Parenting: Outwit, Outlast, Outplay

As a Mother every so often I get all deep and philosophical and wonder.. What IS Parenting? What does it MEAN to be a mother? What is that sticky thing on my jumper?!

I’ll never know how things stay so constantly sticky (although I’ve learned to accept it), but I think I have figured out what it is to be a parent. The meaning of Motherhood. What I strive to achieve each day of their glorious little lives.

I have come to the realisation that most of my parenting day is trying to find ways of outwitting mini humans. Two little people, one who thinks if he covers his eyes I can’t see him, and the other who thinks farting in the bath is the funniest thing since time began . . yes, I spend my day trying to outwit them.

And what’s worse, is that I feel smug about it when I pull it off. I’m 37 years old! Rian is almost FOUR! I think things like ‘Bahahahahahahaha HA you lose!’ when I successfully manage to distract one from something I didn’t want him to do. Or when I manage to eat a biscuit in the same building as them without them noticing. I’m surprised nobody has taken either of them off to some lab somewhere for extensive research into their supersonic hearing capabilites – these two can hear a wrapper opening from 100 paces. Not only that, but their supersonic travel capabilities upon hearing said wrapper, appearing at your side at alarming speed DEMANDING to know what is it? What’s in your mouth? What’s in your hand?  ‘What you have, Mama?’

Nothing sweetheart it’s nothing, just a bit of…. broccoli! For ages I thought I deserved the honour of becoming Outwitting Champ of the World when I told Rian that all of the things I didn’t want him eating were spicy, because he doesn’t like spicy food. So for a while it was so liberating – I could eat whatever I wanted and look at him regretfully and tell him it was spicy. No questions asked – he looked at me through squinted eyes now and then, as if suspicious that his loving trusting mother would lie to him, but he moved on and went about his daily business making things generally sticky around the house. However, sometime over the last couple of months, something has changed. I don’t know where he’s getting his information from, maybe we have a mole living in our midst, but now he has started to question me. ‘Oh no no Rian you wouldn’t like this horrible Jaffa Cake. It’s very very spicy’. Squinty eyes. ‘It’s spicy eh? LET ME TRY SOME AND SEE MAMA’. Game over.

The problem is, I’ve now met my best match, twice. It’s basically me, trying to outwit smaller versions of me! They’ve inherited all my best moves, I’ve passed on all my shiniest pearls of wisdom. They know what I’m up to, sometimes before I even know myself! Arguing with Rian one day in some restaurant about something I can’t remember now, but 5 full minutes into intense negotiations with him and I suddenly couldn’t help laughing as it dawned on me, I’m negotiating with a mini male version of myself. What hope have I got?!

So the Outwit, Outlast war rages on. Like any good stealth combat type soldier I will always try and stay one step ahead, always stay focused, don’t let them see my weaknesses! Always remembering though, you win some, you lose some. And I have to admit, on the days I lose, at least I can look myself in the eye and say to myself, I taught them well.

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Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

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Let’s Talk About Emotions

{Also published on The M Word }

I’ll be clear from the start: Most of the time, I’ve NO IDEA how to handle this situation.

But now that we’ve established our three-year-olds are essentially walking bundles of emotional confusion, what can we do to help them – and ourselves – get through it? Well, here’s what I’ve discovered on my quest to find out.

Last summer, when Rian was two and that all important half, I started seeing that he was randomly slapping other kids, for no apparent reason other than, ‘they’re toddlers, sometimes they just do that’, as people explained when I asked about it, and what I could do about it. It was quite stressful, if he did it to kids we knew, or kids we didn’t know, all I could do was apologise and try and make it clear to Rian in that moment that we do not slap people..however, during some research into it and how to handle it properly, I came across a recommendation for a book called The Colour Monster. Sold.

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Sniffy & The Colour Monster

The Colour Monster by Anna Llenas is a book about identifying emotions for children.

Any research I did about the slapping incidents, or major meltdowns in general which were starting to become more frequent, all told me what we already know – they don’t call them the Terrible Twos or Threenagers etc for nothing. Toddlers don’t know what the emotions they’re feeling are, or how to manage them.

To be fair, and perfectly honest, a lot of the time I find it hard to control MY emotions (specifically, impatience and temper), so how can I expect a two or three year old to be able to do it?

My research also explained how emotional intelligence is something that ideally should be taught from a very young age so that we can learn to control and understand how we feel in lots of situations, not just as kids, but as adults too. So I figured it was worth a shot.

