November 18, 2014 by Julia
The benefits of good parenting for children are obvious; but parents have a lot to gain, too – the main reward being the fulfillment of some of our deepest, most instinctual longings. Few experiences are as satisfying as realizing that you have done the right thing by your child. It may be a tender moment, or a tough one, or a hilarious one, or a proud one. These moments are what many of us envisioned and hoped for when we chose to become parents.
It’s easy to get discouraged, though, as we stumble along. Our children are real and complicated – they’re beautiful, but they’re not illustrations from picture books. By the same token, we can’t always live up to the standards we set for ourselves as parents.
So we have to remind ourselves of all our little “wins” throughout the day. Heck, let’s make ourselves a trophy wall if it keeps us going! (A metaphorical one, unless you want other parents to give you the side-eye on play dates.) Yes, give yourself a trophy for getting your kid to school on time today. Did you pack a decent lunch, or send in the forms for his upcoming field trip? Give yourself another! And another for reading books to your toddler for a half an hour. And another for mending her favorite toy with thread and a needle.
This is the stuff that matters.
Those thousands of tiny parenting successes are like rain and sun for our children’s roots. They add up. And to celebrate them encourages me. I am pretty sure that if you’re a parent, you’ve got a substantial amount of wins under your belt, too.
As I start to bring more awareness to my own “parenting wins,” I like to define what constitutes one, exactly – which in turn brings more joy to those kinds of moments.
So, these are some examples of what I consider parenting wins:
Parenting win: A good idea for playtime comes to you. You make it happen. And your kid LOVES it.
Whenever Jack happens to be around a volleyball court, he treats it like his own personal giant sand box, and will play in it for at least an hour, even without toys.
So I decided to bring a bunch of sand toys with us to the local volleyball court and let him go to town. He didn’t even care about the nearby playground.
We brought monster trucks, shovels, bad guys, dinosaurs, buckets and a toy cement mixer. It was a gorgeous fall day. The sand was damp enough to mold into whatever we wanted. We made ramps, castles, and most successfully, a volcano. All that space was was delightfully liberating – no need to yell “Keep it in the sandbox!!” umpteenth times.
No doubt someone has already made this idea Pinterest-ready, but somehow the fact that I came up with it on my own, that it worked out, and that Jack was in heaven made it a proud moment for me, regardless of the clean up afterwards. (And yeah, we smashed the volcano down when we were done in case anyone actually wanted to play volleyball there.)
Parenting win: You do something educational or active with your kid. Your kid loves it.
As parents, we are keenly aware of all that our children have yet to learn, of how much exercise they’re getting, of whether or not they’ve mastered certain skills or have been outside yet today. If we can go to a nature center, ride bikes, touch animals, read books, or hit a kids’ museum, that is something we all feel good about. Fun + good for the child’s growing brain and/or body = win.
Parenting win: You have to set a new boundary for your kid, and they don’t love it. But you stand firm if you believe it’s important, and your entire family reaps the reward.
As I’ve written about here plenty of times, Jack has meltdowns. Tantrums. You know the deal. They are sometimes so bad all we can do is wait it out. But for a while, his tantrums were happening more often than we could handle as a family…in part because we had no plan for how to deal with it. Not that I was rewarding his tantrums – but I certainly felt defeated by them.
Anyway, after several conversations with my mom and my husband and a little trial and error, we figured out two methods for dealing with Jack’s behavior:
1. If he starts to get aggressive or out-of-control angry, he goes into a three minute “time-out” on a small area rug by the front door. He picks something to snuggle with, I set the timer for three minutes, and he calms himself down. He’s then willing to apologize if necessary. It has turned into a time-out in the true meaning of the term, more than a punishment. Some days, he even seems to welcome it.
2. When he is really testing us, we can tell him that his consequence will be to lose one or both of his bedtime books that night. For some reason, this has yet to fail. He’s lost both his books only once.
Of course these methods won’t work for every preschooler, but in our case, the tantrums have lessened, we feel more in control, and it feels right. Win!
Parenting win: You get your kid to open up about something they are struggling with, and you are able to provide help and love.
