In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m running a mini-series featuring useful tips for mothers. Nobody gave me an instruction manual when I brought my first child home from the hospital. My husband had already gone back to work, my mother was a hundred miles away, and I was the first of my girlfriends to have a baby. When my son started to cry in his bassinet, I was on my own. He cried and I wanted to cry along with him. I looked down at this little cute baby in his bassinet and I thought, I have absolutely no idea what to do! I scooped up my newborn son and held him close, his heart beating against my own, feeling at a total loss. I thought, if this kid is counting on me to guide him through life, then he is in big trouble. At that moment, I longed for another mother down the road who’d tell me what to do and assure me in a soothing voice that I was going to be all right.
Motherhood is the first job that I couldn’t prepare for. I had read some child-raising books but I couldn’t make sense of them before I had my own children, and after I had my own children, I couldn’t make time for them. I didn’t want psychological theories, anyway: I wanted practical suggestions. I wanted simple, sensible rules for raising kids.
Now, more than two decades since I looked down at my first baby in his bassinet, I can say that I’ve learned a great deal. My husband and I raised six kids and unofficially adopted a seventh. We’re not experts and our kids are far from perfect. But they’re responsible, independent and happy young adults so I can count that as a job well done!
I used to want to be Super-Mom; I dreamed of having my children crown me “Best Mother on the Planet.” But over the years I’ve learned is that there is no mother on earth who is perfect…and yet every mother is perfect in her own way, trying as best as she can. Motherhood is a thankless job and yet it is filled with wonders. Your kids carry around your heart and soul and yet at the same time, they can drive you crazy. Here are the tools I used to help me when my children were growing up and I’m passing them on to you.
- Give the Five-Minute Option.
This rule is miraculous. Instead of telling the kids, “Please turn off the computer.” And then yelling at the kids, “Please turn off the computer now!” And then stomping over and saying, “How many times do I have to ask you to turn off the computer?” You can ask, “Do you want to shut off the computer now or in five minutes?”
No matter what, they are going to say, “In five minutes.” Then say, “OK, in five minutes I’ll give you the signal and I’ll expect you to turn off the computer.” This works! You can ask them to set an egg-timer. You can ring a bell. You can bang on a pot.
This works because it gives your children a sense of power and control.
One of our children told me the other day, “I can’t believe we fell for that five-minute option every time!”
- (This is supposed to be #2 but I can’t get rid of that #1): Remember that our children are our mirrors.
Children reflect our attitudes. If we’re calm, they’re calm. When we’re annoyed and angry, they throw fits and then we get angrier and they act even worse. As hard as it is, we have to stay on top of our emotions. Emotional control is more important than situational control. That means that sometimes it’s better to lose a fight with your kid than to lose control—of yourself. If you spin out of control, they’ll spin out of control, too.
As hard as it is during a crisis, try to stop and calm yourself down. If at all possible, go into the bathroom, even for 30 seconds, close the door and breathe deeply. Wash your face, look in the mirror and smile at yourself—you gotta laugh—and then go out, refreshed. They won’t be this age forever. And I can promise you, you will not remember this. Nor will they!
3. Don’t Over-explain.
I told my kids what I wanted them to do. I didn’t go into detailed explanations about why they should do it. I didn’t say that I’d be angry if they didn’t do it. (It’s not good to control kids with our anger.) I didn’t say that they never do this or that they always do that. I got right to the point. Simple declarative statements work best. “Why, Mom?” “Because it’s important.” “That’s our rule.” Or: “Because it’s not appropriate.”
You don’t have to give long-winded explanations to your children about why you want them to do something. As my friend, Kate, used to joke with me, “Act like you’re their mother.” You are the grown-up. Do not give up your power because then you’ll always struggle to get it back. You have the right to make decisions until they reach a certain age and then they can make decisions for themselves.
Coming up tomorrow, on threats, attention, and teaching kids how to talk big and act big.
These tips are dedicated to my kids. It’s been a privilege and an honor to be part of the gang. I’ve come to believe that motherhood is learned and earned.
One small change in our own behavior as mothers can transform our family’s daily life.