Most of the time I still feel like a new mom, but when I look back on the time when I was getting ready to have my first child, it was a lot different than how I feel now, getting ready to have my third. After my first, I felt utterly overwhelmed and sort of shocked. This time around, I feel, well, pretty tired, but definitely much more confident. Here are a few of the things I have learned over the past 6 years, and some books that I found helpful:
1.) FOOD is now the driving factor of your life. 45% of behavior problems in kids is because they’re hungry. If you’re like me, this means you need to have a map in your mind at all times of where to find every drive-through fast food restaurant within a five mile radius. This includes Little Caesars for their hot and ready $5 pizza, if and only if, you can pull up close enough to the door (without actually running into the storefront) to leave your kids in the car while running in to grab a pizza, and not getting arrested in the process. Just kidding – don’t really do that. If you’re a little more sophisticated, you should always be stocked with healthy snacks (in your car, purse, office, diaper bag, bra, etc.) and you will have a well planned food schedule that involves feeding them every 2-3 hours.
2.) Prioritize sleep. Another 45% of your kids’ bad behavior is because they’re tired. It’s counter-intuitive, but if they refuse to fall asleep at night or wake up a lot throughout the night (once they’re past the age when they wake up because they need to be fed), put them to bed earlier. They are over-tired. Also, even though we all joke about how you won’t get any sleep until they’re 18, the truth is that eventually they will sleep through the night (before they’re 18), and so will you. So hang in there.
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, was very convincing and helpful in finding ways to help my kids sleep.
3.) Don’t be a jerk. So the other 10% of your kids’ bad behavior, is because they’re a jerk. I hate to be the one to tell you, but even your sweet little precious angel was born selfish. They all are. The opposite has to be taught, and the most powerful teacher is your example. You’re the adult. And 45% of your bad behavior is because you’re hungry and 45% is because you’re tired, so take care of yourself accordingly, the very best that you can. Work on those character weaknesses we all have that make you a jerk the other 10% of the time. Then, make sure you incorporate good boundaries so that your children know they are always loved, but they will have consistent, appropriate consequences for bad behavior. You can’t actually control their behavior, but you can control yourself (meaning, you can calmly implement the consequences without yelling, guilt-tripping, or hurting them).
Boundaries With Kids by Cloud and Townsend explains this concept in more detail.
4.) Minimize your stuff. You would not believe the amount of stuff your kids can accumulate in 5 years. I wish that from the beginning, I had been firm about keeping useless trinkets out of my home (you know the ones – happy meal toys, promotional items, duplicates, and 2309482039 toys), because it’s harder to get rid of stuff once it has taken root in your home. But the more stuff you have, the more time you will spend cleaning it up (or, preferably, making your kids clean it up) and maintaining it. Despite what your television and endorphin-fueled shopping sprees would have you believe, more and newer stuff does not equal happiness. Your focus should be on doing good stuff with your family, not accumulating stuff for your family to manage. Keep it out from the beginning, and routinely get rid of it as you go.
5.) Simplify your schedule. Your kid doesn’t actually need 47 enrichment activities a week. They will be perfectly happy playing with a paper towel role and some rocks if they have some space to do it, and time free of noise and distraction. And you will be happier if you have one or two activities on your schedule that you truly value than if you have 47 things that you think you’re supposed to be doing with no breathing room in between. It’s OK to say no, and sometimes that is best for your family, so don’t feel guilty doing it.
The More of Less by Joshua Becker was thought-provoking for me in the way I view my stuff and my time.
6.) You will eventually feel more competent, as you learn every day. There is nothing like parenthood to force you to grow. I remember a time when my oldest was around 2 or 3, and his sister was a baby. I would let him sit on the front porch and draw with chalk while I cleaned up just inside the door, with the door propped open. He has always been a cautious child and never left the porch, but… Inevitably, one day the baby was crying so I rushed up the stairs and returned to find him gone. As I called out for him, panic rising in my voice, a neighbor a couple houses down who I had not met called out, “It’s alright he’s over here. In my van.” Yup, my kid had climbed into a stranger’s van. Not my proudest mommy moment. But, you can imagine I was more vigilant after that, and probably less judgy. We all have lessons to learn, and with time, you get better at finding that balance between hyper-vigilance and wanting to control everything, and being overly-lax. You get wiser. You gain confidence. And soon, you’ll be writing your own list of unsolicited advice and I’ll be adding to mine.