Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Q & A -- the early years

post-edit note: I just realized I posted this without finishing my answer for one of the questions below. Whooops! I just added what I meant to say in gray just so you'll know...

I have begun to try to categorize the questions that come in that go together. This post includes a bunch asking about what life was like for us with little toddlers. I thought they would be appropriate this week in light of this post and how my heart has been so nostalgic about the early days lately.

Please add in advice or ideas because I certainly don't have all of them and I know I have SO much to learn! I'm putting old pictures in this post so you will really believe that we were once in that stage :)

I am a young mother (ages 4, 2, and a baby) and I would LOVE to hear what life was like for you when you were in that stage. How did you handle the constant craziness? How did you discipline? (Time outs, spanking, ???) Sometimes my kids go to bed and I think "today was a total FAIL!" Any other general advice for this stage would be wonderful! Thank you. :)

There are a lot of questions like this in this post and it has made me step back and wonder: How in the world did I get here: from there?? ...and how did it happen so quickly?

How in the world am I not a "young mother" anymore?? I mean, I was just there. My friends and I were just gathering once a week letting our toddlers play while we made wreaths or wrote up drafts of our motherhood book we dreamed of writing together. (That was our kitchen in our rental home in Virginia. Isn't that lovely linoleum? See Max in the maroon on the right? And Elle's right behind them. I'm probably totally pregnant taking the picture.)

I swear I was just barely making a schedule for meeting all the neighborhood moms at the pool or for doing babysitting-swaps so we could get an ounce done without toddlers crawling all over us:(Gotta love those pants.)

I swear we were just at the farm together discussing diaper rashes and how to get our babies to nap better during the day.We would go "garage-sale-ing" on Saturdays to find the best board books and gently-used toys for our babies and we would strap our kids in the car and go to the Gap to get sale prices for clothes for our kids to wear the next season.(yes, I think that really might be drool...)

How did it happen so quick that there are no longer cheerios crunching under my feet on the floor nor toothpaste to clean up in the bathroom?I was just barely the one incredulously asking this question to older friends, "so how is it having a kid in high school?"

And now suddenly this the one in high school and is millimeters from passing me up in height. I am six feet tall for crying out loud!

It really does baffle my mind.

I felt so busy as a mom of toddlers in such a different way than I feel busy now. It was constant physical drain from vacuuming out the mounds of laundry detergent someone filled the dryer with to bawling while sweeping up piles of beautiful hair my two-year-old just cut off of her head.

It was, like you said, constant craziness, and there were many nights I went to bed thinking "today was a total failure."

But then I remembered to do what honestly got me through those years: I went and watched my babies sleep each night. I would linger over their beds every single night, but for longer on nights following particularly harrowing days. There was something magical about those long eyelashes resting so gently on those chunky baby cheeks that got me every time. Made my heart fill up with gratitude instead of feeling like the end of the world was on it's way.

And then I prayed my heart out that the next day would be better.

As for discipline, I did spank my kids a couple times but I don't believe in that at all. I'm a firm believer in "time-out." But it has to be "emotion-free" on the part of the mother for it to be effective. If you stick a child in time out while you're hopping-mad it's just giving them the attention they want...toddlers will take any attention they can get, even if it's the negative kind. I love the "Love and Logic" tactics where you say stuff like, "I'm so sorry you chose to do that because it means you will have to spend some time in time-out. I hope you will make a better decision next time." I swear even toddlers "get" this.

Another thing I think helped so much through the toddler phases was that I always had a parenting book on my bedside. See below for more about which ones I'd recommend...

What I need to know is how you got through those real early years. [see above for answer to that part] I have a 4 year old a 2 year old and a six month old...that doesn't sleep! I am so tired and feel bad because I am not being the mommy I want to be. I can't get my little guy to sleep and I don't believe in letting him cry it out. But I also feel bad for my girls because I am a cranky mama. These early days pass right? Haha.

Oh I am such a believer in letting babies "cry it out!" That may sound horrible to you but they were all healthy, big babies at four months and I knew they could make it through the night just fine without me. I read a book (maybe "Baby Wise"???) that talked about how you go in and soothe them for a little bit and then gradually go in less and less until they just make it through the night.

It was one of the most horrible things to go through for everyone involved for two to three nights. I could only do it when Dave was out of town because he couldn't handle it. I stayed up and cried all night silently in the hallway while they wailed away in their crib. But in the end it was so worth that agony for a few nights because it made life amazing again and I could really enjoy my babies. There is something so miraculous about getting to sleep through the night again after so many sleepless nights.
Yes, these early days pass.

Much, much too quickly.

