Mum of three Toni Hargis blogs as ‘Expat Mum’, and shares her life as a Brit raising a family in the “strange land of the US of A”. Here, as her eldest reaches a crucial milestone, Toni reflects on her years of raising children.
Having just sent my firstborn, the Queenager, off to college (sob) it’s safe to say I’ve notched up a few parenting years. Now, while I’m no expert on the subject, I have definitely learned some lessons:
Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems. When you’re fretting about the fact that your toddler still won’t use the potty, or your eight-year-old seems a little bossy with her friends, by all means take it seriously.
It might help put it in perspective however, to consider the likelihood that soon, your darling nine-year-old son will be attempting (usually successfully) to download porn, and your princess will be piercing her navel using nothing more than a safety pin and a bottle of vinegar.
Choose your battles. This is a well-worn adage for many reasons. First, it’s absolutely exhausting to fight every little point. Yes, we know you have standards, but does it really matter if you pop to the shops and someone’s still wearing a tutu, or a Ninja outfit? (Okay, make the husband take his off, but under a certain age, it’s fine.)
Second, if you scream and shout more than say, twice a day, your kids become immune to it. Trust me. Save the explosions for the really serious stuff. Let shock power be your friend.
Third, when you do take a stance, the kids are more likely to realise you’re serious and you’re not giving in. (This is a huge tactical maneuver, by the way – their weapon of choice is to wear you down.)
Eat dinner together as often as you can. I realise that when one spouse comes home late, it’s not always possible to eat as a family but even if you can only do family meals at the weekend, it’s worth it. We used to do this when my oldest two were little, my husband and I telling stories about our own childhoods. It became a great Sunday night tradition.
Open up those lines of communication – you’d be amazed what comes up in the conversation. And believe me, it’s crucial to keep it going when they’re teenagers, desperately trying to be Goth parent-haters.
Monkey see, monkey do. Like it or not, you are their biggest role model. If you slam doors and avoid discussion, that’s what they will do. If you’re a tad shouty, – Bingo! Shouty kids. As painful as it sounds, to engender decent behaviour in your children, you need to model it. None of this “Do what I say not what I do" nonsense (except in the case of booze and moderate swearing of course). They will copy you – and sometimes it’s not nice to have that mirror held up.
Despite what the publishers tell us, parenting can be hard and there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all manual. So take a chill pill from time to time. The worst is yet to come! No seriously, try not to sweat the small stuff and remind yourself you’re doing the best you can!
–Toni Hargis, www.expatmum.blogspot.com