelty, but soon it became a drag with its repetition. Being part of a team was fun, but it also became tiresome when it required early morning starts or missing out on parties or fishing trips.
With our new perspective we began to help them to ‘hang in there!’ We explained the plateau that happens when you learn something new: You learn eagerly and quickly for a while, but then you don’t seem to get any better; the kids in the team won’t throw to you because you keep dropping the ball; the clarinet refuses to give you that particular note and it squeaks precisely when you are trying your hardest; you keep coming ‘second’ every time you play chess.
It’s at the plateau that most people quit.
It’s at the plateau that most people quit. That’s the time that we as parents, coaches and encouragers need to get in there and be the cheer squad.
Forget about ‘constructive criticism’! Research by the Gottman Institute demonstrates that, particularly in children, criticism is not constructive.
Instead, stress the positive:
‘What a great catch! Now, do that again!’
‘See what happens when you do that: It’s strong!’
Describe what you see. Describe how you feel.
Give your children the words to express what they’ve done.
Encourage positive steps and celebrate small successes as well as big ones.
Every positive effort is a success, regardless of its outcome.
A few years ago I was part of a school chaplains’ meeting. One of the chaplains shared a story about a teenager who was constantly in trouble with the police. He kept breaking into cars and stealing them.
When the teenager was asked by the chaplain, ‘Why do you do it?’, his reply was,
‘I just want to be good at something, and that’s all I know’.
Everybody needs to get good at something.
Everybody needs to get good at something. Natural talent and ability play only a small part in a person’s success. For each of us, in everything we do, practice makes better.
One of the mothers of our Year 7 class was teaching her daughter about sex. Every lunch time her daughter gave us a little bit more information. We listened, snickered and stuck our noses up in the air, as Year 7 girls tend to do. We made remarks such as ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Nobody would ever do that!’
I got the job of going home to ask my mother to validate the latest gory details. After all, my mum was a nurse for three months, so she must have known something about sex. So I’d go home, ask her direct questions and receive direct answers. And I’d report back to the girls.
Whether mum figured out that there was a whole class-full of girls clinging to her every word, I’m not sure. But I’m glad she was open enough to answer questions.
There were no books available to our family back then. Any book that might have been useful in the school-library had been coloured in by a censor. No wonder the kids of the day thought you had to be a doctor or nurse to know about sex.
When our own children were little, things were much different. The impending birth of our son when the kids were 5, 6 and 8 years old gave us a fantastic opportunity to give information in a matter-of-fact way.
We found some books that were helpful, especially our favourite called ‘Who made me?’ by Malcolm and Meryl Doney, and illustrated by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen. ‘Who made me?’ had simple language, cute pictures and analogies that the kids could relate to: bits that fitted together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, and fruit and vegetables that illustrated the size of the baby as it grew inside mum’s tummy.
Sex was described as the most fun game that mummies and daddies can play. This book spoke about sex as a beautiful gift within the context of marriage…Bonus! That gave us the opportunity to place a lock on our bedroom door – and explain to our kids that if the lock was in operation, we might be playing that game so, best for them to leave us alone.
We also had the opportunity to accompany our children to sex-ed nights at school. The guest speakers gave the audience the facts about anatomy and physiology. Then they directed each child to ask their parent who was sitting next to them ‘In your family, what do you call this bit?’
These were informative nights that answered the questions that most children ask, and most parents get embarrassed about. We liked them – apart from the question-time at the end, where we would hope and pray that it was not our child who put up their hand to ask more questions that embarrassed parents.
Our youngest had a different up-bringing to his older siblings, largely because issues that the others were dealing with were often discussed quite freely around the dinner table. The girls were having a discussion about periods one night while I kept trying to change the subject. Acknowledging defeat I asked their little brother, as casually as I could, if he knew what periods were. His answer… ‘When girls get grumpy!’
In our church we have a resource library for parents, available to the whole community. One of the resources available is a cd called ‘The Big Weekend’. Produced by the parenting place.com it is specifically designed for parents and their child (aged about 11 years old) to play in the car’s cd drive while they go for a weekend trip.
