Monday, 5 March 2012

Seat-of-the-pants Parenting

Today in the school playground while waiting for my son to escape the clutches of the educators (he actually has the best teacher ever, luckily), I was watching the other parents, the way we all do. Don't fib, you do. And you sometimes tsk to yourself in disgust at a poor show, and sometimes stand in awe at pure parenting skill in practise. If you're clever, you don't pass comment on the former, because the Law of Sod guarantees you a massive public parenting faux pas of your own shortly after.
I'm intrigued by other parents, and how they get through it all. There are as many ways to parent, it seems to me, as there are parents to do it.

I've decided I'm kind of a seat-of-the-pants parent. I read all of the parenting books I could bear while my first child was swimming around the womb. That wasn't an exhaustive list - I don't take well to lecturing and hard and fast rules, so that crossed a whole load of prescriptive parenting books off the list for a start. After the first birth, I occasionally consulted What to Expect in the First Year and Toddler Taming...and that's about it. I have a few others I bought in enthusiastic or terrified moments, but I've never read more than a few pages of any of them.

Of course, I have a plan: to finish with the same number with which I started (two) and for them to grow into happy, confident adults their dad and I are proud of. After that, it's all a bit hazy.

I also have rules, although as I've never written them down, they're a bit ad hoc, made up as we go along. They include: look at people when they speak to you; always say please and thank you; do it now because I said so and we can discuss why later; bedtime is religiously 7.30 unless I decide differently or you choose to debate with me, in which case earlier works just as well for me; no, you do not need to eat everything on your plate, but yes, you will try at least a few forkfuls of everything; treat other people with respect, and in the way in which you would like to be treated.  And discipline boils down to 3 straight chances followed by a time out. No imagination required for either of us.

There are rules for me too: I try only to yell rarely and for effect, because if I'm yelling for real, I've lost control, and if I've lost control, that means two young children must have it, and that ain't gonna happen on my watch. Besides, it's far more fun to see their faces when you you do yell if they're not used to it. And I've had to learn that you don't ever, ever, ever threaten anything you aren't willing to carry out; because by dog, if you've said that's going to be a consequence, it damn well better be exactly that, or next time they will remember - oh, they will - that you don't have the balls to actually carry out your threats. And as soon as they think that, it's game over. You learn fast not to say things like 'we're going to turn around and go home if you don't behave' if you're actually headed somewhere you were going to enjoy, like a cake shop...

And that's it. I think I'm doing okay, probably as much down to the great raw materials I've got to work with (lovely kids) as to my awesome skills. I rarely get to the actual time out part of time out, because they've usually backed down at one (please), or two (or else). The big one has good manners, a flair for chat, and a stonking vocabulary, and the little one is massively affectionate and outgoing. Their table manners can be a bit grim, and I'm dreadfully lax about homework, but perfection is well out of my reach, and I'm basically too tired to tick all the boxes.

I'm also well aware that just because there haven't been any major hiccups recently, doesn't mean there won't be some on the horizon. With children, I've decided, everything is a phase - the good, the bad, and the indifferent. Grab the reins, push down your heels, and hold on for the ride, because it will be something else in a day/ a week/ a month, and some other harried parent will be asking you 'how the hell did you get through that?' and you'll smile smugly and give good advice, unaware that the next great challenge is thundering around the corner heading straight for you.

Having said all this, I am not the only parent in this family, so I cannot take credit for all the brilliance, or even all the stupidity. My husband and I agreed a long time ago to do our best to agree on how to parent. We also agreed that when we don't agree, we do our disagreeing elsewhere. United front, always. But hey, why leave it at two parents? We don't. There are seven of us, eleven including grandparents, taking responsibility for these kids. Community parenting rules. But that's a different story...

1 comment:

  1. I never had kids (I'm too selfish, frankly!) but I can still remember my mother's: "I've asked you, I've told you, do you want me to make you?"

    It sounds like you are doing OK to me.