While pregnant with my last baby I had been reading many websites and books on parenting. Like most parents right? But at the time of my last pregnancy it had been 20 years since I had my first. I must have this parenting thing down…
Well, I did learn a lot while parenting my two first children who are now in their twenties, but I regret some parenting choices I then made and wished that I had better tools. I’m “mild” with myself. I mean, I was a teen mom, who’s parents did not do a great job themselves. Everyone was swarming me with their advice and I did what I thought that I had to do ( someone told me I was starving my child and that I needed to thicken my breast milk with sugar and cornflour). There was a lot of me getting angry and a lot of punishing , chore boards and stickers involved. Not that I was physical, but my eldest son had spent a lot of time in his room, broke.
I love my children so much. They are my world and I wanted to change the way I parent. I wanted peace in my home , in their hearts and mine.
Mild parenting is binding parenting. And in order to be able to do that, it is important to connect with yourself.
Then one day I went to a lecture given by this kick ass psychologist woman named Nina Mouton who comes from Ghent. (a kick ass town to visit too)
Nina came to talk about mild parenting, a term that I hadn’t heard before. Unconditional parenthood, attachment parenting, RIE parenting…on the other hand, these concepts have often been around our ears in recent years. Briefly until now, for me this only meant: wear your baby/child until your back breaks, breastfeed it until your nipples fall off and sleep together until the age of 16. I knew a lot. Nina made me look at this approach differently that afternoon.
Because there was Nina, with her obvious -and at the same time magical- vision to just be there for your child. Uh okay. And what after that? Nothing. After that, the rest usually comes naturally.
It seems simpler than being there for your child, isn’t just the physical presence. It’s mainly commitment to an emotional bond, and you do that by leaving space, naming emotions, and letting the child be who he or she is.
Any “awkward” behaviour usually has an underlying desire. The real underlying wish is the reason a child will show difficult behaviour (for us). This kind of behaviour is always a signal (“help me, I don’t know anymore”). There are very different wishes: affection, autonomy, closeness… It is up to you to find out what your child wants and to name it 🙂
Once you know the underlying wish, you can start naming what you see: what feeling do you think is behind the behaviour? Stick to the basic feelings: angry, scared, happy and sad. Other feelings are still too unclear for young children (e.g. jealousy).
Let the feeling be there, don’t neutralize it as soon as possible because it bothers you or someone else (“you shouldn’t cry”). “Children have a right to their injustice,” Wow, I understood that there for the first time.
Often a child already knows that certain emotions are not okay and they start looking for a way out. A very nice example of this is a child that hurts mom, gets a reaction to it and starts running away. Or the child that doesn’t want to sleep, starts crying very hard and after a while says it has a stomach ache. So that’s why it is crying and not because it doesn’t want to sleep.
This educational approach is really something of our time. In the fifties there was not much attention for parenthood. You sent your children out onto the field and hoped that just as many would come back in the evening.
When I was a first time mom the behavioural approach was the pinnacle: punishing and rewarding until your child is completely moulded the way you want it (in my opinion still a form of conditioning that brings little added value, they really don’t learn anything in the end because my eldest son just stopped doing chores for money because he started a student job). Even now, these theories are often proclaimed as “the” means of raising children, just think of the super nanny. Until the stickers came out of my ears and I didn’t know it at all.
Nina Mouton doesn’t like punishment either. A child will learn something if there is a “natural consequence” from certain behaviour. E.g.: don’t clean up, then there’s no time for a story. It is not a punishment if a child has a choice.
Mild parenting, all well and good. But how can you be a mild parent with sleep deprivation? That went right through my head. I sleep very badly, and when my son was still nursing, he was nursing sometimes every two hours. Nina devotes a chapter to that, too. Self-care is the code word. A few tips:
- Be authentic, stay calm. Get out of the situation if you’re in danger of being overwhelmed. Then come back to what happened afterwards.
- Find a mommy buddy. (check)
- Don’t be a champ all the time, it only takes energy from you and they won’t learn anything from you (except for a child of the most aggressive age ever, of course).
- Find out what gives you energy and what requires energy from you (energy guzzlers).
- Do things you did before the birth of your first child. (for me that was playing with Barbies)
- You can’t do everything, choose your battles. (That’s one I’ve already mastered!)
- Define your own boundaries: e.g. safety and health is not an issue.
- Determining a “higher goal” can help: what values and norms do you want to give when they are out of the house? Is that what you are doing right now important? Often what you want NOW, and what you want later, is very contradictory. A higher goal can be: I want a child who can stand up for his opinion. What do you do if that child doesn’t want vegetables in his spaghetti sauce… He stands up for his opinion, doesn’t he?
You see, there’s still a lot of work to be done for me but now that my youngest has turned 6 years old, I can already see the difference mainly in our home and in myself. I very much prefer the mom (and person) that I have become, calmer and milder *insert smugness here*
There is so much more peace and happiness in our house now that I just wish that I had known (and understood) then, what I know now. Many things would have probably been different.