‘The Big Weekend’ talks about sex and other issues that kids may face, such as self-esteem, bullying, sexuality and depression.
It’s really engaging and is presented in a way that is non-threatening for either parent or child and invites discussion through its use of humour. Chris took Noah on a ‘Big Weekend’ and they found it great. It enhanced their relationship and gave them some great memories that they can share together.
As our kids faced senior school, each of them came home with stories about class-mates who were pregnant. Too often, these young people were from devoutly religious homes. I’ve read books that tell Christian parents to use a flower as the way to teach their adult child about sex … and that’s it! No other information offered!
If Christian parents can’t recognise that God has given us the gift of sex for our marriage relationship, and pass that on to our kids, who will? If we feel too embarrassed to speak about sex with them, they will find out in other ways – and the results can be traumatic. Knowing about sex and practicing protective behaviours keeps our kids safer, and gives them the vocabulary to talk about it if ever necessary.
‘There’s no such thing as ‘values-free sex education’.
‘There’s no such thing as ‘values-free sex education’*. People usually learn the values that are associated with sex from the context in which they learn about sex. If people learn about sex behind the school shed; in the context of sexual abuse; in a marriage or relationship where sex is expected but not explained; from lobby groups who have their own agendas; or more than likely from television, movies and the internet, they will also take on board the values with which it is presented.
Is what the kids see on MTV the way we would like them to look at their sexuality?
If we as parents teach about sex, we earn the right to teach our values.
If we are too shy to speak about sex, do we have the right to expect our children to adhere to our values. Or do we think that they will know our values by a simple process of osmosis?
In the context of sexuality in our world, future generations will need to be able to communicate clearly and openly about sex among other issues. How can Christians ever be invited to take part in open, frank, respectful conversations about marriage, relationships and sexuality if they are perceived as never talking about sex?
The most powerful mechanism by which we can change that perception is by parents being open with their kids. Parents need to intentionally pass on their values openly, frankly and respectfully, in word and through modelling behaviour.
As parents we have the privilege of being able to influence our children’s attitudes to sex. Whether we are embarrassed or shy doesn’t take away our responsibility to teach our children about sex and the values we have about it. After all, if we don’t, somebody else will.
Previously published as ‘Bye-Bye Birds and Bees’ in The Lutheran magazine, 2012.
After my day in Kakadu yesterday, where my energy output exceeded my input and my willpower, I decided to give the others (Chris and Gabby) a day off. I volunteered to stay behind at our camping ground at Cooinda in Kakadu, while they went to Gumlom Falls, unheeded by me.
Good call, apparently.
That allowed my companions freedom to drive on bumpy roads, climb and swim while I had a personal retreat day.
My challenge: to be still and to simply be.
The car drove off with them in it, only a few moments before I realized I’d left my hat in the boot. That just meant that I must stay in the shade all day.
Aah…but…Chris had left his glasses in the tent.
So, very soon, the wanderers returned, we swapped the pair of glasses for my hat and they departed. Again.
Under the shade of my hat, I gathered my tools together; books, paper, pens, paints, plates, cups, drink, kleenex, esky, hand-bag. And I wandered through the park to find a shady table and bench.
As I strolled past the bistro directly between our tent and the pool, I noticed the queue of between 50 and 60 people lining up for breakfast.
I congratulated myself on our choice to camp, and took a photo to remind myself that camping is a good idea, for the next time I felt that I might prefer a few more luxuries than a tent and a camp-stretcher.
I wandered through the shaded area just beyond the perimeter of the pool fence, found the perfect spot, set out the tools of my trade and began to sit quietly.
Except for the buzz of mosquitoes…
S l o w . . . m o s q u i t o e s…
Julie: Five in one swoop
Then… the mozzies I missed called for reinforcements.
And I remembered the one tool I’d left at the tent…
. . . Insect repellent.
Dilemma 1: Do I need to pack up everything in order to return to the camp-site to retrieve the insect repellent?
