By Georgina Spiller
I’ve read a lot about parenting. I suspect you have too. I can remember when I’d just had my first baby and an old friend came round to visit. She already had 2 kids of her own, having started this journey long before I. She was chuckling about something and I looked over to her to see her nod at the huge Birth and Beyond book, my parenting tome of choice. A book I bought myself when I was 12 weeks pregnant, a reward for getting to that point. I knew she wasn’t laughing at me but I also knew that what I was trying to get to grips with couldn’t be found in the pages of that book. She knew it too.
As time went on and I got into my groove, such as it was, I read less and less about routines and weaning, Gina Ford’s book long since lobbed across the room but along came all these parenting programs like Supernanny and the other one. The one where they wear the silly Mary Poppins uniform because Americans love all that. Anyway, same programme different country. They both adhered to the same idea. That children can be trained. Now don’t get me wrong, I know children aren’t puppies. Well so they tell me ;) but I have definitely had success training my 2nd and 3rd babies to sleep through the night. Let’s not talk about how it went the first time.
But the discipline in these programmes always left me feeling either inadequate (I could never get any of my kids to stay on the naughty step) or uneasy – are children really inherently naughty? I watched a lot of these programmes; I especially loved House of Tiny Tearaways. Perhaps because Dr Tanya Byron is pretty cool and always seemed so sensible and had nice hair.
She seemed to get that most kids play up because their parents are
idiots full of issues and so would work on the parents to get their stuff together and then provide a calm environment for the child. This came off the air when Dr Byron decided it was unethical to expose children on prime time TV without their consent. Quite right too but in some ways I always felt it could have gone further, that the idea of nurturing the parent was always the key and yet never discussed at length, indeed anywhere.
You always hear about getting a licence for a dog but not a kid, right? My friend has a whole binder full of typed info on how to train and feed and raise his new puppy. I couldn't help but think blimey I wish a midwife had given me one of those when I left the hospital ward.
So there we are, after being turned inside out and cracked open to the third degree. (Sorry for the reminder ladies.) And no idea on how to proceed. We bumble along, getting it right now and then and getting it wrong quite a lot. I've sleep-trained babies, I've shouted, I've even smacked. I've gone to bed feeling terrible that I'm screwing them up and that they will spend a lifetime undoing my mistakes. I've also had times where my daughter has told me I'm a great mum "because you made a strong healthy girl like me” and then it’s all worthwhile and all the rubbish and darkness is wiped clean by her light.
So that brings me to my point
Kids get it. They're our future, right? Well, if they get it why don't we listen to them more?
I think therein lies the key.
Without turning all ‘continuum-concept-attachment-parent’ (but hats off to you if that’s you) because if I'm honest that is not going to be me. EVER. I think that when they play up or screw up or tantrum, we know that shouting or smacking is very wrong (stop feeling bad, we are human, remember) but I think the idea of excluding them or shaming them is pretty mean too. When my 5 year old food rages after school I don’t punish him, I try and listen and cuddle him and explain that we are getting food now and we can rest a while. His tantrum dissipates much faster than when I have one too. And trust me there are times when I still do.
I've learned to stop beating myself up and to stay in their present much more.
Well, I’m trying anyway.
I'm never going to be the Dalai Lama but I can try to be more mindful and present with my kids. And my house is a lot calmer and happier as a result.