March 24, 2011

Turning The Frown Upside-Down

Image © Ivaylo Sarayski |

I usually get the urge to write when things aren’t going well. I suppose it’s a natural impulse to vent frustrations on paper (or a computer screen). It is often easier to complain than to sing praises when things are challenging. After a particularly difficult couple of days with the kids, I can feel a rant or three coming on. But I’m going to try something different and turn this frown upside-down. If you will indulge me, I’m going to talk about what I love about my kids.
I have three very different children with their own unique dispositions. In fact, my identical twin girls are so different in their personalities, I can’t for the life of me figure out how people mix them up.
L is my first-born. I think back to when he was a baby and all those precious moments when it was just me and him. I recall thinking how difficult it was in those early days of diaper changes and all-night feedings. But it was just me and him when my husband was working- and little did I realize how easy things were in comparison to adding twins to the family.
Back then, I was all about attachment parenting. I fed him when he was hungry, cuddled him when he needed it (even if that was all day). I don’t regret it one bit even if it meant rocking him to sleep until he was 2. He is now approaching 8 years old and he is a confident, happy, curious, active child. He plays hockey and soccer with a passion. He asks a million questions and has mastered the art of googling. One minute it’s about space and the planets and how hot it is on Mars, the next he is looking for art that he likes: landscapes and street scenes with bright colours capture his interest. He wants to know about the Arctic and climate change and how an airplane works. He draws comics, lives to read and loves to tell a good joke.
M and K are my babies. They were born when L was almost 2 years old and my days of leisurely attachment parenting were over in favour of a more scheduled approach. They are almost 6 years old now and will be going into grade one in the fall. They are identical twins but of course to their mother, they look and behave (even sound) as different as night and day.
K is precocious, athletic, gregarious and high-energy. She has a fantastic sense of humour and attacks life with a gusto that is contagious. She is already reading well likely because it was a challenge that she wanted to master. She has developed a fondness for cooking and is usually by my side with her apron on, getting her hands right into whatever I am preparing for dinner. She is usually the “director” of whatever she is playing with others which is often some variation of school or office or store, anything that she thinks of as “grown-up.”
M is my introvert. She is a perfectionist and therefore is cautious, taking her time to try something new until she is sure that she can do it “right.” Both girls are taking ballet and it is there that M is transformed into a confident and skilled dancer. She is highly sensitive to others’ emotions and can usually be found playing with one or two close friends instead of a large boisterous group where K usually is.  She loves to be read to and to tell wonderfully imaginative stories. For a relatively quiet child, she has a fantastically bold approach to fashion, creating great ensembles and mixing things up with accessories and footwear. I only wish I had half of her fashion sense.
Well, that did the trick! Thank you for indulging me. The dark cloud over my head has moved on and I feel the hint of a sunnier day ahead. For all the challenges of parenting, it is watching my children grow and develop their individual personalities that provides me such joy and wonder. This is going to be a good day.

March 21, 2011

Stickin' To My Guns

Of all the parenting challenges, the hardest for me is discipline. I’m sure it is for most parents. We’d all love for our children to be perfectly behaved and when they’re not, to just do as they’re told. That is certainly not reality, at least in our household. My children are strong-willed (willful), creative (manipulative) and, as mentioned in a previous post, outnumber me.
I subscribe to the theory of democratic parenting: respectful leadership that requires parents to be both firm and friendly. It encourages rather than discourages the child and gives them the independence to make choices while holding them to the consequences of those choices, both natural and logical. In theory it is wonderful and when I am consistent with it, it is incredible, strengthening my relationship with my children and boosting their self-esteem. But when I’m tired or just tired of the grind (which is often), I find myself slipping in the vicious circle of empty threats, bribes, nagging, yelling, all the things I detest hearing come out of my mouth.
After a particularly trying couple of weeks (first the stomach flu then being with the kids 24/7 during March Break), let’s just say that the behaviour in our house has deteriorated. The sibling fights have escalated, the talking back has reached an all-time high punctuated with curse words and one of my daughters has developed a violent streak that has resulted in bruises on her brother’s arms and back. It’s not a good scene.
After a successful (and peaceful) trip to buy new rubber boots with the kids, I thought it would be fun to cap off the week with take-out from a favourite burger joint. The kids convinced me that we should dine in instead. I figured, “Why not? It is the last day of March Break after all.” Within 5 minutes of me placing the order, the nonsense began, the unrelenting teasing, crying, shouting and retaliation. The place was full of patrons and I tried to quietly admonish the kids to behave themselves. After the third warning I sensed all eyes on me (how I wished there a whole in the floor somewhere into which I could disappear). And it dawned on me. Enough of the empty threats. I turned around and changed our order to take-out. I’m not sure who was more surprised, the kids or me.
I then had to wait for our order to be prepared while the kids disintegrated into full-blown meltdown: tears, wailing, begging, pleading. I knew that I had to stick to my parenting guns. Certainly if I backed down now they would learn that I will never follow through on my “threats” and that tantrums will always get them what they want. I did some deep-breathing, stayed calm, took our food and left with the children to join my husband to eat at home.
When the tears stopped and we had a talk, we ended up enjoying a pleasant family meal. While the “restaurant incident” wasn’t pretty to watch I’m hoping (praying!) that when I’m ready to attempt another meal out, they will know that I mean business.

