OK, my kids don’t really run the house, but I wasn’t sure how to title this post. 😉 When you’re a parent, you have to decide what’s most important to you, and let some other things slide. When we had a second child, then a third, I felt like I had to pick & choose a little more. When you have a child with special needs and/or suffer from anxiety and depression, it can sometimes feel like a battle to get through the days, and hope you don’t screw your kids up.
I’m sure there’s someone out there with 5 kids, a perfectly neat house with no dishes or laundry waiting to be put away, who showers daily and is dressed with her hair done and makeup on every day…whose kids are always clean, never turn in a homework assignment late (or homeschool), always have perfect manners and eat their homemade meals without complaint. If that’s you, pat yourself on the back, then keep it to yourself, mmkay? (Kidding – sorta.) Personally, I struggled to balance the very different needs of 3 children, a husband, a household and a work-at-home job, so as a result, some things just weren’t as important. I aimed to have toys put away (in a tote or on a shelf was all right with me.) As long as they weren’t on the floor, I no longer cared if all the cars were in one tote and all the trains were in another. My housework schedule went to pot as I spent all day just maintaining and keeping up with the mess.
I don’t talk a lot about my 9 year old, but she has special challenges. If you have a child with a mood disorder, or a child beyond strong willed/spirited, you might enjoy the book The Explosive Child (affiliate link.) I purchased it at the recommendation of a medical professional, and it’s my new favorite (I’ve read a zillion.) The basic premise is to avoid “Plan A,” which is the authoritarian method of parenting (You must do this because I’m the parent and a say so), use “Plan C” when you can (simply letting things go that aren’t important, either for that moment, or for the forseeable future.) For example, if you are working on controlling rage episodes, or getting your child out of the house on time, you might decide that socks being left on the floor is an issue you don’t need to spend your energy on right now. The goal is to use “Plan B.” Identify the concerns of both parties and come to an equitable solution – ideally having your child brainstorm the idea. I won’t spend a lot of time talking about that since it’s not the focus of this post but it has really helped us a lot.
The issues with my daughter are very time & energy consuming. When you’re living in the fog of a child with emotional & behavior issues and under your own anxiety/depression cloud, choosing your battles is more than a good idea. While I’ve made a conscious effort to “plan C” what I can, I realize that with my perfectionist personality, I’ve had to let things go in order to keep my sanity.
When something gets “plan C’ed” for one child, it trickles down and becomes plan C for the other two by default at times. For example, when my second child was born, I mentioned that I became fairly lax on the snacks for my oldest, and it got to the point that she didn’t even ask as long as the snack she was choosing was “healthy;” she just helped herself. As a result, the other two followed suit and everyone got in the habit of “grazing,” not wanting to eat meals, and constantly asking for snacks.
In the toddler feeding class I’m taking, the #1 thing I learned was to structure all meals and snacks. This was step one of taking my house back from these kiddos. 😉 My job is to put healthy foods on the table and eat with them, their job is to choose what to eat and how much. Over the course of several days, their diets balance out, even if they decide to eat only dinner rolls at one meal. There’s no nagging because they know we only eat at meal & snack times. There’s no stress about eating because they eat what they want, even if that means they don’t eat anything at that meal (though I make sure at least one food at each meal is acceptable for each child.) This has been truly life changing for us. No exaggeration.
The other thing I’ve let go a lot is our “screen time” limit. It’s only been a few weeks since we transitioned our 2 1/2 year old from bedsharing, but I feel like a new person. I am very guilty of not sticking to our “two show” and one hour Kindle/iPad screen time rule. It was a slippery slope of allowing “one more show” so I could get things done – yes lazy mom here, but if I want to clean the bathrooms without having a disaster occur, the TV works. We put a code on our TV so the kids couldn’t turn it on without our help, and we are keeping electronics out of reach, and setting a timer for the hour. Having the screen time very structured with no exceptions means they don’t even ask anymore. They know what the rules are and there’s no need to beg and plead for another show since the rules & limits are much more clearly defined & enforced than before.
I don’t think I’m at all strict, nor am I totally lax, but I’m seeing how much better my kids are thriving with structure. Though in the short term it’s a little harder to stick with it, it’s greatly reduced my stress overall. I feel much more capable of keeping my cool and I feel like I’m in control. I even received compliments at the grocery store checkout for how I handled an “I want candy” meltdown. I try not to care what people think but it felt good to have someone say something positive to me, and that I was able to smile and speak calmly to my son rather than grit my teeth, cheeks flushed, blood pressure rising praying to get out of there as fast as possible.
I’ve turned into the bedtime enforcer and again, it has actually made bedtime more pleasant, not less so. We had issues with toys in the family room not being put away, toy shelves being dumping grounds for junk, and everyone freaking out because their brother was touching their stuff. My rule of “if it’s in the family room, it’s community property” was falling on deaf ears. So, I took charge, we sorted through toys and moved everything neatly to bedrooms. The only toys left in the family room are the 2 year old’s (since he can’t play in his room by himself) and shared toys like the Lincoln Logs and Magneatos. It is so much less stressful and much easier to keep clean. We also revamped our chore chart system (the kids earn poker chips for chores, which they can trade in for prizes or extra screen time) to focus on things that require extra motivation, and I’ve been better and handing chips out every day, to reinforce behaviors.
Lately, I’m feeling like a competent parent, and like I might actually raise this sweet kids into great adults! The kids are thriving on the new structure, especially my daughter, who needs very clear, firm limits and consequences. I didn’t realize how much structure would help her too. I really credit finally getting some sleep, as well as an hour or so without kids before bed, for my motivation to get back in the motherhood saddle. I feel a bit like I’ve been in the newborn baby fog for the past several years.
I just want to note that if you see a child in public with a dirty shirt or uncombed hair, their parents aren’t bad parents. You really have no idea what their situation is, and they may have made hair brushing “plan C!”
Are there things that you have “let go” since having children? What are things you find are absolutely necessary for your sanity, or to keep your children happy & healthy?