Last week Pearl and Louis turned two.  With Elisabeth working, I planned a whole bunch of fun toddler activities. I thought I’d take them to the park with their birthday scooters, and then we’d go out for babycinos and maybe even a celebratory muffin, and then stop at the local train station to watch the special Christmas steam train go past. A lovely jampacked birthday morning, and we’d be home in time for a good solid nap.

Pearl and Louis wouldn’t get dressed.

When I say wouldn’t,  yes I know I’m bigger, but they were kicking and flailing and crying out, ‘No nappy! No t-shirt!’ and then, when I tried to explain the morning’s plans, ‘No scooters! No babycino!’

I. Was. So. Angry.

At this point, for me, parenting by instinct would go awry. For me, parenting by instinct means unthinkingly reproducing how my parents parented. Some elements of how I was parented I would like to pass on to my children, others, not so much.

So my ‘instinct’ would have been to shove them into their clothes, possibly giving one or other a smart slap at some point, force two screaming children into car restraints, and head down to the park hoping that the combined three-way bad mood would clear once we spotted the play equipment.

Instead I took a deep breath and tried to remind myself of my parenting principles.

One: children often know what’s good for them. It was about 34 degrees at 9a.m. and getting hotter – who wants to get clothes on? They’d also had an exciting birthday whirlwind morning, with a present opening frenzy before Mummy Elisabeth went off to work. By 9a.m, they’d been up for four hours, and had more excitement than they get in most full days.

Two: natural consequences. They don’t want to get clothes on, therefore we don’t go out. This isn’t a punitive response, it’s just the way it is. My tone is not, ‘Right, you’ve refused to get your clothes on therefore we have to stay home and have a really bad time’. The message is more, ‘Okay, if you don’t want to get dressed, what shall we do around the house?’

The top of my brain was frantically working through what I should do in line with my parenting philosophy, but underneath that my mental conversation went something like this:

After ALL I’VE DONE FOR YOU, the very least you could do is co-operate!

I have gone to all the effort of planning a lovely day and you ungrateful wretches just don’t appreciate it!

If I don’t force you to do what I want, you are going to be SPOILED (like overripe fruit?) and take advantage of me forever.  I will be nothing but a doormat in this house.

OMG! I AM nothing but a doormat in this house!

So I stopped and tried to listen to them, and what  I heard was something like, Mama, this has been really great and all these big new toys are great and talking on the phone to every single relative has been fun and all that shiny wrapping paper is fantastic and I really loved the pancakes with maple syrup at six a.m. but it’s hot and I’m really quite tired and can we just sit still for a while?

And what I was really saying was something like, But if you reject all these lovely ideas I have for us then really it’s just like you’re rejecting ME.

So I decided to just follow their lead and see what happened. We went out into the garden – small ones naked – and had a lovely time making Christmas decorations and jumping in and out of the pool. An hour or so later, when I suggested babycinos again, they very happily got into clothes and climbed into the car (although they fell asleep on the way there – they really WERE exhausted).

The point is that it’s important to identify your hot-spots as a parent. Everyone has them. Perhaps you don’t like mess. Or you get distressed when your child doesn’t eat. Or you want your child to have good manners. Or you want your teenager to choose a ‘good’ career. Whatever your button is, your child will find it. That is how they keep forcing us to grow.

I know my button (or one of my buttons, more accurately) is being rejected when I feel like I’ve gone to an effort. The after all I’ve done for you… line. When they won’t get into the car when I’m trying to take them to visit a friend, or they turn up their noses at a meal I’ve cooked specially from ‘Delicious Toddler Meals’.

I don’t think what I did was the only response to that situation, or even the ‘best’ response.  It was certainly the best I could come up with at the time.  Sometimes the best I can do is not let them see I am completely, irrationally angry about something that is just normal child behaviour. I think the final outcome is less important than the fact that is wasn’t a knee jerk reaction  at the whim of my ‘button’ response.

What are your buttons? How do you deal with it when your kids push your buttons?

