Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Warning: Unsolicited Parenting Advice

As soon as I found out I was pregnant with my older daughter, the parenting advice started flooding in. It came from family members, doctors, friends, coworkers (including one who advised me to get a monkey), strangers once I started showing, and of course the bazillion books and magazines out there. Some was great and some was rubbish. Was it annoying getting tons of it? Yup. Did it ever stop? Nope. It lightens up, though. Or maybe I just stopped paying attention to a lot of it. I am grateful for it (well, some). Being a mom is great, but it is tricky and is a constant – CONSTANT – learning process. I still read parenting blogs and talk to other parents and people who spend time with kids to get tips or insights from them. Each of my girls is totally different, so what worked with the first doesn’t really work with the second, plus as they grow, their needs change. I want to be a good mom which to me means being open to learning from others. I am a bit amazed by the moms who reject all advice, claim they know more than their kids’ teachers or pediatricians, and that they would never ever read a single parenting book or magazine. Getting pregnant is (for some) natural and easy (and fun), but the raising of kids requires a bit more finesse, hard work, research, and often trial and error learning. I don’t want my kids to just stay alive; I want them to thrive. I assume my friends do, too. A lot of my friends are just starting their families, and based on their facebook posts and pinterest pins, they are already starting the Mommy stressing and researching and learning. Like I said, I’m still a student, but here are some things I’ve picked up along the way over the last nine years that seem to work with my girls.

Trust your gut. This was the first and best piece of parenting advice I ever got (from my own mom). It applies to everything. As long as I stay in tune with my girls, if I trust my gut, it steers me in the right direction and helps me know what advice to take and what advice to ignore. There is way too much advice out there, so this is the one every mom needs. If you follow everything, you’ll go nuts. Know your kid and trust your gut. If your gut says something is wrong, fight to make it right. Just because a book says you should do something one way doesn’t mean you have to if you feel that is wrong. Like the whole tiger mom thing. Not gonna do that. Or eating my placenta. My gut just says no to that one. May be great for some, but not for me. Sorry.

Dishes can wait. My husband hates going to bed with dirty dishes in the sink, but I have learned the world doesn’t stop spinning and CPS doesn’t break down the door if that happens. Sometimes it is more important for me to spend extra time cuddling the girls than standing at the sink. The dishes can wait, but a daughter can’t. Eventually dishes get done obviously, but some nights they don’t. I feel the same way about laundry and vacuuming, but draw the line at anything that stinks. Kitty litter and garbage have to go no matter what. Sorry, sweetie.
this is me NOT doing the dishes

Pick your battles really is good advice.  Really. I love when my friends without kids complain about other people’s kids and tell me how they would make their kids behave. Um, it doesn’t work like that. Kids are little humans with their own opinions. About everything. EVERYTHING. And as they get older, they will want to have some say in their lives. Makes sense. As a mom, I can’t control everything my kids do, and frankly I don’t want to. I do stand my ground on certain things, though, and I am consistent about it (well, I try to be). My younger daughter still tries to fight me on everything, but knows which battles she’ll lose at least going in. Here’s my list of  ten nonnegotiable rules (and, yes, I use the word nonnegotiable):
  1. wear what you want as long as it is weather appropriate, clean, and reflects a certain amount of pride in yourself (dress for the job you want to have mentality)
  2. everyone must eat and sugar from the sugar bowl and grapes off the floor don’t count as food
  3. help your sister – even if she is being annoying
    help your sister help the early homonid
  4. personal hygiene is also a must
  5. physical violence against others and oneself are unacceptable
  6. there is a limit to the amount of non-intelligent tv anyone can watch (some days that limit is 0 minutes)
  7. no clapping when Mommy has a migraine
  8. don’t let people see your underwear
  9. don’t spit at your teacher (ok, that was really my dad’s nonnegotiable rule, but I got so used to always hearing it that I started always saying it, so now it is our rule, too)
  10. a duck is not a weapon (we even have this printed as a sign in our house . . . really) 
    Proof. There's the sign. People ask why we have it.
    Because it needed to be said.
Before your baby is born, or at least as soon as possible, decide on the key goals so you and your partner will be on the same page. My husband and I are different people (shocking). We interact with the girls differently. We don’t do anything the same way. Before our older daughter was born, though, we did sit down to talk about what we wanted for her. We made some broad goals (you may already know about my preference for broad goals versus specific ones) and we have stuck to them. By having those in mind, we may have different paths but we have the same destination. Here are our key goals for our girls:
celebrating Ukrainian Independence Day
  1. broad world view We want them to know that the world extends beyond their town. That means traveling, learning about geography, and learning a foreign language. It isn’t too tricky considering each of their parents is from a different a different country and has a different native language.
  2. respect others Even if people are different, they should still be treated with respect.
  3. knowledge is a good thing We want the girls to thirst for knowledge not to fear it or distrust it. We want them to be constantly learning, enjoy learning, see the value in learning, and appreciate their teachers. We don’t want them to glorify ignorance in any form.
  4. know that they are loved Above all, we want them to know that we love them. A cool bonus has been the outpouring of love from other people the girls have gotten. We figure the more people who love our kids, the better. That just builds a stronger harbor for them to set sail from.

