Parents Who Break the Rules Are Off to a Better Start

Parenting is tough.

Like, overwhelmingly and magnificently tough.

I always knew this to be true but after the birth of my second child, I found myself redefining the word ‘tough’ and literally not having enough time or energy for anything anymore.

I used to think ‘busy’ was just a word that meant you only have time for the things you want to make time for, but now it actually means I actually have NO time. I cannot come to your party. I might make it to that thing but I won’t be able to shower. Don’t expect me to reply to text messages. Last week, I had twenty minutes to get out of my heels, hug my son, greet my dogs, talk to my husband, pee, change the baby’s clothes, prepare a backpack, eat dinner, and pump before leaving the house for another committment. That is not an exaggeration, and yes, I managed to do it all but only with the help of my wonderful husband.

On most days and weekends, I sit on peed-on couches. I eat dinner that’s been out for 3 hours. I try to take naps in the shower. I go out in public like I just rolled out of a Ke$ha music video.

I used to clean while the kids napped. Now, even if one child is not awake, the other is, or the mail man decides to ring the doorbell and wake them up, or my dogs walk too loudly and scare the baby. It’s all a mess, and I can’t help but insult my dogs under my breath even though its not their fault that they exist. So the temporary solution: we have laundry sitting in baskets from the day our son was born (2 months ago), and more  bins behind our couch, because I can’t fold it all but I also don’t want to look at it.

 I have no available limbs most of the time. Yes, limbs. At one point during my maternity leave, I recall picking up the phone for a freelance writing job with one hand, holding my breast pump with the other hand and rocking my baby’s chair with a foot. Two minutes later I used the other foot to pet my dog (that poor attention-deprived creature), just because why not?

Anyway, with all of this chaos, it’s even more challenging to remind myself that despite being deprived of the most basic of human needs like food and clean clothing (I guess baby vomit and my own sweat won’t kill me…), I am a mother raising a child. Training a child to be a human who will be a blessing to society, who will be smart and empathetic and resilient and confident and much more.

How do you do that without failing or without losing your mind? I think the trick is to stop holding yourself to the traditional standards. With my first child, people did not always agree with the views I had on what was important, and in the beginning I cared, but now I don’t.

I listen when my toddler says “no”.

I don’t allow pictures of him on social media.

I try to explain as much as I can to him.

I do not spank my toddler.

I do not care if my toddler can’t count to 100 as long as he can express himself.

I encourage my child to play in the dirt, because I want him to not be afraid of exploring.

I don’t yell if my child spills, because he’s a child, and he’s worth more to me than a table or rug. Plus, messes happen in life and how I teach him to react will be valuable later on.

I will sleep with my toddler sometimes if that’s what he needs that day.

I did not allow screen time for the first 18 months of his life but now it doesn’t bother me if he watches shows which aren’t purely educational because he is learning by watching characters interact.

My son is not the boss, but he’s not an object to be controlled either, and I fully respect that by trying to be as mindful of his feelings and thoughts as I can be.

Most parents will tell you that it’s wrong for me to treat him like an adult, and that he should listen to me at all times, but understanding that I am not always right is the first step in me learning to be a parent who is in tune with not only my child’s feelings but my emotions as well.

I’m breaking a lot of traditional rules in child rearing and child discipline, and it’s working for me. Other experts are writing on the topic these days, too, because psychologists and neuroscientists have done the experiments and research to show the success of parenting in a less controlling way. Authoritative parenting is not always the answer.

“The importance of allowing emotions is one of the biggest takeaways,” says Tracy Cutchlow, author of the international bestseller Zero to Five. “Many of us grew up with our emotions regularly being dismissed. Or we got the message that certain emotions, like anger or sadness, were not OK. We learned to bury our emotions and we can sense the effect of that in our lives now. Our reactions with our kids can seem to come out of nowhere.”

“We don’t really want to pass that legacy on to our kids,” she says, “but figuring it out can seem overwhelming. Like you said, we’re so busy, we have to pet our dogs with our feet! So I wrote a how-to book that doesn’t take much effort to read. It’s really helpful to have examples, models, for how to help our kids feel seen, heard, and valued.”

That can sound like squishy talk when you just need your kid to put on his shoes already and get in the car. But Cutchlow agrees that guiding instead of forcing actually often takes less time, with less struggle, once you learn how. 

Plus, it pays off down the road.

Cutchlow stresses how self-beliefs are really what drive behavior. “As parents, we are the ones who first define our children’s self-beliefs. When our child makes a mess, we’re the ones who tell him that he is creative and capable of cleaning up — or that he is thoughtless and wrong.”

Which one better fits what you intended?

Traditional rules say your child should listen to you at all times, no matter what. But making kids do something out of fear can end up crippling your child and undermining your parenting intentions.

For example, there are endless benefits and opportunities for a child who learns to not only share but to want to share, and by forcing them to let others play with their toys, they are not necessarily grasping the message here. Similarly, there are lessons mothers/parents have to teach which are harder because they’re going on in the background: a child whose parent works hard to achieve something is displaying the lesson that the things we want may sometimes take time to obtain.

For parents, it can be easy to fall into the trap of reading articles which tell us what to do based on an already established definition of a concept. In this article from Parents magazine, the list for keeping your child as healthy as possible may appear to be golden, but it assumes health is only physical (skin, teeth, etc.) and offers no advice for how to raise an emotionally healthy child.

Research is crucial for parents because it is how we gain insight from other people who might have a few parenting tricks. The best parenting books out there have a plethora of information. However, we have to remember that it is our children we are dealing with, not someone else’s, and cookie-cutter advice doesn’t benefit everyone. I just gave you my two cents on what works and how psychologists and neuroscientists agree, but you, as the parent of your precious child, have the freedom to tailor what you read and hear in a way that will work for you.


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