How to parent when you don’t know how to parent.

Parenting can be a bit tricky sometimes.

There will be some days that I find myself despairing about my lack of skill and knowledge in this department, feeling fearful of letting my children down due to my inability to make decisions, not knowing exactly what I should be doing with them. I sometimes feel I must have missed the memo somewhere- the one that ALL the other parents got, the one that has some magic wisdom of getting your child to listen and obey, and just act normally.

Some days I feel like that.

Sophia may be being particularly challenging one day, she might be un-persuadable, un-distractable and half naked on my front garden making some wild animal sounds, and i’m thinking, ‘I’m a good person, damn it. How did I form such an unruly child?!’

Or she may be refusing point blank to get in the bath unless I agree to her demands to repeat back a ridiculous magic word or asking me to say please.  She has a will as strong as iron, and I go as soft as a mushy banana that’s only good for banana bread.

Or she might come running down on a Sunday morning, ‘ready’ for church in her football kit and pulled up woolly socks and Oscar’s paw patrol helmet announcing ‘I will be wearing this today, mummy’.

Whilst the beautiful dresses and pretty cardigans are hanging sadly in the wardrobe, wondering what their purpose is in life, awaiting their fate on facebook marketplace.

‘Are you sure you don’t want to wear this beautiful, pretty dress darling?’ I hold up a not too girly, blue number in anticipation.

‘I will never wear that.’

I took a risk with the frilly hem, but I knew what was coming, I think I maybe even look forward to it- I am half in awe of the strength of her will. Only half though. The other half is crushed with frustration at this child that won’t come under my control.

I exaggerate obviously- she has her good moments. And these moments come like a glass of refreshing cold water on a hot day. I drink it in and enjoy them, maybe more then I would if I had an easier child.

I read so many parenting blogs, with their conflicting advice- be tough on them, be compassionate with them, don’t let them have snacks between meals, dont EVER deny your child food, put them in time out, definitely DO NOT put your child in a time out, and certainly not in their bedroom, this is ABANDONMENT.

This leaves me baffled and conflicted when I then go into battle with my wilful, stubborn, passionate, and independent (then) preschooler. The moment I put her on the step, I remember the words I read previously…. ‘isolation, abandonment, rejection’ and i’m instantly filled with crushing guilt. How could I be so cruel, so uncaring, how could I inflict such rejection on my beloved child?! ‘Here have a hug, my darling, i’m sorry I was cross and I chose to discipline you in this barbaric way!’.

Urgh, put me in the banana bread now. It’s all I’m good for.

So after much thought and prayer and really a desire to see my little ones brought up to be kind and gentle and compassionate, (and passable as humans), I looked to the bible, which is always a good place to go. I started to look over the fruit of the spirit, the attributes that God grows in us to bring us to good character and making us more like Jesus. This is what I want for my children. I want them to be full of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control.

So I started to teach them about these wonderful traits and virtues and we sang songs, made collages and read stories to help them understand what each one means. I got them to think of examples for each one, and wrote them down and also pointed out real life examples during the day.

‘Its showing kindness when we don’t point out that man’s big belly, Oscar’.

‘Its showing good self-control when you stopped yourself pushing Oscar down those stairs. Good job, Sophia!’

That sort of thing.

I feel this much more Jesus-centred approach to parenting works better for me, its clear and it doesn’t leave me feeling confused or guilty.

Also and perhaps more importantly, if I allow these things to develop in my character too then it will naturally lead to better parenting from me. The more I model love and patience for Sophia, the less likely she will be attempting to gain control over me, or needing constant attention from me. Her needs will be getting met more by me being patient and kind to her, she will feel more loved and be able to copy my example.

I started to accept her clothes choices (at times when it didn’t really matter), and compliment her (‘Wow, that red spiderman baseball cap really looks lovely with your pink princess apron- good choice! Perhaps some trousers and a top underneath would go great too?!’)

And approving of Sophia’s choices actually really made a significant difference, it helped her to feel accepted and validated by the person she is seeking that from the most. Her mummy. And interestingly she is now happy to wear the occasional dress, so long as she is in the right mood, and its not too girly- it just has to be her choice.

In terms of the actual parenting techniques, I started to think it doesn’t really matter- apart from physical/emotional abuse, and total passivity or neglect of course- BUT The Step or no Step?? I’m not so sure its a make or break situation in regards to your child’s mental health.

I think if you love your child and you are consistent with whatever techniques you choose based on your values and your individual child’s personality and temperament, your child will feel stable and secure, knowing where their boundaries are.

Love, Boundaries and Consistency. Simple, haha.

If you flit and change your approach daily, like I did for the first few years- you get some different and extra challenges sent your way. Not irreversible though. There can be restoration for you and your child. God has given us the tools to parent, even if we feel we are lacking in some way (or every way).

The other most important thing i’m learning along the way, is the wonder of laughter in parenting. You have got to laugh at it all. The half naked, Mowgli-like wild beautiful daughter of mine who will not be tamed, or the eager to please 2 year old spilling his rice crispies for the millionth time, or the daily fight over the paw patrol cutlery- seriously a fork is a fork, what is the actual deal with this?!

But just remembering these things and laughing about them can be so healing to your soul, even when there will be times when you just want to curl up on that kitchen floor, with those spilt rice crispies and just have a good cry.

And that is ok too.

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