I've just started on my parenting journey (5 mths & 2 1/5 yr old) and was wondering what books you would recommend that have helped you through your own parenting journey?
My all-time favorite is I Didn't Plan to Be a Witch by Linda Eyre (who happens to be my mother). In fact I need to dust that puppy off and read it again. I know I'm biased but it is the best book ever for mothers to put their role in perspective and to take joy in the journey. A Joyful Mother of Children is also up there on the top of my list (also written by my mother). Teaching Your Children Joy sure makes you think too and is linked with "Joy School" which I am incredibly grateful I had the chance to do with each of my children (aside from Lu who I'm still working on). There's a Joy School link on my sidebar if you want more info. on that.

Post edit note: I cannot believe I forgot to mention "A Mother's Book of Secrets"!!! (One of my personal favorites:) The exciting news is that it has recently been reprinted and is available again here.

I've also read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk multiple times. It has had a big impact on how I talk to my children, and how I listen to them as well.

I love all your parenting ideas, and am wondering some things were you did when your kids were really young (like under 5, toddlers, etc). Discipline, traditions, etc.. I have really young kids and am always looking for new ideas.

My favorite discipline tactic for younger children is one we adapted from my parents. (Are you surprised?)

It's the "fighting bench." (Well, they changed the name to the "repenting bench" to put a more positive spin on it when I got older, but in my mind it's still the "fighting bench.")
My parents bought this bench in England when we were young and put it prominently in our kitchen. Whenever we got in a fight we had to sit there with the person we were "tangling" with (as my mom's words "it takes two to tangle" rang through our heads).

We had to sit there until we took ownership of what WE did wrong. Oh how we itched to just rattle off all the bad things our "bench partner" did, but that was forbidden. We had to fess up and take responsibility for what we did to perpetuate the fight.

And then we had to apologize.

And then we had to hug.

I know that sounds icky because isn't it horrible when you're really mad at someone and you have to touch them let alone hug them? But by the time we had gone through what we did wrong and said we were sorry the hugging didn't seem so bad.

I swear this practice helped us all become the great friends we are. It helped us take ownership of our actions and helped us bond together.

Although we are not the proud owners of an antique bench from England in our family, we have found that sitting on a stair works just as well. I still have my kids sit on the stair from time to time when they argue.

Give it a try. It is a miraculous thing.

As far as traditions go, we did simple things. We went on a walk as a family every Sunday afternoon. We had Family Home Evening. Dave told the best, most imaginative made-up bedtime stories about Prince Max and Princesses Elle and eventually Grace. We talked about "Mirror Land" a lot. We read book after book after book after book. We kept things simple out of necessity, and it worked.

I have four children, ages 5, 3 year-old twins and a 20 month-old. My question is, did you have a routine when your kids were young? I feel like we're just getting out of the craziness that came with having the twins and our little one so close together and am struggling to find some sort of balance for our days at home. I know your kids aren't all that far apart and just wonder if you had any ideas on how to make our time at home productive, but relaxed and definitely fun. Thanks so much for all you share and how you mentor complete strangers like me through this blog! :)

I think every mother has to go through thousands of different phases of "routine." It changes each year whether there is a new baby or new extracurricular activities or a job change or even when you just want to pull up your bootstraps and get more organized. I have gone through phases where I have one day for laundry, one day for cleaning, one day for organizing dinners for the rest of the week. I've gone through years with colicky newborns who had reflux when just staying afloat was the only "routine" I had. I can only imagine how twins would most likely throw you in that category. I think every situation warrants different means of routine. We just have to make time to step back and evaluate what is most important at each stage.

Very most importantly, I think it's essential to realize as a mother of young children, (especially when those children are close in age), simply "being there" for them is enough. It's so easy to get down on ourselves that we didn't happen to save the world on any given day along with wiping off runny noses and kissing scraped knees. But we must realize that in doing these very seemingly insignificant tasks we are changing the world. If those little people entrusted in our care feel love and value it beats any other accomplishment in my book.

I'll just leave this rather lengthy post with two thoughts:

1) Have someone take pictures of you with your babies. I was looking through old pictures for this post and it made me sad that out of the thousands of pictures I have, I can count on one hand the pictures I have with my tiny babies. That makes my heart ache. I wish I would have captured the love I had for them a little bit better.
2) You may think your children will be in this stage forever:But they won't.

They'll grow up before you can blink.

Yes, it's a crazy time with toddlers getting into mischief and babies spitting up all over everything within a three-meter radius of themselves. But it passes too quickly and it will make you cry when you look back even if you take full advantage of having it there while it is in front of you.

My favorite quote:

“Everything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now. Penelope Leach. T. Berry Brazelton. Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education, all grown obsolete. Along with ‘Goodnight Moon’ and ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories.” Then she goes on and talks about some of the mistakes she made while raising her babies. “…the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make…I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of [my children] sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4, and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

--Anna Quindlen

How I hope I can remember to enjoy the "doing" a little more than the checking off "getting it done."

Because before I know it I'll be missing the teenage years just like I miss those baby years now.
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