When the book arrived, we started reading it for our bedtime stories. It’s a quick book, a line or two per page with really lovely illustrations. It takes you through five emotions: Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Calm. It assigns a colour to each emotion and explains that sometimes you can feel lots of things at once, when all your ‘colours’ feel all mixed up.

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After a few reads, Rian knew all the words. The slapping continued every now and then, and all I could really do was intervene each time and firmly explain why we don’t slap other people. Of course it was still stressful and I went through all the usual worry of, am I doing this wrong?

Tantrums are par for the course and so they continued, and still happen – in fact we just had one about an hour ago (side note, he’ll be four soon enough… they stop at four, right??!!). But what started to change was that he was identifying how he felt… and I’m no expert, but I think this is the important bit.

For example, just the other night, Alex merely sat on my lap to read a book, so naturally by his three-year-old logic, this was deemed as a valid reason for Rian to have a big meltdown. At the height of a tantrum, (on the days I manage to keep myself calm too – let’s be completely honest; it’s not easy), I just weather the storm and wait for it to pass. Once it does, I ask does he want to cuddle for a minute. Sometimes he does, and other times, its as if nothing had ever happened… like a switch flicking from complete chaos to complete calm..!

But on the days where he takes up my offer of a cuddle, I talk to him about it. This is where The Colour Monster comes into it and where I’ve found it an amazing help.

I started noticing that he’d tell me he was feeling like ‘The Red Colour Monster’ when he was angry. Another day he came over to me, and out of nowhere just asked for a cuddle because he felt ‘like the Blue Colour Monster’. Another time he asked me if I was happy ‘like the Yellow Colour Monster?’… and so I knew that he was at least learning to identify each emotion with a label, to recognise each one and differentiate between them.

Now I’m no expert, maybe this would have happened anyway as he got over each stage of development, I don’t know. But the book most certainly helped us talk about it in a way he could easily understand and picture in his mind. So back to the other night when he had a tantrum over Alex sitting on my lap, without me even asking him he walked over, got the book, opened it on the Red page and told me ‘This is how I feel Mama!’

Thankfully, the slapping phase is over, can’t say I’m looking forward too much to Alex getting to this stage, with any luck he’ll skip it altogether… yeah I won’t hold my breath! But if you’re reading this and are nodding along knowingly, in the same boat, then I can’t recommend this book enough. There’s a similar one too by Dr Seuss called My Many Coloured Days – we came across this one a while after The Colour Monster, and I really liked it too but we had already gotten to know The Colour Monster so I just stuck with that one.

I don’t think there’s a ‘too early’ stage, Rian was two and a half when I bought it – if they’re sitting long enough to look at books for any length of time, then give it a go. Go forth and unravel that little bundle of confusion!

Anyway, don’t forget, the very second you happen to figure out one confusing phase, they’ll leave you behind,  move on to the next one and you can start all over again…

The Threenage Years

Let me start by saying, I feel slightly betrayed by my parenting predecessors. I got warned about things like sleepless nights, explosive nappies, teething, and the start of the tantrums, right up to the Terrible Twos. So you could forgive me for assuming that once we cleared those murky waters that it would be more or less plain sailing til the teenage hormones kick in.

NOT SO.

Let me introduce the Threenager. For those of you with first children under 3, or those of you lucky enough to be given children of relatively sound and logical reasoning minds, a Threenager is your worst nightmare of emotions all bundled up in one big knot lodged in the already unstable mind of a developing child. This recipe makes for very confusing times for everyone involved.

The most surprising thing about becoming a parent was just how much I have learned about myself. I used to wonder what sort of a mother I would be, promising myself I would definitely do this, and I definitely wouldn’t do that. What I wasn’t expecting was to be confronted with aspects of my own personality that I didn’t know about – and, honestly – that I don’t really like!

First up – turns out, I am not a patient person.

There is nothing, NOTHING more frustrating than trying to get a three year old to eat his dinner. It is a form of mental torture. ‘Eat your dinner….. yes haha I can see your snot; eat your dinner. No, I don’t know what kind of dinosaur that is or why he is purple, but eat your dinner. Stop licking things please, just eat your dinner. Yes, you do like it, you’ve eaten this dinner a million times, happily. EAT. YOUR. DINNER!’ … …..breathe. Repeat.

I’m sure this torturous experience must surely have been used on prisoners of war to try and break them. ‘Tell us what you know, or we’ll force you to convince this here Threenager to eat his carefully made, lovingly prepared nutritious meal.’ Ten minutes max would have done the trick. I’d have cracked anyway, in a matter of seconds! Just don’t make me try and reason with a three year old, anything but that!