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Don’t forget: I’m still looking for guest posts, so if you have something you’d like to say about rainbow parenting or general parenting, please email me or leave a comment. I’ve always got a lot to say, but I don’t want this site to just be The Voice of Molly.

December: It’s time to put up the tree, send out Christmas cards, and brainstorm ideas of what to get my impossible-to-buy-for father.

I love Christmas. My parents loved Christmas, and made a big fuss. In the weeks leading up to it, we’d go to Carols by Candlelight down at Altona Beach. My father put up fairy lights all around the garden. We’d all go to midnight mass together on Christmas Eve, and leave out fruitcake and a glass of port for Santa.

So, Christmas. Highlight of the year. Peace and love and goodwill to all. Only, I’m not Christian (any more), so what’s to be done with this odd festive season concurrently celebrating a baby come 2,000 years ago to save all humanity, and the awesome power of the credit card?

There seem to be three different ways to go about it:

  • The traditional, “real meaning of Christmas”. Nativities, church services, baby Jesus sent to save us. Emphasis on getting together with bio-families.
  • The secular “let’s make the major holiday of our society a celebration of Western excess” – too much food, an exhausting whirlwind of parties, long lists of things we want from other people, and overspending on things our own kids don’t need in order to prove how much we love them.
  • And then there’s a third avenue, which, while moving away from the religious paraphernalia, emphasises renewing a commitment to peace and love and community with neighbours, family and the world.

I don’t want Pearl and Louis to get swept up in this frenzy of greed and want. Elisabeth just wants them to have gorgeous Christmases. Some of my attempts at moderating Christmas so far have included, “The twins are only two, they don’t know it’s Christmas, maybe we can skip it for a year.” “We shouldn’t encourage the whole Santa Claus thing, it’s only an excuse for greed.” “Maybe instead of getting a sackful of presents each year they can just learn that Santa brings one good present?”

Elisabeth was horrified by the idea of playing down Christmas. On Christmas, I am afraid, I have been overruled, and sackfuls of presents are accumulating in the top of the linen closet as we speak. At two, Pearl and Louis are starting to become aware of this whole present-getting caper (to wit, their birthday last week), and I’d like to begin to consciously create the sort of celebration we are going to have each year. I want to do Christmas, but I don’t want it to be a fossilised relic of my own religious upbringing, or a frenzy of avarice and gluttony.

This will unfold over the years, but some ideas I’ve had so far about how to make it the sort of festival that would be fun and loving and peaceful and global include:

  • Emphasising connection with family. There are three sides to our extended family – Elisabeth’s side, my side, and our donor & his other family.
  • Helping the kids become aware that Christmas is one of many different celebrations throughout the year,  not all in the Christian tradition. They’ll get the religious messages thrown at them by various people – I’d like them to have a relativist approach to that. “Yes people believe Christmas is about that, and here are some other cultures and their important festivals”. There’s a big Buddha’s birthday festival here, we could take the kids to that each year. There’s an Eid festival held near where Dad lives. That way I can do Hallowe’en with integrity as well – I don’t like the idea of the US import but I’m sure within the next four or five years it will be firmly entrenched here, and I’ll just seen churlish if I insist my kids miss out.
  • As little “crap” as we can get away with. We don’t need plastic plates with Santas around the rim, we don’t need candlestick holders with holly on them. Hand made presents. Hand made decorations. Prioritising an environmentally light Christmas.
  • Maybe having some sort of ‘thinking of others’ ritual that we do around Christmas. I know one family that each year chooses a charity to save for  – the kids research and choose the next year’s charity and send off the money for the previous year’s charity with great fanfare. At my church when I was a kid we used to have a Christmas tree “for poor people” – the adults would bring along food hamper stuff and us kids would each choose a present to wrap up and put under the church tree for poor kids.  Even something like a Boxing Day cull of last year’s toys to make way for the new haul could be good.

It all sounds terribly earnest and hokey, I know. The fun will be in the way we do it. Not, ‘You’re so lucky, think of all the poor people,’ but ‘Let’s identify a problem and do something about it as our Christmas gift to the world.

I’m sort of working this out as I go along, so new ideas are welcomed. How do you do Christmas?