I have read so many articles and posts about ‘what you should do’ as a parent. There are things on each and every one of those articles that I strongly agree on, and things that I strongly disagree on.
I am not a perfect parent, I have admitted that before and do so again and again without shame. Because as far as I’m concerned, admitting you are not perfect at something is the only way to push yourself harder towards that perfection.
I want to be the best mother I possibly can be. The only way I can do that is to admit my faults and work towards fixing them.
However, these lists. These lists I keep seeing everywhere basically make parents feel ‘if you do/don’t do this, you’re a terrible parent’ or ‘if you say/don’t say this, your kids will turn out damaged’.
Seriously? We all have to deal with so much unnecessary judgement and expectation from complete strangers regarding our parenting every single day! Now there are these rules, (I swear they never used to be around!) that you will screw your kid up for life if you say ‘good job?’
I’m torn. I know there is merit to this advice. There have been studies. I also know I turned out fine (mostly) despite being told ‘good job’. Likewise, I know what probably shook my confidence.
I know my son will turn out great regardless. But now I have this extra pressure; the added stress of awareness that with every compliment I should be wording it a certain way for ‘maximum parenting bonus’.
Some days you will be tired, you will be distracted and you will say ‘well done’ or something similar, when your toddler babbles something at your poor defeated self, your kid will smile from the compliment, but you probably won’t see it.
Other days you will feel great, be involved in the activity and perfectly craft your response (‘Wow, you worked so hard and really put in a lot of effort, I’m so proud of what you achieved!’ etc) Then your toddler will beam at you and you’ll feel like an A+ parent for supporting their emotional development!
That first response doesn’t make you a failure or a bad parent, it just makes you human.
The problem, for me, is that these articles so rarely focus on what I see as the real issues.
They all seem to focus on how we address our kids, or how we describe them, or how we praise their actions. That’s great, but I’d like to see more on how we address each other in front of them, how we describe ourselves in front of them, or how we react to our own actions.
So I decided to write my own about what really matters for their futures.
Five things you should never, ever say in front of your kids.
‘I’m so fat/ugly.’
Ask yourself, do you want your son/daughter to grow up thinking they are ugly? Do you want them to look at their perfectly healthy figures in the mirror and starve themselves because they see themselves as fat?
Of course you don’t. But unfortunately by saying negative things about yourself and your body in front of them, you are already programming them to see themselves in a negative light.
If an impressionable young girl hears a perfectly slim woman say ‘I’m fat’ often enough, she will begin to believe that a healthy body shape/weight is ‘fat’ and begin to starve herself or hate herself, if her body is not super skinny to reflect what she has been programmed to believe.
This one is first on the list because it is probably the most common, worst of all it is also the one most people don’t even realise they are doing.
How many times have you dropped an offhand comment about yourself in front of the kids like ‘Ugh, I look so ugly in that picture’, or someone has complimented you on your figure and the first thing you reply with is ‘thanks, but I need to lose weight.’
Try complimenting yourself in front of them instead. You might find it has an effect on you too.
2. ‘Girls (or) Boys should/shouldn’t/don’t etc’
As society slowly (slowly) learns to stop being ridiculous and accept the LGBT community as it should, there also needs to be a good look at ‘Gender Enforcing’.
No I’m not talking about forcing your little boy to play with a doll, or giving your little girl racing cars and telling them to embrace their inner femininity/masculinity. I’m talking about letting go of the ridiculous idea that those sorts of toys are only for one gender in the first place.
The next time you go to a play group with your toddler, watch the choices they make in play. Chances are they just pick up whatever catches their attention. My son loves playing dress up, he puts on the fairy wings and high heels and then goes off to play knights and superheros. The other week he was running around in a Buzz Lightyear costume with glittery high heeled dress up shoes.
A friend of mine has a little boy who loves pushing the baby prams around at baby group, then goes home and obsessively watches Kung Fu Panda and plays football.
Another friend has little girls who love their Train table and dinosaurs.
The point is, by telling a child they are not allowed to play with a toy because ‘only girls or boys play with that toy’, you are only restricting your child from a full play experience.
We’ve seen where the ‘only girls play with dolls’ mindset leads. Do we really want another 1950s generation who don’t want to help their wives take care of the baby because ‘that’s a woman’s job’?
