The other day I was in the living room when 22 month old SunnyGirl ran in stark naked, threw both hands into the air, and enthusiastically yelled, “YEAH!!!!”
I laughed uncontrollably for several minutes and hugged her before asking her to help me hunt down her diaper and shirt.
Had LittleMan done this same act when he was her age, I would have immediately barked, “where are your clothes?!”
You see, I used to be a mean mom. A “no, no, no” mom. An authoritarian mom.
I won’t get into the specifics but suffice it to say my father could be classified as an authoritarian parent. He was very much of the belief that children should be seen, not heard, and throughout my childhood he told me both with his words and through his behavior that he just didn’t see the point in talking with any child let alone his own child.
There are some people who would be happier with a dog than a baby and that is perfectly fine, not everyone should have a kid. I highly suspect that my father falls into this category of persons so my existence was a bit of a nuisance for him.
I was very lucky to have my stepMomma. She was a wonderful example of compassion, understanding, and respectfulness. To say I was a difficult child would be an understatement, I don’t think anyone could have handled me and my misbehavior with more grace and love than my stepMomma did.
When I became a parent, I knew I wanted to be for my children what my stepMomma was for me. The person who would always love them, no matter how badly they screwed up. The person who would respect their feelings, no matter how much they may be over reacting. The person who would praise their successes as well as encourage them after a failure.
Some how or another, despite my intentions, I still found myself slipping into “mean mom” mode. LittleMan would do what normal children do and I would react with ridiculous rules and punishments and futile efforts to exert control over him. I said I wanted him to respect me but my actions were of a person who wanted to elicit fear and blind obedience.
Luckily for both myself and my children, I was able to recognize the path we were going down and alter our course.
There was no epiphany, no moment of realization, no dramatic vow to change my ways. There was only small moments here and there, small changes, baby steps. Slowly I evolved from the tyrant barking orders at my subordinates to the captain of our team. I still have final say but I value their input and we all have mutual respect for each other.
I still don’t believe that parents should be friends with their children, and I don’t hesitate to say “no” when necessary.
That said, my criteria for saying “no” has changed. I have a little check list:
– Are they hurting anyone?
– Damaging property?
– Causing harm to themselves?
If the answers to these questions is “no” then I say “yes.”
Yes, you may cover yourself in stickers.
Yes, you may carry that stick on our walk.
Yes, I will take a break from putting away our non-perishable groceries to play your side-kick.
The power of saying, “yes” is overwhelming.
I have less stress than I used to because I’m not trying to micro-manage my children.
My children are more well behaved because they know their feelings are valid to me; we are no longer caught in some ridiculous power struggle.
Our family argues less and is more bonded.
These benefits have carried over into homeschooling.
Instead of saying, “5 minutes until math class” and then having an hour long fight over skip counting, I say, “how much time do you need to get ready for school?” LittleMan answers something like, “5 minutes” or “10 minutes” but usually 2-3 minutes later, when he finishes whatever he was doing, he’ll sit down at his desk and announce he is ready for lessons.
Instead of saying, “No you can’t study [Ancient Egyptians/sharks/whatever he has an interest in that day], we have to finish our Native American lap book,” I say, “That sounds like fun! How about we read a book about it after we go over our vocabulary?” Generally, he is happy with this arrangement and we both get what we want done.
I still struggle not to raise my voice when frustrated.
I still have to remind myself to be patient when I have to wait a few minutes for something I want done now.
I am a work in progress.
My reaction to SunnyGirl’s nude antics, the way I felt joy at her happiness rather than frustration for her lack of pants, tells me that I have come a long way.
I hope someday my children will be able to look back at their childhood and see me the way I see my stepMomma, as a source of inspiration for the type of people they want to be. Happy. Compassionate.
Because homeschooling isn’t just about history and grammar, it is about giving your children the tools to succeed in all aspects of life. For that reason, I aspire to raise children who say, “yes.”