I continued to sit for about three seconds, thinking I might be able to sit it out… until more of the mozzie-army invaded.
Julie: Nil – and 53 Mozzie bites.
Decided to leave most things as they were, but just take things of value with me.
Then sprinted (in a Julie-style-sprint) laden with my hand-bag, esky and books, across the park to pick up insect repellent, and Tea Tree Oil for the mozzies which had already got me.
Note to self: Always carry Tea Tree Oil.
Great for Mozzie bites, wasp stings, burns, infections: And especially soothing for bites from bugs that hitch a ride in your trousers while you’re on guided walks around the base of Uluru, and bite when they want to get out.
I returned to my spot.
And I sat.
And I wrote.
Dilemma 2: I get bored easily
Before I knew it, I was up and looking for some distraction. Any distraction.
Usually it’s food.
Today, I got frustrated with myself, knowing that at last I was all set up and had actually written something, yet I needed to wriggle.
I look at my phoned and jumped for joy that I’d been writing without distraction for eighty-three minutes. I got up, wriggled a little bit, and sat down again.
I deemed that I’d earned a coffee break…
The bistro-brekky-bunch had subsided. So I ordered a long-black coffee with soy milk on the side, sat at a bistro bench and sipped while I observed the people around me. But the patrons seemed intent on being peculiarly uninteresting. And the barramundi burger was less than inspiring: Not sure how the cook did that.
I returned to my reclusive table outside of the pool, right next to the playground. where a dad and his three little girls played together for the next hour.
I sat and I sat and I sat. And listened and smiled and wrote and remembered why I wanted to write to inspire parents. The little family was so full of happiness – enjoying each others’ discoveries, helping but not interrupting, encouraging but not demanding, allowing exploration without initiating fear. I wished I could bottle that love and spread it onto pages.
The afternoon grew warmer – and I edged closer to the pool, found a deck-chair and nestled in. Several families moved in close around me. I wondered if they knew they’d be observed.
A mum nearby read several new books to her children. Then she decided to read a book to herself while the three children shared TWO books.
Of course it was Little Mister Three who missed out. And everyone in the whole resort heard about it.
I love to keep bubbles in my hand-bag for such occasions. But with all the travelling we’d done, bubbles had not been on my list of what to pack.
But, as a writer and experimental painter/drawer, I had paper and pencils. So I wandered over to the family.
‘Excuse me, I’m trying to write a book and I need some pictures. Is there anyone here who might like to draw a picture?’
Mister Three’s eyes popped open. He jumped up and shouted.
‘I can. I can.’
Big brother and sister wanted to as well, but the mum said,
‘No, he was first’, so I left Mister Three with my pencil and some paper and went back to my deck-chair.
A few minutes later, little Mister Three was at the foot of my chair.
He held up his picture for me to admire and told me all about it, that his name was Jack, and that he was having a great holiday. And could he do some more, please.
My afternoon progressed with meeting other families who came to enjoy the pool. I talked with mums and dads and kids and aunties. We talked about where we were from, where we were going, places we recommend, things we’d seen, what we’d learnt along the way, and shared any news we’d heard.
‘Do we have a Prime Minister yet?’ I asked a dad, who had grown up in the town next to where I’d grown up.
But while we were talking, my grown-ups returned from their trip, excited at what they’d done, and not-so-secretly thankful that I hadn’t gone with them.
A great day of climbing and swimming for them.
And a day that reminded me of my vocation.
How do you resolve conflicts in different parenting styles between yourself and your partner? e.g. where one parent is stricter than the other
According to The Gottman Institute, in every successful relationship most (69%) of the conflicts are unresolvable*.
Some of those conflicts might be about inconsequential things, such as our favourite flavour of ice-cream. But many of the unresolvable issues are more important than our taste buds. Knowing they’re unresolvable helps us to manage them, rather than waste our time and energy arguing about them.
What about our attitude and parenting style in bringing up the kids?
