When I was a child I sometimes thought ahead to when I might have children of my own and decided that they would be able to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, without getting into trouble. This thought usually entered my head when I was doing something wrong and being in trouble for it. This thought and the thought that when I grew up I would allow myself to eat chocolate all day and all night.
Fast forward to now and I have a very different view. I can see that my former self was trying to be nice to my future kids and stop me being a mean parent, but I’m learning (daily) that being that mean parent is often needed in order to be a good parent.
My kids are 3.5 and 1.5, a tot girl and a tot boy. They are awesome and funny little beings but lately they have entered a sort of extended (for tot girl) and early (for tot boy) terrible twos.
Some days with them can be absolute heaven. They will play well together, love each other all day, eat well, not throw food, be completely against hitting/pushing/biting, and make you feel like super-parent for the day. On other days however, they become monsters. I affectionately term them ‘little monkeys’ but it can get pretty draining when they are behaving in a challenging way.
Anything from food chucking (tot boy is particularly good at this – he managed to actually hit me in the middle of my chest with a tinned plumb tomato tonight at teatime), toy chucking, toy trashing, not tidying up, shouting, screaming, jumping on the couch, extreme jumping on the couch, hitting each other, pushing each other, and occasional biting. I could go on but you probably get the idea and maybe this is very familiar to you.
I know every time something happens like this or there is a bad day, that they are behaving exactly as they should – for toddlers. It is completely normal. I know that. And in my calmer moments, I think of the good ways to handle situations. Like a pro. Really calm and collected. I imagine myself acting out a parenting help book, a bit like this:
Kid running off in the garden centre, out of the automatic doors? Don’t worry, just stay calm, smile and say in a firm voice, “Darling, don’t run away from mummy.” Child instantly stops, reflects on their actions and returns to you hand in hand. Shopping trip continues like a dream.
Reality? I break into a sweat, I run (badly), I grab the toddler in question and we have a battle of wills which involves kicking and screaming. And to make it just that little bit worse, my ill -fitting jeggings are falling down and I know that the general public are not only judging my (lack of) parenting skills, but they’re also passing secret judgement on my lack of style too and my big knickers.
I remember reading or hearing somewhere in the early days of being a parent that I should choose my battles carefully. And my husband and I try very hard to heed this advice whenever we come up against a challenge. Spaghetti on the telly set. Is it worth a battle or should you just let it go? Every toy you just tidied up together has just been thrown back out. Battle or let it go?
Mostly we think, if there is nobody being hurt, we should let it go. But the older the kids get the harder this gets. And I think it is harder to honour this code of parenting with our youngest when our eldest sees that we might let him get away with something we expect her to not do. She is too little still to understand we expect better behaviour of her at this point than we do of him.
So we find ourselves increasingly telling them both off for things we may have let go in the past.
And the more we tell off, the more we have to find reasonable and rationale consequences. We can’t use not going to somebody’s house or on a planned outing as a consequence, because we will still go. It would be an empty threat to say we won’t. And so we threaten things like toy removal or no treats tomorrow.
All the time these challenging moments are going on and all the time we are trying to think of a reasonable reaction and consequence, we try to be rational but it isn’t easy. When you’ve had a long day of little, bitty, challenging behaviour that escalates at bath time, it is easy to completely crumble and one of us say to the other we can’t manage now and we need help. Ever feel like that?
I don’t want to be the person who shouts. I try hard not to and most of the time I do okay with that. But I am constantly searching for a way to exert my inner authority in a calming way, whilst at the same time ensuring that the tots are actually listening and learning and understanding.
But in the end, maybe I just need to accept that they are not programmed to comply yet; they are not supposed to walk next to me when we go out, they are not supposed to stay where they are asked, they are not supposed to eat their food without mess, they are not supposed to get into bed like movie kids and go to sleep once we turn out the light. They are tots and they are unruly and messy and chaotic and we need to remember that, accept it and celebrate it. Because it won’t last long. They will be grown soon and with that will come a different set of challenges. At least now, they still think we’re both pretty okay. And that’s a bonus.
And at least I didn’t change my view about chocolate from when I was a kid – I still eat it whenever I like, day or night.