Oh, the magnificent yet tumultuous journey of parenthood. I have been at this Momming gig for about five years now, and although in my eyes I’m just approaching post-novice status, I realize I have accumulated some essential resources and strategies along the way. More and more messages are filling my inbox with requests for insights into the inner workings of our lives. Basically, how do I keep my sanity with a 5-year-old, 2.5-year-old, 2.5-year-old, and recently turned 1-year-old?
Now as I write this post, I want it to be abundantly clear- I am in the proverbial trenches. I have not reached any sort of utopia where I am no longer triggered by stress or where my children listen to my every word. Ultimately, perfection is not my goal rather it is connection. Do my kids feel like I get where they are coming from? Do I respect them and their needs? Are we working together to build a compassionate family culture?
I have become a parenting book junkie. With the same vigor that I used to consume young adolescent and picture books as a teacher, I am now grabbing for books to guide and enhance my parenting practice.
I’m sure my beliefs have been shaped by many life experiences along the way, but one of the first guides I had in the early childhood world was my daughter’s preschool teacher Ljiljana who with her co-teacher Caroline built a beautiful child-centered community where a dozen strong-willed, energetic toddlers flourished. The school was built on the cooperative model, and a parent was in the classroom every morning to help. Or in my case, to help and to observe with awe how the children were treated as capable, autonomous, responsive beings. Play was valued, and children were given clear boundaries and expectations. Instead of, “No throwing sand,” it was, “Keep the sand low.” I’m not sure if the word, “No!” was ever uttered by either teacher. Children were asked to, “Use gentle hands” and they were encouraged to determine what felt safe as they navigated their environment and their peers. Ah, it was a breath of fresh air from the demands I heard yelled at children at the neighborhood park! When I asked Ljiljana for her expert advice, she recommended Janet Lansbury’s No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame, and there I began my journey to hone my parenting craft.
The advice in No Bad Kids matched the environment I experienced in my daughter’s class, but I wanted to dig deeper. The second Aha! resource came from founder of Becoming Peaceful, Lisa Howe, who recommended the books by Dr. Laura Markham. If you’re dealing with a parenting issue, I encourage you to checkout Dr. Markham’s blog at www.ahaparenting.com. You can search for the problem you’re experiencing and see if her type of response resonates with your heart. For me, it 100% did. Her strategies are designed from research about a child’s development. Remembering that anger is a defense against a perceived threat. That tantrums aren’t a form of defiance. That connecting before correcting is the only way to promote lasting change.
I quickly read Dr. Markham’s Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids and Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings. And then I read them again. These resources explore what is motivating a kid’s behavior and the language to handle it. She describes the importance of our own emotional regulation and the value of building a special connection with each of our children. Dr. Markham also recently released a workbook format of her book which delves into some of our own history that impacts the way we parent. Disclaimer: it wasn’t emotionally easy to get to the root of why I felt triggered to yell or punish my children. I am still working to be the calm that my kids need when they’re in the middle of a storm. I am sure it would be easier to punish them into compliance, but let’s be honest, there is only so much we can control of our kids and that control will only diminish as they mature.
Now, that brings me to my latest love, Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting. This book takes it to the next level. It makes me question nearly everything I do as a parent: Am I using praise to manipulate my children’s behavior? If I send my child to take a break in time-out, am I using love withdrawal as a form of punishment? Am I giving my children the opportunity to make genuine decisions or am I giving them meaningless choices to feel as though I’m releasing control? Oy vey! Doing this job well is not for the faint of heart. I’ve just finished his book and am already feeling the itch to begin it again.
In addition to what I learned in these books, there are several elements of my life that make this journey possible: building a supportive and reflective village of parents who are on the same path, prioritizing self-care whenever possible, striving for minimalism to keep stuff from overwhelming our space, and watching the show Daniel Tiger- seriously, not all screen time is created equal and Mom and Dad Tiger are some rock star peaceful parents.
I hope this helps guide you and I would love your thoughts and recommendations. It is a tremendous task to reflect on the way we are raising our children and an even more arduous one to work on ourselves so that we bring our A-game to our children each day.
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