I’m an ex-nurse and used to bandage the wounds of other people’s adventurous kids who ended up in the Children’s Hospital Emergency Department. So my heart sinks to the pit of my stomach when I see a child anywhere near where they might possibly fall. I am a scaredy-cat. I would happily ban trampolines and all kinds of other adventures – but there wouldn’t be much fun left.
DH (dear husband) grew up climbing trees, rambling over rocks and yabbying in dams and creeks. He has several scars which show that many wounds heal by themselves, eventually.
He encourages climbing – with the theory that if you let them climb, as long as they know how to climb down, they’re safer if you leave them to it than if you make a fuss.
Our way around that was for me to stay well away from the adventurous parts of playgrounds – so the children couldn’t sense my fear. Chris would be in charge of the kids in playgrounds. And I left him to it. It meant that my kids learnt to climb, and jump, and do normal kid things without my unfounded fear.And the kids knew that if he ever said ‘That’s enough!’ their lives were in mortal danger.
That’s pretty much how we still handle situations on which we disagree .
We go on the side of the person with the most factual knowledge or experience about a situation:
Anything requiring medical or nursing care, he leaves to me.
Anything microbial i.e. what’s safe to eat that we find in the back of the fridge, we leave to him.
Anything we’re not sure about, we still err on the side of caution – unless it looks like fun and we feel that it can’t do too much damage.
Interestingly, the issues we used to find most difficult, we can’t even remember now.
Perhaps our ways aren’t what every couple would choose. But that’s the beauty of families. We’re all different.
When it came to our natural parenting styles, we’re opposite. But we discovered the Parent-Coach style, through ‘Toolbox Parenting Groups’ from The Parenting Place. Both of us could work together on that, with the same goal in mind.
Doing whichever courses came our way, about relationships and parenting, we learnt new tactics and decided together which ones we didn’t think would work for us, and happily tried ones that sounded hopeful.
We made time with each other a priority. When the children were small, we hired a student once a week to mind the kids while we went on a date. Later, when the kids were at school, we had a regular Wednesday morning ‘date’ at a coffee shop next to the bus stop.
Making time for each other helped us to understand how we were travelling, and what made us react and respond to our kids and each other in different circumstances. We could talk things over when not in crisis mode, and often made decisions about the kids in semi-relaxed circumstances. It really helped us with our communication during crisis moments that inevitably have happened.
And our parenting decisions are guided by our family values. More about that in the article about family values – but, in summary, when we have worked out together what are the most important values to our family, all sorts of decisions are much easier to make.
*(John Gottman & Julie Schwartz Gottman, 2014 Bridging the Couple Chasm: Gottman Couples Therapy: A Research-Based Approach)
As a young mum, I loved to help the kids to explore and make discoveries. Freedom and creativity were abundant in our house. Being the lovely mother that I was, I tended to become child number four and join in making a big mess. We would all have a wonderful time.
The Parenting Place from New Zealand* would classify my natural parenting style as a ‘Jellyfishicus’ parent—somebody who is warm, friendly and loving to their kids, but who, for whatever reason, does not use any form of control, does not set boundaries or make any rules.
But if the kids fought, or the noise got too much, or the mess became hugely overwhelming, my niceness wore off. My attempts to take control relied upon very public, personal explosions.
It sounded very much like: ‘Don’t leave this big mess to me. You made it with me. If you don’t clean up, you’ll have to go without dinner.’
Unfortunately, lovely Jellyfishicus parents tend to become overwhelmed when they have lost all sense of control. Then they turn into a different type of parent—the ‘Sergeant-majorcus’ parent. Sergeant-majorcus parents like to be ‘in control’ all of the time. They like order and yelling out orders. All family duties are carried out in a military style. There’s lots of control—lots of rules, but little, if any, warmth.
What would happen after I’d started shouting was that the kids would end up cowering in the corner—if they hadn’t already been sent to their rooms. Nothing would get done, and inevitably I would wind up with a headache.
