It is no secret that I love my kids and I love being a Mum. There are days when it is harder than a space mission (from what I have heard), but it is all worth it. I’ve read hundreds of parenting books and connected with parenting experts from around the globe as an intrigued and curious Mumma, as MD for Dunstan Baby and as curator for Wired for Wonder.
I have travelled with my bambinos, taken them to exotic places from Paris to the Boardroom, from Wired for Wonder to the local park. Life is an adventure and I take great pride and joy seeing my girls blossom into confident and happy expressive and emotionally aware humans.
It isn’t all la la and happy rainbows though, there are haters and judgers and keyboard warrior parents out there judging and gossiping and strangers making snap judgements. Parenting by definition is the easiest thing to judge and the hardest thing to do… but it hasn’t stopped me from wanting to do it well!
I get asked quite a lot about my approach and philosophy and whilst speaking to a wonderful lady the other day, I realised I was cushioning and couching every single one of my opinions with “but you do what you feel comfortable with” and “It is up to the parents obviously” and “every child is different” – avoiding expressing my actual beliefs and methods for fear of ridicule and judgement.
My husband and I finish every day smiling. Even if we have had the biggest fight in the whole of our universe, we take time to reconnect and resolve and reconcile. Even if we are exhausted, stressed, resentful, we find funny stories to share and we giggle at the funny things the girls have said and done that day. We decided many years ago not to go to bed on an argument and it serves us well in our marriage and as parents. It enables us to connect with the joyful and wondrous moments that children bring. This was a conscious and deliberate value that we brought into our relationship and it has set us up for success. We have a number of other conscious and deliberate values when it comes to parenting too, so I’m pushing my fear of the keyboard warriors and haters aside to share these in the hopes they may inspire you (no judgement from this side).
We don’t smack – we unpack. We had this conversation early and decided we would take the time to unpack and understand the emotion and the behaviour instead of smacking or using naughty corners for discipline – that is NOT to say things haven’t gotten heated over the years… wow, tantrums suck and hangry can bring out some big loud shouts from Mummy and Daddy, but we always take time to unpack the incident, discuss, understand, apologise and reconcile. At first this was hard, but these days, Sienna who is just 4 will say some of the most emotionally mature and connected things, the ground work is paying off. She apologies, she understands and labels her emotions, she talks about good choices and bad choices and good behaviour and bad behaviour.
We don’t do battles but we strive for patterns. If there are ongoing negotiations at bed time, we read a few more books and take time to connect and understand what is going on, I read an article when Sienna was 3 months old that said a consistent bed time was key to success, I have failed miserably in this department, but my children both sleep incredibly well and through the night, we choose to take the heat and battle out of everything having to be micromanaged and strive for patterns instead. Bed time patterns (roughly the same time each night), eating patterns (the 80/20 rule for good food versus plain pasta or chicken nuggets), noone can get it all right all of the time, so we just aim to get it right MOST of the time to avoid battles and resistance and create harmony and connection.
We take them everywhere and ignore them sometimes. Cafes, adventures, out and about, we do wonderful things with the kids and they benefit from adventures including office visits and playground fun but we don’t tune into them 24 x 7, we ignore them sometimes and they play happily alone which I think is really important. I love seeing them quietly entertaining themselves or wandering around singing to themselves – I have a strong belief that happy kids sing and delight in seeing the girls sing daily as they go about their business. From an early age I was comfortable leaving them on the playmat for 20 minutes to enjoy their own company while I had a shower, or in their cot with a toy or a book having a little ‘switzerland’ or ‘down time’ as I call it, this also provided me with much needed breaks during the day – I never left them crying but if they were happy and content I didn’t feel the need to be there in their faces entertaining them all day.
We cry it in instead of cry it out. I read all the research and trusted my gut on this, trying to leave the room whilst my child was screaming seemed wrong, but there are some days when you have ticked through everything and you can’t seem to flick the off switch, so we ‘cried it in’ – we let them cry in our arms and then put them down calm or we stayed and patted their bum while they cried and eventually settled, or we pushed them in the pram while they cried, we never put them down and walked away and I’m glad as that worked for us. We had a couple of months with Stella when she was settling into her routine and we would rock her to sleep in the pram and then transfer her to the cot, usually glass of wine in hand, no battles, 6 weeks later she went to bed at 6pm happily without any assistance and has done for the past 7 months, for us trusting our instincts and doing what worked for us…well, it worked! These days, if the girls are upset, they happily sit on my lap and cry it in, we are connected and I know they trust me because I am consistently there to meet their needs. Hard work, yes, worth it, yes.
We do what works for us. If I can get one thing across it is this… I am not writing this or sharing this to be preachy, I want to inspire parents to build their own parental confidence, to read, digest information and then make creative and pragmatic decisions that work for them! Our parenting journey has been so wonderful, we have both learnt so much along the way and the thing we love the most is that we have done it our way, we have trusted our gut and done what works for our family and I strong encourage you to do the same!
But what does the research say? There are so many conflicting things out there… cry it out, don’t let them cry, co-sleep and they will stay connected, co-sleep and they will die, breastfeeding is good, breastfeeding is bad, helicopter parenting ensures consistency, hover and they will hate you as adolescents… you get the picture, it is a polarising mine field and you’re basically f*cked if you do or don’t. But there are a few common threads that have appeared from Doctors, Psychologists, Uber Parents and Scientists that really resonate with me… so I will share those:
- Let them do it by themselves. (Learn by doing)
- Praise the effort not the outcome.
- Play with them, get on the ground and get dirty.
- Give them opportunities to do things that scare them.
- Don’t hover, you’re not a bee.
- Take them to grown up places and let them be kids.
- Run them often and run them well.
- Read to them every single day and then read some more.
- You don’t have to be ON them all day, but tune in and give them quality time at least once a day.
- Help them understand and process their emotions.
- Don’t let your fear ruin their experience.
- Help them build confidence and self esteem by giving them choice and empowerment
- Always make up in front of them (if you have been fighting).
- Apologise to them if you made a mistake.
- Role model the behaviours you want to see.
I’m going to stop there as I don’t want to completely overwhelm – but if you are to have one take away from this… if you want to raise awesome kids, it all starts and ends with you. Your energy, your choices, your authenticity…. tune in to your best version of you to help them unleash their best version of them.