Yesterday was one of those days. The exhausting kind filled with toddler cliche moments that I had really only seen “other people’s kids” engage in up to this point. It was a day that left me feeling like I am so ill-equipped for this toddler business.
The basic gist was that while out shopping for pajamas with my daughter, Fern decided to go all terrible twos on me and run like a banshee through the store while pulling clothes off the racks and tables. I tried to hold her, and she just tried to launch herself out of my arms in typical toddler fashion. And when I tried to hold her hand, she flopped herself on the ground. Not a pretty sight.
When I got home later that day, I texted a friend who was my co-teacher back in my preschool teaching days. She has two children of her own now — the oldest is four — so she’s been at this parenting business a while longer than I have. I have always admired her calm and gentle approach with children, so I wanted to find out if she had gone through this, how long it lasts, and how she handled it. What she responded with was a bit of unexpectedly wonderful parenting advice:
“Pretend they are someone else’s children.”
It was totally unexpected advice, but totally wonderful, and here’s why: When I was a teacher, I had a kind of insane amount of patience. While I was never quite as patient as my friend, I was pretty freaking patient and often received compliments from others about how I was able to keep my cool in frustrating situations. I would often have parents ask how I was able to stay calm when their children were being so incredibly frustrating, because it was something they personally struggled with. I remember giving them tips, but honestly now that I am a parent looking back, I know exactly why I was able to keep my cool: because they weren’t my kids.
Here are a few things I had working in my favor when I was working with other people’s children and not my own:
1) There is this magical principle that makes children always behave better for other people … actually, I’m pretty sure it’s science. I cannot tell you how many times I had parents ask me how I got their child to nap. I dunno, peer pressure? All the other kids are doing it, and they’re stuck here with nothing better to do. Who knows? Whatever the case, kids are far more apt to comply with people who are not their parents.
2) I only had to deal with these children for a set number of hours every day. Granted, these were LONG hours, as I worked 10 hour days, but at the end of my day, I was able to go home and flip on the TV and make dinner in my quiet, child-free house. No matter how irritating my students might have been or how many tantrums they threw, I knew I only had so many hours that I would have to be with them, so exercising patience didn’t seem as daunting. I only had to be patient with them for X hours a day until their parents had to deal with them again. Parents have to be patient indefinitely.
3) I was getting paid for it. It’s a lot easier to keep things in perspective when you know that it is a job you are getting paid for. But unfortunately, parents don’t get paid … not for parenting, at least.
4) I have a degree in child and family development. I know a lot about kids and have worked with children in a variety of capacities since I turned 18. Many parents don’t have nearly the exposure to working with children as I had by the time they become parents, so they’re sort of flying blindly at times. This is not to say that it always helps me in my role as a parent now, but it definitely doesn’t hurt.
5) You can’t really yell at other people’s kids. I mean, I suppose I could’ve, but I probably wouldn’t have had a job for very long.
6) I wasn’t emotionally invested. Yes, I cared about the children in my class and wanted them to succeed and grow into happy and healthy individuals, but I didn’t love them like their parents did. I didn’t feel an emotional response every time they cried over X, Y, or Z. I was able to keep some distance between myself and them in order to calmly reason and follow through. This is way harder as a parent. You love your child with an incomprehensible kind of love, and their tears can kind of break your heart, which can make following through and calm and rational discussion more challenging.
All of this is to say that my friend’s advice made a lot of sense, because it is so much easier to stay calm with someone else’s child than it is with your own. It’s also easier to keep things in perspective, so it is something I have been trying out.
Sometimes when I am in a situation with Fern where she is being defiant or getting upset, I tend to feed off of her energy and get worked up myself. I might feel the need for an emotional response like yelling, or maybe I might not speak to her in a kind tone. In those moments, I am trying to use some calming techniques (breathing, taking a bit of space, etc.) and then once I have created a bit of space for my emotions, I can come back and try to imagine the situation as if I were dealing with someone else’s child. How would I respond? How would I choose my words? What tone of voice would I use? How would I redirect and offer them different options? Would I be so rushed to come to a solution, or would I be more patient?
I have plenty of valuable tools in my arsenal that could be used in parenting, but they sometimes get ignored when I am too close and emotionally tied to the situation. I’m working on getting better at using them by taking my friend’s advice and keep things in perspective.
New parenting mantra: “Pretend they are someone else’s child.”
Lauren Hartmann is the founder of The Little Things We Do, a blog about life and adventures in Portland Oregon. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram or catch up on all of her posts here on Babble.
More from Lauren:
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