Another factor in the Patience department is the sheer repetitiveness of the questions firing at you like bullets. Anything from your standard ‘Why?’ on repeat to questioning your driving skills. If we are stopped in traffic, for example ‘ Why are we stopped, why are you not driving, drive please, where are we going, why are we not driving, why are we stopped? ‘  All the way to ‘ Ok, who is driving, Mam are you driving? ‘ (he is still rear facing so can’t see which particular chauffeur is on duty ) – honestly it’s a constant interrogation designed to break you down. IT WORKS.

Temper.

It used to be easy enough to predict the temper tantrums, (not that you’ll ever understand them, LOL, silly you) –  but you can learn to predict what might kick them off. Like if you cut toast the wrong way, or if you peeled a banana the wrong way, or even if you just peeled the banana. Even if you only peeled it because they asked you to. Don’t waste your time thinking how unfair and unjust it is, just try and learn to go with it. Expect some random outbursts – once you learn to expect them that’s half the battle. Eventually you figure out the triggers of the tantrums, you even start to feel a bit smug about the fact you figured out what starts them. But then they go and change the rules again.

Sometimes all it takes is for you to walk into the room. ‘NO MAMA DON’T DO THAT OK?!’ ….’Ehhhhhh ookkkk’… and he’s off. Melt down.

Then approximately 4.2 seconds later they’re skipping up to you, hugging you telling you they love you and asking can they have chocolate for dinner. To be fair, I would love chocolate for my dinner too.

WTF you might wonder? Beats the hell out of me I’m afraid. I’m sure I wasn’t this bad when I was three; they must get it from their Dad…

Moving on – Ok, I’m just going to come out and say it: 3 year olds can be proper A**HOLES.

The main difference here between your Threenager and your Terrible-Two year old, is that the fear is gone. They don’t care what way you try and bribe them, or what you threaten to not give them. They just don’t care. In fact they’ll almost encourage you to challenge them just so that they can say it. NO!

The fear is gone and they don’t give a sh*t. It becomes a battle of wills. The worst bit is when they do it in a public place so the only weapon of armour you have is to glare forcefully at them and hope they comply. They don’t. (Side note, I’m not promoting fear as a parenting tool. I’m not for a minute suggesting anyone uses that to try and control behaviour! I just mean, they just do not care what toy they will no longer have, or what treat they will no longer earn for good behaviour. No fear!)

 

So yet again I find myself in a battle of wits with someone half my size. And half the time I seem to lose as well. To be fair, half the time I admire his tenacity, his unwillingness to just accept a situation, and I hope he fights what he perceives as unfairness with this level of passion throughout his life! But while he’s in Threenage mode, and while it’s me he’s fighting… it’s just so mentally draining!

Having a Threenager is often like carrying a mirror around, one that reflects not only a physical mini version of yourself or your other half, but one that reflects how you act, your mannerisms, things you say. I’ve asked myself ‘Where does he get that from?!’ when I hear a frustrated ‘Come ON, I don’t have time for this!’ directed at his 19 month old baby brother. Or when his Playschool teacher apparently told him ‘ We don’t shout “Jesus Christ!”‘, or my favourite, ‘Mama says it’s important to share’ when he sees anyone anywhere opening a bar of chocolate or a packet of sweets. Chancer.

So I find myself in a constant state of utter confusion, frustration and admiration all rolled into one, being around my Threenager.

However, I have come to the conclusion that it all comes down to picking your battles. This is as much a learning experience for me as it is for them. Don’t try and fight it, after much experimentation I find just to let them get on with it is the best method of defense in the almighty battle of wills. If they don’t want to eat their dinner, fine. If they want to wear some ridiculous combination of clothes, like a big woolly jumper on a hot day, fine. You know eventually they’ll eat when they’re hungry, and they’ll want to take off the big jumper when they get ‘too warmy’ as my Threenager says. The main mistake I keep making is treating them like I would treat a grown adult with developed sense of reasoning! They have none. They don’t know what these emotions are or how to use them. With this in mind, I highly recommend a read of this article which gives a nice insight to what is really going on in that three year old bundle of confusion!

And in the meantime, I shall continue on my quest of understanding my little Threenager and focus on the funny side of how his little mind works, the questions he comes out with and the little stories he tells and things he does. ‘Is that a deal?’ as he regularly asks after he has dictated to me how a situation will play out! Four isn’t too far away, there’s no cutesy little ‘Fournager’ type phrase to give me any sort of heads up about what lies ahead, is there…?

 

3yrold

 

(Thank you to my lovely friend Joanne for her brush lettering skills with this very apt quote I found online!)