Parenting win: You have family traditions that you are proud of.
All of those rituals that we keep around holidays and birthdays are a big part of binding our families together and creating a sense of home.
Parenting Win: You embrace your family’s quirks, funny habits and particular tastes.
This is where things can be really fun. When you’re with family, you can get weird and no one can get up and leave, because they live with you. There are no mean-girl cliques around to make fun of your faux-accents or funny walks, your morbid jokes or absurd catchphrases that make no sense. I mean, your kids can ridicule you, but who cares? Anyway, they love it, deep down. That reminds me, I’ve always wanted to adopt Ray Romano’s SNL sportscaster catchphrase, “Sweet sassy molassy!” Family means being able to say sweet sassy molassy if you feel like it, without danger of ostracism.
Parenting Win: You add enriching layers to everyday experiences.
I was playing with the kids one Saturday morning a few weeks ago when I got the idea to turn on a song from My Little Pony:Friendship is Magic (Great show, by the way) called Raise This Barn. The objective of our game was to build a city of soft blocks on the kitchen floor by the end of the song – no block left behind. It was super fun. We had little crazy-askew cities when the song ended, Jack got to destroy them, and then we’d do it all over again.
I think it worked for us because of various satisfying layers: the familiar story line of the show, music, building, dramatic tension (to finish on time), and humor.
I’m kind of using this term “layer” as though it’s an accepted thing that people say. But you know what I mean, right? The “layer” I usually add to any experience is music, but some others are: scented candles, opened windows, cozy blankets, special lights, physical affection, just the right kind of food or drink for the weather – anything that makes it more of a moment.
Parenting win: You do something with your kid that you both enjoy.
Bonus points if this activity is neither a video game or watching a movie. That stuff is good to connect over, and I am all for sharing favorite movies (can’t wait to show them The Princess Bride!!) or getting invested in games. But if we make the effort, we might be surprised at what other mutual interests we share with our kids.
My husband Dennis and Fiona are both artists at heart – and the funny part is, they are interested in the same aspects of fine art: drawing characters with pencil and plain paper. (Dennis animates characters on the computer, too, which Fiona enjoys watching.) It’s more about the line work, detail, action and expressiveness for them than it is about color or craftiness. So they started doing “drawing classes” on some Saturdays, and their first lesson involved drawing the Powerpuff Girls, of course.
You don’t necessarily have to bond over a shared talent, though. I’ve found that I love building with Legos at LEAST as much as the kids do (okay, more than the kids do).
I also enjoy kicking a ball around with Jack, reading new picture books from the library, or hiking through woods. It’s good for our kids to see us enjoying these things, and they love it when we are enjoying it WITH them.
Parenting Win: You get the sense that you are making memories with your kid.
We’ve started playing hide-and-seek as a family before bed, sometimes. There is something special about all of us playing together, just for fun. It might only be five minutes, but I have the feeling that the kids will remember it, in the same way I remember playing Stewpot with my dad and sister (in which our dad “the giant” threw us screaming girls onto the “stewpot” couch for his dinner) or my mom making Christmas ornaments with us. If we’re paying attention, we might recognize a memory as it’s being made.
Now, before you start to think I am just WINNING! all the time at this parenting thing (regular readers know better), let me confess: Jack watched TV all day yesterday while I cleaned the house and did laundry. We took a one hour break midday to play and read books. That’s it. He ate breakfast and lunch in front of the TV, too. He probably logged around eight hours total.
I didn’t feel great about it – but I didn’t beat myself up about it, either. Because we needed laundry done and the house cleaned. And it was just one day. He doesn’t watch that much TV every day. The previous week we’d been all over the place, doing fun, active, educational stuff, and I know the rest of this week we’ll do more of those kinds of things. You lose some days in order to keep the big picture good.
My point is not that we need to do more as parents, but that we have already done a lot of good, that we are doing it. If not in this exact moment, maybe later this afternoon. And the more we can reflect on those tiny successes, the better about ourselves we’ll feel, and the more capable of continuing on that path we’ll be.
So I congratulate you, fellow parents, on your wins!
And I wish you inspiration as you forge your own path through good parenting.