In life parents seem to come in all different shapes and sizes. There are the people who read all the books as soon as they get the little + symbol on the pregnancy test and always seems to be one step ahead of everyone else in terms of knowing what development steps come next and what the latest thinking is on how to take care of every challenging behaviour that your child presents you with. At the other end of the spectrum are the people who don't read a single book but just know what to do, and their children appear to be completely in sync with them, never putting a foot wrong. In the middle you have every possible combination.
Until a couple of months ago I just kind of got on with things and didn't really think much about it. I read a couple of books when Little Miss C was a little baby (after all I had time to read then) but I'd just made up how to deal with tantrums and other things since then. The strategy was working quite well, but now with two of them to look after things weren't going quite so smoothly.
Most weeks I pop along to a lovely little baby and toddler group and rhyme time that is run by my local Children's Centre. It's just a perfect group – not too many people, but a mix of children of all ages and a couple of dad's who attend too (wonderful for a balanced view on things). The two women who run it are great – calm yet enthusiastic, leaders but also laid back. After one particularly challenging morning with LMC I went along to this group and happened to ask one of them if they had any advice on dealing with tantrums as everything I was trying was falling on deaf ears. Luckily I was pointed towards a four week course they run called the Family Toolkit.
The Family Toolkit is four two-hour workshops which look to equip you with a series of skills that you can use within your family to try to enhance family life. The four main building blocks of what we covered were self-awareness & self-esteem, appropriate expectations, empathy and positive discipline. At first I was sceptical, but to be honest they won me over in the first role-play that we did. Maybe I was just wrong not to give any of this much thought before, but talking to others on the course I'm realising I wasn't the only one, so I hope sharing some of what I learnt also helps others.
The role-play which suddenly made me see things differently was one all about listening. In pairs one person sits down and starts to tell the second person all about their day. The second person however remains standing and ignores everything the first person is telling them. Whilst I'm used to the feeling of not being listened to the whole difference in height was really quite enlightening. Even knowing that this was an exercise, a couple of minutes of trying to tell someone something when they were not maintaining any eye contact at all, and the height difference, made me feel really frustrated and like everything I had to say was pointless. Suddenly I understood how Little Miss C must feel on some oaccasions.
Overall the course really made me see so many scenarios differently. There were some things that I can't see working of us, but the balance was very much towards useful hints and techniques. Admittedly there are no magic answers at all, but I do feel much better equipped now to try and keep things at home calm and harmonious. Putting it all into practice is a different matter.
One of the things I found most useful during the course was taking two hours out every week to think about how I parent. Being away from the kids and having this to focus on (rather than a million and one jobs that need doing at home) was quite cathartic. Towards the end of the course we also covered why creating time for yourself as a parent is so important. Just five minutes of peace and quiet with a cup of tea can really recharge your batteries, especially when you're looking after children on your own for a long stint. I'm sure I'm not the only stay at home parent who is jealouse of their other half at work and how they can go to the loo without a full commentary or drink a cup of tea without having to change dirty nappies in the middle of it. Talking to other parents was also incredibly helpful. On so many occassions one person in the room would talk about a challenge they were having, and someone else would suddenly say "oh I had similar and this is what worked for us". It was almost like therapy and I took so many notes whilst there that I have referred to several times since.
Since finishing the course I have to admit that I've found myself going back to some of my old ways and as a result things aren't as good as they were immediately after it. I found it so useful though that I have now signed up for a ten week version which I hope will help me more and in particular enable me to get my head around how to ensure that I stick by what I learn rather than going off track again.
I've also started reading around a few more blogs and websites to read about other's experiences and suggestions and a couple of parenting books have also made it to my to-be-read pile. I also read the book French Children Don't Throw Food - admittedly not everyone's cup of tea, but an interesting and at times thought provoking read, which will get its own blog post very soon.
So, how do you parent and what have you found has helped you in your parenting journey?