3.Reinforcing Rape Culture
We all know what I’m talking about here. ‘Boys will be boys’, ‘she shouldn’t have been wearing that’, ‘she shouldn’t have been drinking’, etc
Whenever I see a news story with those phrases, it makes me feel physically sick.
I am so tired of hearing our society trying to teach girls how not to get raped, when we should be teaching our sons that it is never okay to rape, and what rape actually is.
The excellent ‘Consent and Tea’ video sums it up beautifully.
One thing I feel very strongly that my sons will never hear is things like ‘Well what do you expect If she was wearing that!’ Or in other words, Victim Blaming. If anyone says such a thing in front of my sons, they can expect a swift and brutal re-educating.
Saying things like that in front of children only enforces the idea that the victim is the one at fault, or somehow deserved it. This is never the case.
4.Spreading negativity about others
We’ve all done it. We’ve all been guilty, at one point or another, of having a good rant when someone has annoyed us. It could be a friend, family member, co-worker or complete stranger.
The offence could be as small as accidentally spilling tea on your carpet. Or as big as trying to seduce your husband! Depending on your mood the reaction could be out of proportion or perfectly reasonable.
But have you stopped to think; how will the kids feel if they hear you declare ‘Cousin Sherryl* is such a fat cow, she’s such a liar!’ In your moment of weakness? (*I don’t actually have a cousin Sherryl, this is an example, I promise!)
If our kids hear negativity towards others, particularly insults that are gender or appearance based, how long do you think before points 1, 2 and 3 start becoming a problem?
It brings to my mind the movie they made of the comedy show ‘South Park’, an animated show about kids but very, very not safe for kids. In the movie, the mothers of the main characters declare war on Canada over the content of a movie. (The whole plot is satire at its best!)
They argue, and I quote ‘Horrific, deplorable violence is okay, as long as people don’t say any naughty words!’ (I know, it is deliberately ridiculous, I promise.)
This kind of mindset is exactly what makes this point so troubling. We don’t want our kids to bully others, or be misogynistic, racist, homophobic, judgemental or just plain cruel. But how can we discipline them for using inappropriate or negative language towards others? We’ve unwittingly taught them that saying those things are acceptable when you’re mad?
If you must have that rant, just make sure little ears aren’t in range.
5. Creating a Negativity Cycle.
This is where you find yourself facing a problem, (perhaps your car failed the MOT etc) and allowing this problem to spiral out of control.
A typical NATs spiral of thought could go: The car failed? Oh that means we won’t be able to afford to go off next week. If we can’t afford to do that we’re going to be stuck at home. Everyone is going to be miserable. If we’re all miserable the rest of the month will be completely ruined. We’ll never be able to relax and will fall out. Nothing will ever go right from now on, we won’t be able to afford Christmas presents etc
I know that sounds utterly ridiculous by the end there, but unfortunately this is a very real issue for a lot of people, myself included.
Sometimes my thoughts just turn out like that.
Usually I’m lucky enough that I can pull myself out of the funk within a day or two by addressing it with logic. Or something will happen (the repairs are much cheaper than expected, for example) and I will realise things aren’t all that bad.
But can you imagine if, in the darkest part of this downward spiral, I rant about my feelings where my kids can hear me?
I have been guilty of that before. Maybe my baby is too young to understand but my eldest now isn’t. Besides, even a baby can pick up on the negative vibes in a room if the adults are stressed.
Can you imagine the distress a toddler could be feeling if they hear their parent exclaim ‘We’re going to lose our house!’ A child has no way of understanding that this is just ‘fortune telling’ and isn’t actually a possibility.
I do not, under any circumstances, want my son to face the world with NATs like mine. I cannot imagine him feeling so low after something so small and insignificant goes wrong.
I want my sons to know that no matter what goes wrong, there is always a way to overcome it. There is always a way to fix your problems and move forwards.
I know that they may end up with demons of their own through no fault of mine, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be responsible for one I could have prevented.
So there you have it, my ‘list of parenting advice’ or whatever. I don’t know if people will hate or love this list, agree or disagree, or maybe not be bothered either way. It’s not there to judge. All of my posts have always been meant to be about helping and supporting each other.
I just wanted to see at least one advice post out there that doesn’t tell me I’m failing at parenting if I say ‘good job.’
Read my follow up post, Why we should apologise to our children, here!
What are your opinions on the eternal parenting debate? Do you feel overwhelmed by all the expectations of today’s society on parents? Leave a comment below!