There is another style of parent that would emerge after the headache appeared: the ‘Parentus Absentus’ variety. Though I was there, I wasn’t really there. The kids were safe, largely supervised by the big sister, and I was conscious enough to help out in the case of fire or blood. But anything not constituting an emergency was pretty much ignored.
Thank God for older, wiser parents and teachers who showed this mother other ways. They taught me a parenting style that works most of the time and that anybody can learn to apply, no matter what their natural personality might be. It is the ‘Parent-Coach’ style.
Most of us can think of great coaches that we’ve encountered during our lives. They may have been sporting coaches whom we were privileged to train with, or coaches (such as NRL or AFL coaches) whom we admired from the sidelines. They may have been teachers, choir or orchestra conductors. Or they may be mentors who walked alongside us.
Great coaches show respect to their players and in return earn the respect of the players. Great coaches apply a balance of warmth and control, encouragement, discipline and independence. Great coaches know each of their players, with their strengths and weaknesses, and work with them. They work on inbuilt strengths to compensate for weaknesses, and teach skills step by step where natural ability is lacking. Great coaches teach skills in bite-sized chunks, giving opportunity for the players to practise, and gradually incorporate new skills into the game-plan.
Great coaches teach the rules of the game, showing where the boundaries are—and what the goals are. They inspire by getting a team to have a common goal, to recognise what needs to happen for the team to get there, and then walking alongside each member of the team, so that each individual recognises their own important role in achieving success for the team.
When my children grew, I was able to share the Parent-Coach principle with other parents. Parents can usually identify to which of the parenting styles they are naturally inclined. Some also recognise that different circumstances, and even different children, can bring out differing styles within each parent. When parents discover the Parent-Coach principle, they soon recognise that this is an achievable goal for them, regardless of their natural style.
In The Parenting Place’s ‘Toolbox’ course, parents are given practical and positive ways to implement Parent-Coach ‘tools’. Usually just ‘tweaking’ some of the things they do already makes a big difference, but sometimes, trying a completely new concept is beneficial to their family.
For example, many parents use timers in their homes for particular roles, such as cooking. I used to use it for ‘Time-Out’ for the children’s bad behaviour. These days I recommend using a timer for more positive things.
I recommend a timer for children who don’t have a sense of urgency in such things as getting ready for school. It helps for parents to first observe what is taking so long and break it down into do-able chunks for the child. Then use the timer for the chunk that seems to take longest for no particular reason.
Or use it when a child asks for your undivided attention, but you have ten minutes of work to finish before you can take a break. ‘Here. When this timer rings, I will be finished doing this work. Then we can play together. Okay?’
One family’s dawdling child made the family late for school every morning. When applying the Parent-Coach principle, the parents recognised that this child loved Mum to stay at school to help with reading each morning. So Mum and Dad began to set the timer for the amount of time their daughter needed to get dressed. If their daughter was dressed before the timer went off, Mum had time to stay for reading. If dressing took too long, Mum would have to use the ‘Kiss-and-drop’ lane at the school instead. The child was in control of her own destiny. Within a week, the family was no longer late for school, and Mum was able to stay for reading every day.
The greatest coaches love their players! That’s the element where we as parents have an advantage over most coaches.
As parents we have more reason to love our children—a lifetime investment. Being a Parent-Coach style of parent is do-able and makes the journey much, much more enjoyable.
*For great parenting advice, and to find a Toolbox parenting group in your area, see www.theparentingplace.com
Thanks for inviting me to be on a panel of mums, for mums, at MOPS Elizabeth.
It was a privilege to share my answers to the following questions, which I’ll post as I translate them from note form to readable form over the next few weeks.
How do you resolve conflicts in different parenting styles between yourself and your husband/partner? eg where one partner is stricter than the other
Now that you’re an experienced Mum, if you could tell yourself one piece of advice to really listen to when you became a new mum, what would it be?
How do you balance your time between being a wife/partner and a mother so that no-one feels they miss out? What about when you have more than one child?
If you could have one family rule or value, what would it be?
What are your strategies for raising toddlers? e.g. dealing with whinging?
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