I think there is one concept that – if adopted as fact by us mommies – will make parenting a lot easier. And that is this. Children don’t really know what’s best for them. Someone somewhere started a rumor that, even from babies, we know what’s best for us. This rumor was based on the fact that, even from babies, we know what we want. Kids know what they want and they know what they think they don’t want. They have opinions – thank goodness for that – and they want you to know them. This happens long before they can talk.
The goal is to shower our children with love, fun and attention while doing what is ultimately best for them. This doesn’t mean no chocolate, missed naps or late bedtimes ever. It also doesn’t mean we don’t listen to their opinions, desires and preferences. It does mean, however, that we know the buck stops with us and that it’s our job as parents to think long-term. We want to Start out how we can Hold Out and do what’s best for them. This will not always necessarily be what’s best to them. Some areas where this plays out.
(1) Sleeping habits. From an early age babies will fight sleep if we don’t orient them in the right direction. I’ve written on the Importance of Sleep and boy, is it important. I use Babywise but there are probably a thousand other methods of training our little ones to sleep and to sleep well. But there will come a time when your baby will just fight sleep. Then – long before they are old enough to drop naps – they’ll try to stop napping. Then at bedtime, they’ll stall and talk and linger and ask for water and do any manner of things to postpone bedtime. Why? Because they don’t want to sleep. Do they understand that sleep is good? No. Do they understand how desperately we’d like to have naptime and an 8pm bedtime? No. They are too young and immature (not in the negative sense, but in the sense that they are not yet mature) to understand how important it is for their brain, mood and development to sleep. Sleep is an area early on a mother will have to know deep inside that she does what she does for their best interest and when they try to convince her otherwise – not to relent.
(2) Eating. Dinnertime can be a battlefield in some houses. You make dinner, they don’t want it. You bake some fish sticks, they decide they want banana. You give them banana, they throw it on the floor. Or, they want to stuff themselves with candy and chocolate and skip dinner. Shoot, sometimes I want to stuff myself with french fries and Reese’s and skip dinner. Even from birth some newborns just want to snack a minute here or two and stop. Then 30 minutes later do it again. Some mothers don’t mind this, but this would have sent me to the insane asylum in 3 weeks. Then comes puree hell when you spend time roasting pumpkins and squash and give it a dash of cinnamon and pray like crazy they’ll eat it. You walk sombrely to the high chair with your plastic cup and spoon and hope the baby will eat the veggies. When they’re older they may start refusing to eat at all if you let them. Or, if they don’t love it they’ll take a bite or two and beg to get down. This is when a mother learns to balance cooking things that taste good with things that are healthy, and where you don’t become a short order cook whipping up whatever they request on a whim. Throw out the circus act. Make food, let them eat it. If they don’t, let them wait until the next meal. This way you can ferret out their actual preferences vs their attempts to use meal time to assert their growing independence.
(3) Health, safety and hygiene practices. Toddlers don’t innately know that walking into the road is bad. Children don’t understand that playing with knives is dangerous. Some kids would never take a bath if you didn’t make them and all out refuse to let a toothbrush in their mouths. Kids have opinions and desires – which we’ve agreed is a good thing – but these opinions and desires must be tempered by your wisdom and care. When they climb onto the top of the couch and look as if they’re going to superman dive on to the tile below, we mothers readily step in to save the day. Why? Because we know they don’t understand. They will think they don’t need to take their vitamins, that doing a cart-wheel down the slide is safe, and that shampoo is just for dogs, but we mothers know better. And this is the time when we enforce certain things on our children not out of an attempt to dominate, but out of an attempt to teach them the things that come naturally to us, but that they don’t yet know.
(4) Instant gratification vs delayed gratification situations. One thing that children are not good at – and many adults as well if we’re honest – is delaying gratification. Kids want to play first and do homework later… if they feel like it. They want to buy aisle 3 of Toys ‘R Us on your credit card and then work it off dusting their bookshelf once a month. Working for something and getting rewarded later is difficult. Let’s face it, it’s difficult for us grown-ups too. But, I assure you, it is a quality that will pay your children dividends for the rest of their life if you work this right. You will teach patience, hard work, saving, prioritizing time, etc. Of course they’ll fight it. That is to be expected. But, the more you more delayed gratification for them and the more you implement things into your parenting that build this level of self-control in children the more natural it will become for them. A friend of mine said she taught her kids the importance of Finishing what you Start. Now, at nearly 10, her daughter finishes one task before moving to the next, cleans up one area before dirtying the next, etc. She has a certain built-in level of self-control that will surely serve her well later. Your kids will not naturally want to delay any type of gratification, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t good for them.
We parents have an aerial view. I heard an illustration one time that we are like people in a car driving down the road. We see what’s ahead of us, and not even that far ahead. God is like the pilot in the helicopter who has an aerial view. He sees the accident ahead, the brush fire on the right, and the step cliff on the left. If we follow His advice He can lead us through to safety. We parents are in a similarly privileged position. We can see how our little ones’ choices – if left unguided – will drive them right off a cliff, into a brick wall, or get them stuck in a traffic jam. This is where we have to make decisions based on their best interests, not the things that interest them best.