This post first appeared on Because of Jackie in February 2014. It has been revised and updated!
On the last day of this whole week long parenthood series (potty training, sleep training parts one and two, and letting go of perfection), I wanted to add in some random advice and things that have helped in specific moments in parenthood. I also want to say to you that all my knowledge of raising little ones has come from lots of trial and error and just trying different things with my two children over the years. I’m flying by the seat of my pants here at this point in my life (my kids are now 5 and 7), and taking each day by the minute. Can I also say that I usually have no idea what I am doing on any given day? And that some days feel like a battle and other days feel like a Pinterest picture of perfection? You, too? Good;)
I’m tired, and exhilarated, and fiercely in love and overwhelmingly frustrated 95% of the time. Their little faces are literally my heart, I want to squeeze them till they gasp for breath and every little bit of them is fascinating and dear to me. These little ones of mine are worth the anger and helplessness I feel a lot, and worth the pure joy I have in a million little moments that make it all worth it.
On that note, let’s get into some questions I can answer for you on the stuff I have done
somewhat successfully (because we all need something we’ve done well in parenthood, hmmm?)
Establishing good naps:
Children that nap well really originates in sleep training early on, for me anyway. (See sleep training posts above!) By six months old both of my kids had this nap thing down and it has stayed this way since then. Quiet time for my toddlers and older children in my house has always been from 1-3pm. From the time they were babies we did this and it has sort of stayed that way. The kids go in their room, pull the shades and turn on sound machines and get tucked in with their 6,346 favorite stuffed animals and lovies. When my kids were really little we had door locks on their doors so they couldn’t get out. It was a safety thing at first, from when they came out of their cribs and into toddler hood, you never want an 18 month old wandering around alone at 4am.
I think the key to having a successful nap time is not forcing kids to actually sleep, but to keep them in their rooms for quiet time (after age two or three, anyway.) I remember the first couple of weeks when they had the freedom to wander their room and play when they first had a toddler bed, I would find them passed out on the floor surrounded by toys. They always seemed to sleep no matter how much they played a little first, and having that freedom sort of took out that battle for me. They didn’t have to sleep, but they did have to stay in their rooms. Nine times out of ten they always slept. My son is five and a half and still naps some days, and on the days he doesn’t nap he just plays and reads in his room.
This quiet time is also my “gain back my sanity” time and is sort of key to my emotional well being on most days. I can nap, or write, or read and by the time it’s 3pm I am rejuvenated and recharged.
Note: When we were potty training I used to put a little potty in their room (on a towel), so they could go during bedtime and nap time without coming out of their room. This always helped eliminate the “coming out a thousand times to pee” syndrome that plagued us for awhile.
On parenting a strong willed child:
For a long time before I had kids I used to laugh at those that would say, ” my kids just won’t let me do that,” or “I’m afraid to tell them no.” I thought these parents were weak and couldn’t control their kids. Can I mention how wrong I was and how much becoming a mom myself changed this? You see, I have one really strong willed and opinionated child, and one that goes in and out of complete stubbornness. Some days are a complete uphill battle. There were some days I felt we were having power struggles every single second over the tiniest issues. I learned the hard lesson that sometimes moms let things happen because it is easier. We let things slide and look the other way because it is one less battle to fight and we just can’t anymore.
What saved me, and changed the way I dealt with power struggles and behavioral issues, was I found this amazing, save my life book called, “Setting Limits with your Strong Willed Child.” It rocked my (already chaotic) world. I learned that I wasn’t as clear about setting limits and rules as I thought I had been. I veered between being overly soft and nice, and then rebounding into being really strict. This confused my kids and didn’t give them a clear idea of how to behave. They didn’t know what to expect from me on a daily basis, so they fought me and argued and did all these power struggle things that left be panicked and desperate for help. I learned that you need to be super consistent (sounds stupid easy, right?), and follow through every time you say something. Every. Time. Just like when you sleep train, consistency matters in building consistent behavior. It has made all the difference.
On finding yourself after children:
Lastly, the biggest thing I’ve had to work on since becoming a mother is staying true to yourself and taking care of yourself. This is hard, harder than I thought. I did lose myself in the beginning. I cancelled my fashion magazines and wore the same thing all the time and didn’t take the time to do the things I enjoyed. It was all baby, all the time, with no space in there for me. And this is natural, I think. It takes time after having children to adjust, this is especially true for the the first one as they rock your world and change everything. Life as you knew it is over, but in a good way.
Finding yourself again is a process, it takes time to realize that you are a person, not just a mom. It takes time to get your relationship with yourself back, and also the relationship with your husband. I think it was nine months after Molly was born before I sat down one day and felt normal again. Sort of like the old me, but better. I took the time to dress better, to make that effort because that is what makes me happy. I went to the gym, ate better, and made more of an effort in my relationship. Now it’s seven years later and I’m still working on taking this time for myself, and realizing that this is necessary for me as a person to feed my soul with what brings me joy. I’m a better mom and wife and all around person when I take this time. These little snippets of me-time (which have thankfully gotten greater as my children have grown), that reintroduce me to myself and my own happiness? These save me. No one can live only for their kids, they have to look inside themselves and discover what they need to feel inner peace. This is an ongoing process for me, a sort of experiment in discovering who I am, little by little.
Tell me, what do you think your greatest strengths are (will be?) as a mom?