Parenting 1 Ohhhh 1

Being an older mother has it's advantages. Firstly I don't feel I am missing out on life, while sitting at home on my couch with my two little ones  softly snoring in their beds. In fact, having the "I don't have a babysitter" excuse is one of the great incentives of parenthood.

Compared to young parents, like my own parents were, I also feel I have, through my many years of gathering life experiences, ideas and opinions, gained a slightly  more mature - dare I say wise - approach to most every day issues when it comes to raising my kids. I have thought about  most things before they even come up and have a smug - ask me anything!! - attitude to most parenting questions.

That was before my kids could talk in full sentences.

 I recently realised that the game has changed. Where as only a week ago, I could approach tantrums and sleep problems in a methodical yet loving and patient way (weeell - mostly...)  and come out of the experience shining brightly - there are now  more and more moments in my life where I am not only left speechless, but also humbled by the simple yet superior logic of my children.

As I am mostly unsure how to put things to a five year old in a way she understand but that does not patronise her, I  often find myself either rambling on too much for too long (only  to realise when I notice her far away look that the issue has run away with me) or I underestimate her intellectual ability and over-simplify matters (which worked beautifully just a couple of days ago, when she was not yet five and a half) .

A little worried by some of her friends behaviour when playing at our house I recently tried to introduce basic play date etiquette into Leah's world. I started off by explaining to her, that it is not nice or polite to keep nagging for things while on a play date in other people's houses.

So -  I brightly launched my first lesson on good behaviour   -  when you play with X at her house,  I don't want you to keep asking her mum for ice cream and sweets. It is not polite behaviour and I want you to wait until you are offered something. Then you are allowed to say, yes please.

(and I am pretty sure you are all nodding in agreement here....)

When she asked why, I basically told her about accepted social behaviour, especially if you want to be asked back, but realised after a while, that she had stopped listening (counting her fingers in different combinations whilst trying to whistle at the same time was a hint).

Did you understand, what I just said? I asked her.
Yeeesss - she said with that bored melodic elongated eeeeeeeeeeee.

OK, can you maybe tell me?

That  I can't have ice cream when I want it.

Aehhhhmmmm - essentially yes....that what it comes down to.

After I stopped laughing I started - not for the first time this week - thinking that maybe I should revise my  learned rules of behaviour. Go back in time  to a 5 year old perspective (or 3 or 15 depending on whom I am trying to communicate with) before I start with my well intended life lessons.

So instead of blabbing on about social conventions and how to be polite, I could also be to the point and more authentic by saying:

When out on a play date, you can't ask for things when you want them. You wait until they are offered to you and hope that the responsible adult can read your mind. 

The moment Leah summed it up for me:( I can't ask for what I want, when I want it )- this rule of accepted good behaviour immediately stopped making sense to me. Why should she not ask for ice cream when she wants it?

Surely the better lesson to teach my child would be to graciously accept a "no"  rather than  to hide from the world what she really wants? (this is how we come to despise our  partners later in life when they don't telepathically absorb what we really want from them but stubbornly refuse to tell them. Ever.)

Growing up it was drilled into me that it is impolite to ask for what I want. Mainly - it now occurs to me - to save others from having to say no - because if there is anything more frowned upon than asking for what you want,  it is saying "no" to people.

And in order to save us from the discomfort of saying "no", we teach our children not to ask.

So that  years later - as well adjusted grown ups -  they will have to  spend lots of hours and money in therapy  re-learning how to say no to people and ask for what they want instead of expecting others to mind read their needs and wishes?

Doesn't really make sense now does it?

The only question is  whether life might  be easier for my children if they conformed to socially accepted behaviour rather than being true to themselves at the expense of being regarded as different or badly behaved.

And as I am writing this, it occurs to me that more than anything I wish for them to have the courage and ability to be true to themselves. With that in mind another of my great theories is that being different is really a good thing as it adds variety and spice to life and makes people into interesting individuals.

What my daughter taught me this week is that I need to start applying those wonderful theories (my 1 oooh 1 of parenting) to life itself, as there is hardly any point in telling children to be themselves - when we make them blindly follow rules that clearly promote the exact opposite.

And as I was still reeling from that blow to my mother ego - I had a chat with a 15 year old, which again left me feeling catapulted out of my comfort zone. What she said was:

I don't get it how my parents tell me to respect myself and my  body when it comes to sexual experiences. What they're really saying  is to only respect my body if the message is "no to sex" for as long as possible. But if I want to have the experience in a safe, healthy and loving way would that not be respecting myself and my body?

................ that's me speechless once more.

The bottom line is that in parenting from age 2 to 15 and beyond it is much more important to listen to and really communicate with my children rather than to tell them things - and learn along the way how to  fill all those beautifully written yet empty words with real life content.

Am going to have ice cream now....



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