I have been excusing myself some less than ideal parenting lately. I am tired from the baby waking in the night, frazzled from tandem screaming, physically worn out from the constant lugging around of two children and all their gear… It is easy to come up with excuses. And of course you need to cut yourself some slack otherwise you would go crazy.
It hit me the other day that I am my son’s model for acceptable behaviour. For example, how do you deal with frustration? He looks to Mummy for inspiration.
Mummy drops a fork on the floor that has just been washed up and makes a loud GRRRAAARGH! sound, as if it is the end of the world. He comes running over:
“Happened, Mummy? Matter, mummy?”
Stressed out Mummy says: “THE FORK FELL ON THE FLOOR!”
The Toddler comes over and strokes my head. “Oh, Mummy. Nummumind.”
He vocalises his own frustration by shrieking and rolling on the floor. I then tell him that it really isn’t all that bad: look, the magnets do stick together when you turn the train round. How can he learn that it ‘isn’t all that bad’ if I myself go mental over a dropped fork?
He has also started to parent himself, treating me to a little replay of my own favourite phrases. At bedtime he runs up and down the corridor with a toy broom. To himself he says: “S, time-a bed! Come on, S, hup hup [chop chop].” He takes just as much notice of his own nagging as of mine, and keeps on cleaning.
What brought me up short was when he started saying “Go-way,” to me. I was quite shocked, and told him that was not kind, and to say “Excuse me,” which he duly parrotted. I tutted to myself, wondering where he had picked that up from.
Then I was in the kitchen cooking, stirring pans with one hand while holding a screaming over-tired baby in the other. Hungry toddler came in, demanding snacks like a broken record.
“Get out of the way, S!” I say in irritation, “Mummy is trying to cook. Out of the way.”
I stop and listen to myself. I did not say excuse me. I was not kind, or even polite. Tired and frazzled I may be, but how will he learn to be kind and considerate if I cannot keep my temper over little annoyances?
Keeping morale up is a bit of a high wire act when it comes to parenting. You want to reassure yourself that you are doing a good job and not perfectionist yourself into an early grave, but still set yourself standards so that your children grow up to be loving, considerate people. In that vein, I would like to leave you with a bit of wisdom from a parenting course I attended a year or two ago:
All the most important, foundational input into a child’s character happens in the first three years of its life – [cue panic: almost missed the window!]
– but you only need to get it right 30% of the time for a child to grow up a happy, secure and well-rounded human being.