Gentle Parenting: keeping your cool during overwhelming moments
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2008, pp. 32-34
"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I recently was able to make the transition to being at home with my children each day. It's hard to admit, but I'm having a hard time being the kind of mother I want to be when I'm with them "24/7!" One of the things that drew me to LLL was the kindness and respect that the mothers at meetings give to their children; I want that for my family! What tips or suggestions can other mothers give me on mothering with "loving guidance?"
As stay-at-home moms, we have to be forgiving of ourselves. Mothering our children "24/7" is rewarding, but also very draining. We all have our moments in which we lose our temper with our children, or don't behave like the mature adult that we would like to appear to be. When we see other mothers in public for a short amount of time, we are only witnessing a small portion of their mothering. Mothers at LLL meetings usually seem especially relaxed and focused on their children's needs, since that is the type of positive mothering environment they are in. We cannot judge our own mothering skills based on what we observe in another mother during a short amount of time while she is on her "best behavior." So begin gentle discipline by being gentle with yourself.
Gentle discipline takes practice, practice, practice! I found it to be especially helpful to read books on the subject and even take a parenting class with my husband to get specific ideas on how to handle specific situations. Adventures in Gentle Discipline, by Hilary Flower, is an excellent book that is available through La Leche League. I've found that when a difficult situation arises with my three-year-old, if I can step back, take a breath, and avoid taking the situation personally, I am better able to help my child deal with his emotions.
Offering appropriate choices also works well for toddlers and young children. For example, if I tell my child he may have pasta or a sandwich for lunch, but he insists that he wants macaroni and cheese to the point of throwing a tantrum, I force myself to stay calm. Instead of losing my temper, I simply wait for him to calm down and continue to offer him my two original choices for lunch until he realizes I will not give in to his desire for macaroni and cheese. I have come to realize that yelling at my children only seems to worsen the situation and upset them, but by staying calm, they understand that I am the adult and I mean what I say.
I also discuss feelings a lot with my three-year-old. By exploring my own emotions and understanding why I react the way I do when I am angry or hurt, I can better explain to my three-year-old how he should behave when he is feeling the same emotions. If his brother takes a toy from him, we talk about why that made him angry and what he can do when that happens.
Persistence and repetition are also key to making gentle discipline work, as children need to experience a difficult situation many times to truly understand how to handle it on their own. I try to always respond immediately when my three-year-old pushes his younger brother by talking about why he did it and what he could do instead, such as give his brother a different toy to play with or ask for my help.
Gentle discipline takes time and patience, but fortunately our children give us many opportunities every day to practice using it!
Hesston KS USA
I know where you are coming from! I have a 14-month-old, and in order to stay home with her, I also watch a 15-month-old five days a week, so I feel like a mother of two. I get some time away as I am a part-time massage therapist, but I find I'm hurrying to and from appointments and feel guilty when I'm away without good reason. There have been moments when I am burned out or frustrated, and that's when I need to recognize my needs as well as my children's needs. They need a mommy who is happy, fulfilled, and relaxed.
The days that I know I need some "me time" are when I feel as though I'm there for my daughter in body, but not in spirit. I'm distracted and lazy and don't engage her very much. Those days seem a lot longer than usual and I, too, feel as though I'm not being the mom I want to be. The "24/7" thing can get exhausting, so occasionally you need to recharge your own spiritual and emotional batteries. Plan for a few hours away, whether it's letting the children share some quality time with daddy, or leaving them with a trusted and favorite caregiver. Do what you want to do every once in a while, whether that's connecting with friends, having a bubble bath, a nap, or going to a coffee house, having a hot cup of tea and reading a good book or magazine, perhaps your latest issue of New Beginnings!
I've learned to recognize burnout, and voice my needs to my husband. Occasionally, I just say that I need to get out of the house and go shop by myself or have coffee with a friend or, my personal favorite, visit a local spa for a few hours and melt away my frustrations with a massage and a steam. (Not that that's an affordable option very often.)
Be proud of yourself for recognizing how you feel and striving to be such a good mother.
Winnipeg MB Canada
I hear your frustration. Many times, as mothers, we think that if we just stay home with our children we can do everything perfectly. We have unrealistic expectations. Sometimes, there are also unrealistic expectations about disciplining our children, and it is easy to forget to take time out for ourselves.
Many mothers find that if they rethink their expectations, they are better able to mother their children the way that they want to. There is a saying that I read once that has always stuck in my mind, "Cobwebs will be there when I go to sleep, I am rocking my baby and babies don't keep." It puts things in perspective as far as what we expect to get done! The cleaning, dishes, and laundry will always be there, but our babies will grow up. In our house, we try to keep "people before things." So sometimes, some frustration can be taken out of the day when we don't hold our expectations so high and concentrate more on just "being" with our children.
Another suggestion is to think about the type of discipline you are using. Many mothers find that responding to their children gently helps decrease the number of outbursts, and helps the day move along more peacefully. It is sometimes helpful also to have realistic expectations for your children. La Leche League International publishes a terrific book by Hilary Flower called Adventures in Gentle Discipline. Dr. Sears also wrote a great book called The Discipline Book. These books are available from the LLLI Web site, or your local La Leche League Group may have copies of them in the lending Library.
Finally, staying at home can be trying at times for all mothers. It is important to carve out some time for yourself to relieve stress with a long walk, a good book, a warm bath, a night out with your partner, or a phone call to a good friend. Taking care of yourself makes you better able to care for your children. Give yourself permission to let yourself off the hook a little. You don't have to be perfect, just the loving, nurturing, and caring mother that it sounds like you already are!
Liberal KS USA
You did not mention how many children you have or their ages, but as a mother of five I can understand your feelings of being less than perfect. The good news is that you do not have to be "perfect," you just have to strive to be the best you can be that day. Don't try to be the mother someone else is, just focus on being the mother your children need right now.
The adjustment to unpaid work can be challenging; it can be disorienting when you are used to measuring your worth with a paycheck. Your new "pay" is usually in the form of the barter system, and can be sticky kisses or mud pies or the "punch drunk" look of pure contentment after your baby finishes a nursing session.
I know when I started to stay home right after my son was born, I had a vision of being able to get so much done, forgetting that taking care of him is a full-time job in itself. As they get older, it does get easier. Try to relax and enjoy the time you are spending with your children.
When I start feeling as if I'm at the end of my rope, it is a sure sign that needs are not being met. I try to step back and analyze, "Tired? Hungry? Over stimulated?" (This would apply to me as well as the children.) Then I try to correct anything obvious.
Anytime you can squeeze in something for yourself, do it. I used to go to two LLL meetings a month to connect with other mothers. Don't be afraid to connect with other moms or just get away for a few minutes when you need to rejuvenate yourself. Sometimes that might mean calling in reinforcements when the going gets rough. Rejuvenation can be a phone call, a bubble bath, or reading a book while the baby is nursing.
Don't be afraid to say no to your children if what they are asking is not something you want to do. You are their mother, not a full-time playmate. Or suggest something you would really enjoy doing. Some of my favorite activities include reading or listening to children's books by Sandra Boynton, putting together puzzles, and playing bathtub tea parties. And we all lie down for naps after lunch. I hate playing board games as well as watching television, so I don't do those activities very often. I also try to involve my children in activities I am doing.
Just allowing them to be near you will sometimes fill their need for "mommy time." Several of my children just loved playing with pots and pans at my feet while I was cooking in the kitchen. I hope you can find your own ways to enjoy the time you spend with your children.
Carbondale KS USA