You can think of your parenting skills as tools in a toolbox. Everybody who owns a toolbox has the basics:
- tape measure
- wrenches (regular and a variety of Allen wrenches)
When you first start using tools you don’t need very many, because you usually don’t know how to use very many, and you don’t need to do very many things. Hang a few pictures, tighten a few screws that are loose, measure a space where you want to place some new furniture (that you may have to put together).
As you want or need to do more projects around the house, you learn new skills and you require more tools. You can’t fix the leak under the kitchen sink with what you’ve got, and you need a circular saw to cut boards the correct length for your homemade bookshelves. Your toolbox gets bigger.
When you first have a baby the skills you need are basic.
Mothering an infant is all about meeting their needs – does their diaper need changing, do they have gas, are they hungry, do they need to be held and rocked? You just have to figure out what your little one needs (which isn’t always easy in the beginning, I know), do it, and all is well. You don’t even have to think about ‘discipline’ because pretty much whatever an infant does and desires is what they need.
But then the day comes when your little one becomes mobile. They start crawling and rolling into things in the house that are dangerous for them – open oven doors, electric sockets, cords of all kinds. Outside they’re liable to put everything in their mouth, edible or not – most often not. Suddenly you have to childproof everything in the house, watch them like a hawk and give them lots of safe opportunities to move and explore their environment, wherever they are. Still, no need for ‘discipline.’ They’re still doing what they need to – exploring and learning about their environment. But you’ve added more tools to your toolbox of mothering skills, because your child has grown and changed.
As your child grows, they’re able to do more and more. You may lie down for a quick nap while your two-and-a-half-year-old is sleeping, and wake up to open refrigerator doors and the kitchen floor covered with every item that had previously been IN the refrigerator. Whoops! Time to childproof the refrigerator and teach your child (as they hand you each item) that things in the refrigerator need to stay IN the refrigerator. Perhaps you’ll decide in the future to nap sitting up, because you don’t sleep as deeply then.
Mothering a child in preschool demands more tools. Now they’re beginning to understand what is okay and not okay, (though they’re not always able to stop themselves from choosing the ‘not okay’ choice). It can be confusing to determine whether they really understood the rule, “always hold mommy’s hand when crossing the street.” So how do you make sure they’re always safe when you’re out, while letting them learn independence?
Your child may have a very different temperament than you, and the reasons they do certain thing might mystify you. Why in the world is your child crying and screaming just because you changed the plans for today? Your other child took it in stride and was happy to do an indoor activity on this rainy day when you had planned to go to the park. Your screaming child is older, for goodness’ sake!
Sometimes the tools you have – the mothering skills you already possess – work just fine with one child, but not at all with another. You need more tools when you have more than one child.
Children are so complex that you need a whole universe of skills to mother them – or it seems that way, sometimes. How are you supposed to manage and be the best mom you can be for all your children? That’s a lot of pressure!
Take a breath. Really.
In fact, take 2 or 3. Feel yourself in your body. It can be overwhelming when you start realizing how much there is to mothering children. Breathing deeply is relaxing and grounding. There. Now you can think.
Long gone are the days when you were told that “a whack on the butt will teach him!” Thank goodness. Although I often hear from mindful moms that nosey strangers in grocery stores still give that kind of advice.
It’s okay to wonder.
Know that there are lots of tools in the world besides the ones you have right now. The mindset that can be helpful to moms is that of wondering. You might ask yourself,
- I wonder what my child needs right now
- I wonder what my child needs every day that they’re not getting every day
- I wonder why I’m getting upset that my child is doing ________ when it’s not hurting anyone
- I wonder what I think should be happening right now
There are so many good resources for learning how to mother differently than we were mothered. My mother loved me more than anything, but yelling and screaming were her fallback methods when she didn’t like what my sister and I were doing. I cringe when I think of all the times I screamed at my children when I was beyond frustrated, even though I’d sworn to never yell like my mother did. Over the years, I learned other strategies and gained more tools, thank goodness, but I was never perfect and I made lots of mistakes.
Don’t assume that what works for one child will work for all children.
Having multiple children will bring into question so many of your assumptions. I guarantee that the techniques and strategies that work so well for one child will not work as well for another. They’ll have different temperaments, ways of moving in the world and different ways of expressing their needs. They’ll develop differently, one will have lower movement, another will express very high movement. You won’t be able to understand them all equally.
However, just accepting that you won’t be able to treat them all the same is freeing. Just because your tried and true strategies, tone of voice and body language work well for one doesn’t mean you’ll be a bad mom to another. You just have to learn some NEW strategies, techniques and skills when your tried and true ones don’t work with a child or situation. You can be a good mom to each of your children (not a perfect mom, though – sorry).
How do you find new tools?
Thanks to books and the internet, there are many sources for parenting help. In fact, there is so much information, that a Google search on a topic might be overwhelming! I’d suggest starting with some basic books and websites from sources that are in alignment with your values. There are a lot of voices out there, so you have to be clear on what you believe and value.
So you know where I’m coming from, here’s what I believe and value:
- I endeavor always to understand other people
- I (try very hard) to have compassion for others when there is conflict
- I try to be open to different solutions when what I’m doing isn’t working
- I do my best to be consistent in my actions and beliefs
- I ask for help from and work with the Divine – or whatever you might call God or a Higher Power – when I’m struggling or simply trying to solve a problem
For basic sources I recommend you start with,
- Dr. Becky A. Bailey and Conscious Discipline TM resources – her information and methods of teaching children to self-regulate are developmentally based and based on brain research. Her methods are gentle and they work. What I like best about Conscious Discipline is that it works from the top down: as parents we have to model self-regulation in order to teach it, so you don’t focus on the child first, you focus on yourself first – and you can always change yourself, while it is nearly impossible to change someone else! There are many free resources for teachers and parents at the website www.consciousdiscipline.com
- Carol Tuttle is the author of The Child Whisperer, a wonderful book that describes the four Energy types that people fall into, and how those types are expressed in children. The four Energy types aren’t personality based, they’re based on how someone moves through the world and expresses themselves. So you might sometimes be frustrated with a child who prefers to sit and draw, if you are someone who is always pushing to get more and more done, for example. Learning about your child’s energy type will help you understand and have greater compassion when you do feel frustrated. There’s also a great podcast hosted by Carol Tuttle and Anne Tuttle Brown, called The Child Whisperer, available on many podcast apps, including iTunes.
For more resources I recommend, please visit my Resource Library page.
You can figure out a solution to any problem or question you have about your child if you’re willing to branch out and learn something new. One of the the absolute best parts of parenting is this – your child will always give you another opportunity to try again if you don’t get everything just right the first, second or third time.
So what tools would you like to acquire?
Have you got your children all figured out?
Is there a situation you’d like to change, but not sure how?
Is your child sometimes a mystery to you?
Please do check out Dr. Becky A. Bailey and Carol Tuttle.