what’s worked for me; an informative essay for hopefuls

Since I know so many of you look to me for my brilliant guidance in raising small children, I occasionally feel the responsibility to impart wisdom from my now equivalent-to-a-bachelor’s-degree credentials (majoring in Sophie, the Persnickety Oldest Child with a minor in Nels, the Heartbreakingly Hunky, If Occasionally Possessed-by-Demonic-Humors, Progeny) to my faithful readers. I mean, who wouldn’t want to glean from the vast stores of acumen that busily grind away like so many razor-sharp cogs between my ears? Yes, I see the admiring looks my way at the grocery store as I struggle to drag my children – the hyperactive, whinging preschooler and small, sturdy boychild bellowing, “COOKIE!” and pointing exactly where the Double Fudge Espresso Snaps lie in wait – out to the car, relying on physical restraint and an imposed Zen-like trance before finally cracking under pressure and saying things like, “Can you just not talk? For one minute. Do not talk to me.” or perhaps, “OK Nels, wait Nels. Nels? – we’ll be home soon and you can have a snack. A snack, OK?” I know the reason not a single college friend speaks to me or hangs out with me (besides Jodi, similarly afflicted with two little ones as well) is because they are simply in awe of what I do every day. So – sarcasm aside, and in the spirit of responsibility I feel toward my loyal fans, I’m going to offer a list off the top of my head this morning…

Advice To Any Looking For It, For Parents Of Young Children:

1. Date night at least once a week with partner and no kids. This is an all-time must. Believe me, at first you may enjoy your husband / wife / whoever very much so you might think I’m lame for posting this as my Number 1 Tip. But eventually, in any and every marriage with children, things can get strained, resentful, or – worst of all – routine. Attempt to avoid the rash of divorces that hit in such an undignified manner when kids get school-age by making time to hang out, make eye contact, and even grab a little ass on eachother at the local pub.

2. Say it with me: “Benign Neglect”. A child who occasionally gets time in a playpen or bedroom quietly entertaining himself, is a child who can do such things when you need him to. My son is reading (or throwing, it’s hard to tell from here) books in his crib as I type this entry.

3. Cloth diaper. Not for the environment, for the skincare of your child, or the pocketbook (although all these things benefit vastly by doing so), but because it gives a sense of respect and nurture to one of the key elements in life for the young child and the Mama (or Papa) raising her. Having done it the other way for a couple years, I can truthfully say this is a far more rewarding way to start things out.

4. Sit down with your kids for a meal, preferrably the same meal, every day. Dinner is probably best because maybe everyone can be there; but if having all of you together isn’t possible, find a time that you can be there for them. Use plates, napkins, and manners. Your kids will come to look forward to that time together.

5. Put the same food on the kids’ plates as your own. Don’t make separate meals. Of course there are exceptions, and a rigorous Food Nazi plan will backfire eventually. But it sure is lovely to not be the short-order cook Mom. And the only way to get kids to eat their veggies (or brown rice, or whatever) involves preparing them nicely and putting them on the plate, over and over, sometimes for years, before the kid finally willingly takes a bite (and often learns to love it). Ask me how I know this.

6. Nap your kids at home and respect their naptime by cleaning them up and putting them in something soft to sleep in. A child who enjoys going to bed is a well-rested, calm individual who grows confident knowing he can take care of his own sleep needs.

7. Tell them about your feelings, and empathize with theirs, always reminding both of you that feelings are temporary. “I’m sorry I snapped at you. I’m not feeling good right now because I’m sick with a cold, and I’m hungry. I will feel better soon”.

8. Stop comparing (yes, that includes feeling irritated or guilty in response to my list here). Stop competing. Go ahead and be a control-freak, me-first kind of Mama with your first child – for the first one or two years. Then chill out and enjoy life a little more, and quit looking so intently at other Mamas and how they do things.

9. Try to avoid punitive tone or actions when disciplining (OK – this one is a goal – hence the word, “Try”). If the kid is throwing books again while you’re doing the dishes (knowing perfectly well he isn’t supposed to do so), pick him up, put him in his playpen or buckle him in his carseat, and say, “Hey – I’m just going to finish the dishes and I can’t do that peacefully while you’re making a mess. I will come pick you up in a minute, when I’m done.” Be calm, reassuring, and if possible, friendly. Go get him immediately when you’re done and help him put the books back, then move on. In addition, be prepared to (neutrally) remove a toy or book or give it to another child if your own child can’t take care of it respectfully. This method involves quick-thinking, a mellow-even-while-busy mentality, and the capacity to apologize later for missteps or make changes if need be. But it also keeps power struggles at bay and helps you feel good about how you speak to your children, and these benefits are huge. I also believe this is the best way to correct your children without running the real risk of damaging their self-esteem.

10. Compliment yourself and your efforts in front of your children. Really. I mean it. I don’t see it happen as often as I would like amongst my friends, and it’s probably one of the best things you can do for you and your family.

OK, that’s it. Would love to hear your tips. Like, “Keep your fucken kids off my lawn, Hogaboom!” Oh no, wait. I meant your tips for your family.

My boy, yesterday’s rainy morning, keeping it casual. He loves talking on the phone to Grandma most of all.

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