2017 is upon us and if you are a parent, I bet some of your New Year’s resolutions will involve your kids. Perhaps, like me, you are planning on more time with your family, more patience, or more presence.
It’s easy to know what kind of parent we want to be. It’s harder to practice good parenting in the moment (especially through the stressful holidays). Certainly, all my parenting ideals are nowhere within reach when my kid is throwing a fit in my parents’ hometown Walmart.
To keep up our resolutions throughout next year and in those moments of reckoning, here are eight mantras to help us parents remember the kind of parent we want to be.
1. Patience is a choice
Patience is not a feeling. It’s not an automatic response. Patience is always a choice -- and it is always an option.
When my daughter knocks over an entire glass of milk, I can make her cry with my frustration, or I can choose to say, "Accidents happen. Don’t worry about it. Let’s clean it up."
When my children are fighting, I can fight too, or I can calmly put them in their separate rooms and drink a hot cup of coffee while they bemoan their fate and pound on the walls.
When we are stuck in traffic, I can cuss out the cars next to me, or I can sing the Anna Kendrick song from Trolls with my children. "‘Cause if you knock knock me over, I will get back up again!"
When I am patient, I teach my children to be patient with themselves, with others, and with "traffic" (i.e., situations out of their control).
2. Because you are four and I am 40
Feel free to insert your child’s age and your age (otherwise, this might be a weird mantra for you, if your child isn’t four and you aren’t 40).
Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we have decades more life experience than our kids.
Why can’t my daughter cheer herself up like I can? Because she is only four and I have had 36 more years of practice at cheering myself up than she has.
Why can’t my son sit still during a performance like I can? Because he is two and I am 38 years older than he is.
Why can’t our kids act like adults? Because they are not adults.
3. I can be the candle snuffer or the gasoline
I always liked to be the usher for church services as a kid, because at the end of the service we got to extinguish the candles with a snuffer. It felt so satisfying. Cover the flame. Cut off the oxygen. The fire goes out.
When our kids are "on fire," we can add fuel by matching their emotions and behaviors, or we can cover them with our calm and patience until their crisis is extinguished.
I can’t yell at my children because they’re yelling. I can’t get frustrated because they are frustrated. I can’t be impatient because they are impatient. I can’t hit them because they are hitting me. I can’t have a meltdown because they are having a meltdown.
I know that matching fire with fire has never, ever helped diffuse a situation or taught my kids to be better humans. Not even once.
4. I can’t expect more of my kids than I expect of myself
I can’t expect them to hurry because I am running late. I can’t expect them to be polite when I am grumpy. I can’t expect them to listen when I don’t listen. And here’s the big one for me … I can’t expect them to pay attention to me when I’m not paying attention to them. They won’t put down their iPad if I don’t put down my phone.
I am the example.
5. Yes, let’s do that right now
How many times a day do I put my kids off? My daughter asks if I can color with her. I say, "Yes, after I have my coffee." My son asks if we can play hide and seek. I say, "Yes, after I make dinner." And at least half the time we never get to the activity.
Or I just say, "No, because …" There’s always a good "because" to go with a "no."
When I was telling a friend that I sometimes find it hard to be present with my children and that, honestly, I don’t always want to play, my friend said, "You only need 10 minutes."
Yes! That had never occurred to me. I was always thinking that I needed to carve out an hour of time, but the truth is that there are a million things we can do with our kids that take 10 minutes. And the payoff is so worth it. When I say, "Yes, let’s color right now," my daughter lights up like a Christmas tree.
6. A little work now or a lot of work later
If I don’t wash out this sippy cup right now, it’ll need to be disinfected later. If I don’t take the energy and get this kid in a time out for hitting right now, I’m going to be picking him up from daycare for hitting a classmate next week. If I don’t teach my daughter how to be a good student as a toddler (I mean behavior, not knowledge), she’s going to struggle in kindergarten -- and maybe beyond.
And, perhaps most importantly, if I don’t teach my son self-discipline now, he’s going to be living in my house at age 35, still refusing to wash the dishes, and watching Blaze and Monster Machines on repeat.
7. Is this a worthy battle?
Kids are people. They need some autonomy, just like people do. They need to feel like they are capable of making some decisions. That’s why, of course, many of us are fond of giving our kids two choices.
"Do you want a peanut butter or a ham sandwich?"
But some children have strong opinions and a passionate will, and sometimes you have to choose your battles. As you begin to engage with one of the things your child feels passionately about, it may help to ask yourself, "Why do I care about this?"
Why do I care if my daughter doesn’t want to brush her hair before school? Why do I care if she opts to take a ratty old stuffed pig to show and tell instead of the art project we worked on for an hour? Why do I care if my son looks absolutely adorable in his pajama costume for the holiday show and refuses to go onstage?
If my answer to any of the above is, "Because I want to look good," or, "Because I don’t want to look bad," it’s not a worthy battle.
My ego will not raise my children.
8. More than anything else, I want to connect with my kids
Of course we know that in the larger picture, our kids are our most important priority. But every once in awhile we focus on the daily routine and lose our real focus.
I can get them dressed, fed and out the door without ever really taking them in -- really knowing them as they are that day. I can hug them hurriedly without feeling them in my arms or smelling their hair.
I can miss the new freckle on my daughter’s face while I rush to brush her teeth, or be so preoccupied trying to get my son dancing on camera that I forget to watch him dancing.
What could possibly be more important than a new freckle and a dance this New Year?