Keep your own sanity by not turning the world into Babyville. When Sofi was a baby, I felt my brain turning into mush just from the little bit of time spent watch Teletubbies with her in the mornings after breakfast. I knew I would lose my mind if I had to spend all day doing only things geared towards babies or speaking baby talk. I just couldn’t do it. Plus, at that time she was one of the only people around who understood English (we were living in Ukraine). Because of my migraines, tv is a part of our lives, but that doesn’t mean that tv has to be annoying kids’ shows. There are a lot of documentaries that are kid friendly and a lot of kid shows which are intelligent and not too annoying. When my girls do watch cartoons (summer and Saturday mornings), it is only PBS Kids. Family movie nights are usually documentaries or nonfiction shows. Because that is what the girls are used to, that is what they look forward to. We all like it. The shows are exciting and fun, and we all learn a lot together. The girls have fun picking topics, and I have fun learning along with them. Sure, as a result my kids don’t understand their classmates’ obsession with Justin Bieber, but they do know who Albert Einstein is and think Ada Lovelace is pretty awesome.

Also, my husband and I didn’t use baby talk with them a lot. I mean, we did sometimes because we are human and the girls were insanely cute babies and it was impossible to resist, but we also would just have normal conversations with them. Before I became a stay at home mom, I was a retreat leader, so I was used to spending all day talking to groups of teens. It was hard for me to stop. I just kept going with the girls. During meals, I would talk to the girls about all sorts of stuff whether or not they could actually talk back (the younger one didn’t really speak English until she was about three and then needed speech therapy to really clear it up which wasn’t until she was four) which made the conversations one sided for a while, but now they are fun.

I watch the news each day to keep up to date on the world outside my family; I make sure to talk to other adults whenever possible even if just via facebook; I read books that have absolutely nothing to do with being a mom; I talk to my husband about his day and his job, too. All these things help me to remember that, even though they are the center of my universe, the girls are not the entire universe. It would be so easy to just focus on the girls all day, but I feel like I would lose a bit of me if that happened. Plus, as they get older, I have more time to spend doing my own stuff again. It is good to stay in touch so I can ease back into the non-Sofi/Yasya world when they don’t need me so full time.

Laugh. A lot. Parenting is hard. The stress and pressure and sleep deprivation and financial strain and constancy of it can get to you. So remember to laugh. When I remember to laugh, it is all worth it. That’s why I have pictures of my kids and their art everywhere. I look at them and smile and feel less tired. That is why I try to just keep my facebook statuses as their silliness to remind me of how much fun I am actually having. Really, most of the time, being with them is joy. Sometimes, it isn’t, to be honest. Sometimes all moms worry so much and get so overwhelmed we cry and call our sisters for help or just to vent. Then we look at those pretty blue eyes and remember Yasya saying, “you should wear blue socks with pink cowgirl boots because somewhere pink and blue flowers might exist and that would be pretty, you know.” And then it’s all worth it.
This is how most of the time is. The yucky crying, stressing, fighting time really is much less but can feel like more if I forget to focus on the laughter.

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