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A while ago a dear friend said I should write down my parenting advice. She has kids a little younger than mine and was always asking for advice on stuff that bothered her. I’d joke around that it was just simple, common sense and didn’t think anyone would want to read it. Last night a text from her (about something completely unrelated) triggered the memory and I thought to myself, “Hey it might be fun to relive some of those growing up moments! And, if it helps someone – why not?”
With my first born, I was guilty of what every first time parent does – obsess!! I signed up for every parenting newsletter, read every article I could find on milestones, kept obsessive notes on whether she was hitting those milestones, constantly berating myself when she didn’t – Oh it was exhausting! No wonder new parents are constantly burned out! The pressure just doesn’t let up – newborn, gaining weight, feeding, peeing, pooping, all the theories about peeing and pooping, crawling, walking, flashcards, teaching, reading, writing, arithmetic, feeding, eating, gaining weight – Are they 18 yet? After a year or so of putting this kind of unrealistic pressure on myself, and my baby – I just had to stop! And, I did. Cold turkey! Oh of course, I cheated sometimes – going online to check on weight and height milestones for her, secretly comparing her vocabulary with other tots her age and rushing out to buy the latest and greatest IQ enhancement toy or video. Don’t judge! You know you’ve done it too! But, for the most part, I think, I self-policed pretty well. And, through my journey and that of my friends who were travelling the same parenting path, dealing with the same guilt and fear of not doing enough, or doing too much, I learned a few lessons.
1. All babies are different. Growth charts are only guidelines - especially, if you live in a different country. Charts are guidelines for the children indigenous to that country. For example – my kids were always off the chart (and not in a good way!) because we lived in the U.S. The charts were made for Caucasian and African American babies. Our East-Asian babies just did not make any cut-offs. I had to stop worrying – and so I did! That baby is now 17 – thin as a rake, and 5’8” – the second one – also rail thin and 5’5” at age 14 and growing every day - so go figure...
2. The Picky Eater: We had a standing joke when we went to the mall. If you saw a lady running behind a toddler (sometimes even a kindergartener) trying to put something in said child’s mouth, there was a 99.9% chance it was an Indian origin mamma! Every conversation at every mommy get together I went to revolved around whose child didn’t eat what, and how it was so hard to get anything past the kiddo’s lips. Well – if I had someone constantly worried and fussing at me – I’d probably be a picky eater too! Hey – here’s an idea. Let’s form an adult diet – that keeps forcing you to eat stuff and pushing “just one more bite” even after your tummy is full. I’m willing to bet money (well – maybe not money!) that it would be an effective diet and eating control mechanism. Maybe there’s something to this theory – anyone want to write a hypothesis, and do a study? Jokes apart – let them be. When they’re hungry – they’ll ask for food. And, they will eat what you put in front of them. And, if they say “no” and you very sweetly say “ok – no force”, they will eat it at the next meal-time. No fights, no arguments, and you free up so much time to boost their IQ with those flash cards you just bought at the mall yesterday! Remember, when you were nursing them? They cried for nourishment - you opened your blouse or the feeding bottle. Simple! Case closed.
3. The Vitamin Woes! Is my baby getting enough vitamin A, minerals, calcium, and what about potassium? Not to forget selenium, iron and vitamin D! (To sunscreen or not to sunscreen is the million-dollar question when the vitamin D debate starts – that one is electric - I’m just not even touching it with a 10-foot pole!) I had a very simple rule of thumb that worked for us. We tried to eat the colours of the rainbow every week. We had seven days – and we had to get in our reds, yellows, greens, purples, whites etc in. Most importantly it took the pressure off me to try to get the kids to eat everything and count the calories, and count the vitamin intake on top of everything else. They’d find the colour of everything they had eaten, in the crayon box and colour it in a little tracking chart on the fridge. As they got older – they would match the colours with the picture, and then with the vegetable, fruit or grain name. So – yay! Once my daughter insisted I make eggplant – because she wanted to use the colour purple! I was in mommy heaven! She was in charge, she loved it and I loved it! What’s not to love? All of this was trial and error with the first born, but it was written in stone by the time the second one came along. I loved how my daughter became the surrogate mommy (she was only 4) and tried to get the little one to “follow all the rules” – not always an easy task, let me tell you – but we tweaked as we went along!
4. Kids need discipline. They crave it! They usually throw tantrums for it! The biggest misconception among new parents is that kids throw tantrums because they’re being disciplined. Nope. Nope. Nope. They’re throwing the tantrum because they’re feeling out of control and they need you to take the reins so they don’t go mad! So, when you give in – you’ve just sent them the message that you can’t or won’t take control even when they’re begging you. What message does that send them about you? About adults in general? About respect? About boundaries? These are life long lessons and they start at age 2. Enough said… Sorry, one more thing – sometimes tantrums are a result of lack of sleep, hunger, exhaustion, over-stimulation, or simply a need for love and kisses and hugs. So do check those out before being all “self righteous and in-control”. Ok, now I’m done – enough said…
5. Intelligence quotients, preschools, private schools, gifted classes, double promotions, spelling bees, math geniuses – are just words. Don’t judge yourself by them. Don’t judge your kids by them. It’s just not worth it. Sure all that attention and pride feels good. We feel we’ve been good parents if our children are successful at school and better parents if our kids are super successful. But, more often than not child prodigies are just that. Child prodigies. Study after study has proven that a child prodigy is not more likely to be successful as an adult – financially or professionally. So, then, why take a childhood; that ought to be filled with scraped knees, snotty noses, tree climbing, video games (sorry but that’s a reality of this generation that we cannot escape!), getting in trouble over unfinished homework, detention, timeouts, and sibling rivalry; away from them? One of my favourite memories of my daughter is me walking into a bathroom she had forgotten to lock, only to find her sitting comfortably on the bathroom mat with a story book and the shower running (so I’d think she was showering!). I think she was in Fifth Grade and it was finals week. So, she did get in trouble. But – it’s still my favourite memory of her! Let them be. Send them to lots of extra curricular activities. Let them do soccer, basketball, cricket, swimming, chess, studies, math, story telling, blogging, knitting, sewing, and whatever else they want to. As long as they’re having fun, as long as they’re building memories with you, with their friends, with relatives. The other day I had a lovely chat with my young son as I put lotion on his aching legs (must be a growth spurt) that then evolved into a mini-pedicure. Something, that for some reason, had always been reserved for his sister. And, in the process, I heard some stuff that normally may never have been shared with me. Please, spend time with them, create memories together, have mommy and me time with them - that's what will get you through the crazy days still ahead when you're parenting teenagers!
All I want to say in conclusion is embrace their childhood. Being bang in the middle of the tumultuous teens (both kids!!) myself, I promise you, you will yearn for those childhood days back, you'll want to spend time with them when all they want to do is push you away, when all they want is to be a grown up and start taking those reins and control into their hands. I'm aching to have my little bacchaas back - but I have to console myself and live with my mamma memories.
I'd love to hear from you! Do write what's worked for you in the comments below... Thanks!