We’ve all been there, as parents.
You tell your child that they have had enough chocolate cake and then, while you are distracted by good company and a second coffee, your toddler climbs onto your lap and starts eating cake from your plate, carefully at first, watchful of your reaction, and then with more confidence.
One of the biggest surprises, to me, in becoming a parent, is how exhausting the constant decision making is. Especially so since all the decisions can seem equally important in a harried world – does your child need to wear a hat today? can they have another cookie? watch another episode of PJ Masks? should you vaccinate/send them to kinder at age five?
So many of the decisions we make every day and every minute mean nothing in isolation but can have a huge impact on how simple our parenting lives are in the future. I don’t care if my child has another cookie today, or skips toothbrushing once a week, but I think that when I’m consistent, it works out in my favour later.
Just as I’ve found myself in the toddler-sneakily-eating-cake zone, I’ve found it painful to watch other parents in similar situations. The firmest “No,” turns into “maybe later,” and finally ‘OK then, just a bit,” all in the space of five minutes.
I must admit, I notice this mostly in women parents [partly because I mostly hang out with mums] and I think it’s probably a really important point to address in terms of bigger issues around women and assault.
Getting clear and committing – even to something as small as “we’re leaving the playground,” or “no more cake,” helps women set up boundaries and tune out social pressure, which provides an example to all kids that women are to be listened to and respected.
I’ve long tried to figure out ways we can help each other stick to our words, especially in social situations when we are distracted and want to enjoy being with our friends.
One way is to physically back each other’s decisions. Say the parent has said no more cake. If the child reaches for the cake, you can, as a supportive co-parent would, reach out and move the cake out of the child’s reach, saying in a friendly way “I’m going to make it easier for you to listen to your mum.”
Maybe you think the child should have more cake. Maybe you don’t care about the cake. It’s not the point. The point is to back each other up, no matter what the issue.
When you know someone really well, or if you are co-parenting, you could offer to remove the child or hold the child so the parent can focus on the goal [eg. getting the car ready to leave]. In this situation, the child may cry and scream. [Read more about listening to kids feelings here].
So often, parents back out of hard decisions in social situations, not wanting to face judgement or be the one dragging a screaming child down the street. We make split-second decisions according to what’s easiest at the moment, but having back up can help us follow through with what we know will pay off in the end.
Strong physical responses in parenting can be seen, beautifully, by watching animals parent.
My darling husband and father to my children has a charmingly animalistic approach to parenting – when our daughter decided to protest walking even short distances by dragging on our arms as we held her hand, he decided that if she dragged, he would let go of her hand. After explaining it to her, they began walking.
Every time she dragged, whack! her tiny two-year-old body would hit the snowpack. I had to look away – no one enjoys seeing their child upset. But she only did it a handful of times before deciding it wasn’t worth it to drag on his hand.
We parents tend to feel that we can’t do anything right. We sometimes fold guilt away into little pockets that remain in the fabric of how we identify as parents.
Having another adult or another parent make it clear that they will back anything we do as parents [obviously if it is safe for the child] is a huge relief.
It confirms what we know in our hearts – that we love our kids and that we’re doing our best.