Seven years ago, my children were ages 4, 2 and 1. Seven years ago, I had things all figured out for “older” children. I assumed once diapers, whining and incredibly long bedtime routines were over, it was going to be smooth sailing for me and my kiddos.
And here is my confession: I judged the heck out of parents of “last children” (or third, fourth and fifth kids with older siblings). I had a few bones to pick with all of you. I was appalled by many things, including but not limited to: Your children’s access to inappropriate shows. Your complete disregard for bedtime, especially during the summer. Your refusal to baby- and toddler-proof homes by placing important items in unreachable places. Your family’s ridiculous habit of giving in to that youngest child when he or she needed or wanted anything. Your choice not to make a train with your child on the large twirly slide or play “Duck, duck, goose!” when they asked at the park. Your quick, “I am having a conversation right now. Please don’t interrupt,” when your child obviously wanted something. Your decision to not pack six different, healthy snacks just in case of hunger or boredom. The way you dismissed the newest parenting techniques and studies. The words you allowed young children (or any children, for that matter) to say like “stupid,” “butt,” “crap,” and “heck.”
My list could go on, but I will stop there. So here it is:I formally apologize for every single one of these thoughts and comments.
You see, I am now that mom; the one I wondered about; the one I quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) critiqued; the one I tried to give pointers to. My boys are 11, 9, 8, and my little straggler just turned 3, and I am eating my words.
My 3-year-old rarely watches TV, but when he does it is not PBS. He watches with his brothers who are pretty into “Star Wars,” “Chopped,” and action movies, like “Spiderman.” While you may find these shows “too mature,” this is what we watch together. He is a part of family movie nights and rainy Saturdays on the couch. We don’t have different televisions going to suit each person’s fancy. We would rather be together.
He goes to bed at about 10 o’clock. I know, jaw-droppingly late, but it works for us. Lots of nights we are at sports or school events until 9 p.m., so by the time we get home, read scriptures and say prayers, it is 10 o’ clock. He wakes up around 7:30 and still takes a nap every day, clocking between 12 and 13 hours of sleep. He is happy, silly and easy to be around, and we love our crazy nights with each other.
I never baby-proofed or toddler-proofed anything with him besides the stairs. He learned early what was touchable and what needed to be left alone. To be honest, it is rather incredible.
I swore I would never give in to the youngest child, but I do. It’s not the best habit, but when he is throwing a public fit about something, it is natural to ask your 9-year-old to stop or “give him what he is asking for.” Not saying it is right, just saying that it is often what happens.
I used to go to the park to play with my kids, but now, I go to the park to give us both some social time. My toddler is capable of playing without me hovering over him, and I love chatting with other moms. He and I get plenty of one-on-one quality time together, so some time without constant connection is perfectly OK with me — and with him.
My kids used to interrupt and pull me away from my tasks all of the time. I was at their beck and call at all hours. I thought this made me a great mother. It took years to realize that it actually made me an exhausted mother with very needy children. My youngest knows that sometimes he has to wait. He doesn’t love it, but after some practice, he handles it just fine. It is good for both of us.
I no longer carry a diaper bag. I don’t usually fill up bags of snacks before we head out. No one has withered away yet.
I don’t put toys in time out. I don’t read Parents magazine. I don’t carry hand sanitizer. I don’t have a strategy for every obstacle we encounter. My 3-year-old still drinks a bottle before bed and sucks a pacifier during nap time. I don’t talk to him like I am a therapist. Sometimes I don’t notice when he has eaten five sticks of gum out of my purse until it is in his hair. I haven’t been drilling him on his letters and sounds for the last year. I will when he is ready, but not just for bragging rights. This is my fourth rodeo, and I have have learned what works for my children.
We’ve also loosened up a bit about language. I know certain words are really “bad” in many homes. When you have only littles, “stupid” is the “S word” and “potty talk” is strictly forbidden. Kind speech is still important, but in our home, some things have changed. My 11-year-old knows and hears the real “S word,” so if he wants to say, “Ugh, practice today was so stupid!” I let it fly. This at times results in a frustrated 3-year-old exclaiming, “Ugh, this train track is so stupid!” Maybe I should correct it, but it’s a losing battle, so I usually just giggle. And here I am, in their spot hoping you dont decide to cancel a play date after all the potty talk and excessive amounts of fruit snacks that may have been consumed while under my watchful care.Now I am on the other side of my former parenting fence, and the view is much clearer … funny how often that happens as a mother. The women I so vigilantly judged now have productive teenagers, selfless young adults and college graduates. They are fabulous mothers who are in tune with their children, and their youngest children seem to be navigating the world just swimmingly.
Looking back, I wish I would have climbed off my own high horse. I should have looked for the good, appreciated the differences, seen the fun those moms were having with their big and little ones. I could have taken a breath and learned from their relaxed examples. I wish I would have put away my advice and opened up a bag of snacks to share. Heaven knows, I had plenty to go around.
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