March 17, 2011

What's It All Worth?

It’s tax-time in Canada. That time of year when we look at the numbers and realize our monetary worth. For a stay-at-home mom, it can be a bit depressing.
As I assemble all of our tax documents and start plugging the numbers into the latest tax software, it is like a slap in the face. Yes, here it is in black-and-white. My personal total income for 2010 was...$2400. And that was courtesy of Canada’s Childcare Benefit program that provides me with a whopping $100/month per child under 6. (For childcare? Really?? How far is that going to go? But I digress). Surely I am “worth” more than that!
Each year, releases it’s Annual Mom Salary Survey. For 10 years, has been calculating how much an employer would have to pay to hire someone to do all that a moms does, figuring that a mom does a hybrid of ten different jobs at a small “company”: laundry machine operator, janitor, van driver, computer operator, housekeeper, day care centre teacher, cook, chief executive officer, psychologist, and facilities manager. In 2010, they calculated that a stay-at-home mom would earn CAN$132,288/year for working about 99 hours/week.
Now that’s more like it. Or is it?
Last week, a “plague” descended on our house. It started with my son then within hours all three kids were vomiting every couple of hours for three days straight. The cleaning, the laundry, the nursing, the comforting! And to make matters worse, I started to feel ill on the second day and by the time the kids started to feel more like themselves, the plague had felled its fourth victim: me. For at least three days, my bedroom looked like a M*A*S*H unit with four bodies strewn across our king size bed- and puke bowls scattered among those bodies.
Upon reflection, I’d like to amend’s figures. They should include a nursing salary (at least part-time) as well as hardship pay (did I mention the laundry and cleaning of all kinds of bodily fluids?) and of course hazard pay (if I wasn’t cleaning all those bodily fluids, I likely wouldn’t have been exposed to that nasty virus myself). Add that all up and I’d estimate my hypothetical salary at least a million dollars. Maybe two. At least I don't have to pay hypothetical income tax.
Now if only I could get a non-hypothetical paid vacation.


March 05, 2011

It’s Not Me, It’s Them


My children have taken misbehaving to a whole new level. They start by getting silly and fooling around by themselves. A sibling will join in the fun and they feed off of each other’s energy and antics. The third will attempt to join in and all hell breaks loose. Usually, two will turn on one. There will be tears. Maybe some retaliation, some violence, an object or two might be thrown. Then they join forces in the world of silly. The volume reaches ear-deafening levels and all rules are thrown out the window (maybe with a toy or two). Suddenly, as quickly as it all began, it feels like the three of them have turned on me, conspiring to make me yell or cry or crazy or any combination of the above.
It’s hard not to take that personally.
I know deep down that it is not a conspiracy. There are no clandestine midnight meetings where they are secretly planning ways to make me lose it. But how is it that they know exactly what drives me to drink?
Children are masters at learning which of their parents’ buttons to press. Mine definitely have my number. Loud noises, silliness that escalates until someone gets hurt, whining, stubbornness... Well, they have a long list to choose from.
Parenting guru Alyson Schafer writes in her second book Honey I Wrecked The Kids (aka my bible) that the most likely reason that children fight or misbehave is a subconscious effort to gain undue attention. It’s true. When my children are playing quietly and getting along fantastically, I breathe a sigh of relief and find ways to make use of the quiet time: tidying the house, cooking dinner, checking email, blogging. I am not paying attention to them. But one wrong move and I’m all over them. Things can escalate quickly and although it is negative, they most certainly have my attention.
So what can I do? I reread Alyson’s chapter on dealing with attention-seekers and will try her suggestions of ignoring the behaviour (that’s going to be a toughie), distracting and redirecting (takes some creativity but works) and natural/logical consequences. What is more important, I’m going to try to “catch” them being good and give them positive attention when I can (read: put down my iPhone and spend more focussed time with them). Hopefully they'll feel their "attention quota" is being met and they won't look for it in negative ways.
And I will remind myself NOT to take it personally when they do.
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