With Mother’s Day on tap, I was recently asked to describe my parenting style. While making small talk at the playground, my new acquaintance found out that I’m the mom of 8 kids. Because I was decked out in a semi “I’ve got it all together” outfit (a clean pair of jeans and unstained T-Shirt) bless her heart, she really seemed interested in what I had to say.
To be honest, no one has really ever asked me that question before. The FAQ’s I am asked are usually:
- How many gallons of milk do you go through a week?
- What’s your typical grocery bill each month feeding 8 kids?
- Do you ever sleep?
- When’s the last time you went to the bathroom alone?
…those types of questions.
As far as my parenting style, however, I had to stop for a second to give that some thought, but if I had to label my style (and thank goodness this has nothing to do with fashion!) I’d have to say I’m “practical”.
This doesn’t mean I only decorate our home with shades of brown or serve everything on paper plates (though I’ve been there, done that) it has more to do with how I interact and react to the ups and downs of parenting.
I couldn’t count how many times I’ve heard the comment that parenting is the toughest job in the world and 8 kids and 19 years later, I couldn’t agree more. Despite how badly I wanted to become a parent all those years ago, I truly didn’t realize how unprepared I was to take on the job, after all there really is no formal training for parenthood.
Runners train for marathons, pilots train to get their licenses, doctors and nurses study for the boards, chefs work for months concocting the perfect recipe before putting it on their menu, but parents typically receive no special preparation to help them meet the many physical and emotional needs of the precious lives entrusted to them—their children.
My parenting style was not always practical that much I can tell you. Back in the day when my now teenagers were babies and toddlers I’d have to say my method of parenting was a combination of “overwhelmed / fly by the seat of my pants”. That was largely due to having four children under the age of three, on second thought that style of parenting was “insanity”.
Once into a more solid parenting rhythm (uh, that would be adding 4 more kids to the mix—“insanity” didn’t even apply at this point) however, I really did get into a much more stable parenting groove which thankfully combined my gifts of patience, realistic expectations, a good sense of humor and a steady supply of chocolate and wine, not necessarily in that order.
In light of my 19th Mother’s Day celebration this year, here are a few examples of my parenting style:
- Striving to let my kids know they are good enough. Here’s the thing—no one is perfect, I know I’m certainly not, but the way I tell one of my children how she did or didn’t do something right is crucial to building her self esteem. In a household as busy as ours, it’s not always so neat. (I know what a surprise!) So when my 7-year old makes an attempt to clean her room, I praise her for the job she did, not criticize for the toys she didn’t put away.
- Empowering them with choices. It’s March and the temps aren’t quite balmy yet, but my 10-year old son wants nothing to do with wearing a warm outfit. (Raise your hand if your high school kids will even wear coats anymore!) I’m happy to offer him two choices: shorts, a long-sleeved tee and a jacket or sweat pants and a heavy sweatshirt with a hat. He can make his own decision, but then we’re done and moving on to breakfast, where he will get to choose between cereal or waffles. (Not eggs Benedict or a steak and cheese omelet.)
- Teaching them how to care for themselves. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mother did my siblings and I a great service by teaching us how to cook, make our beds, do a load of laundry and how to balance a checkbook when we were growing up. When I show one of my kids a necessary life skill, I am completely fine with ignoring their pleas such as “my friend doesn’t have to mow the lawn” but instead show them where the gas can is to fill the mower. Regardless of the whining and groaning, my practical side wants them all to have the basics, and then some, down pat before graduating high school.
- Apologizing when I mess up. Not too many of us like to admit it when we’re wrong, but I think it’s a lot easier to correct a mistake or a bad decision when I can admit it, especially to a loved one. I apologize to my kids on a regular basis when warranted, but I keep it simple. “Wow, I am so sorry I was late picking you up because I was on the phone with my friend (beats the time I left a child behind at church!). Your time is just as important as mine is. I will definitely be aware of this when I’m scheduled to get you at soccer this Saturday.”
- Giving details when I praise. We all love to get compliments, but doling out insincere praise can be damaging. When admiring the art project my 5th grader can’t wait to show me I try to find something specific to comment on rather than droning on about him being the next Picasso. “The way you used the combination of orange and yellow really makes me feel the warmth from your sun in that painting. That’s awesome attention to detail.”
The amazing part about parenting is that you get to be such an instrumental part of shaping another human being’s life. The scary part is trying to get it right no matter what your parenting style might be. Thankfully kids are resilient and usually quite forgiving, and I thank all 8 of mine for the privilege of my most important job ever—being their mom.
Copyright 2013 Cheryl L. Butler