It was 5 o’clock and time to pick up my little guys from daycare.
The ritual tends to go one of two ways: my boys are either so excited to see me that they squeal with delight and skip happily out the door with me to the car, OR, they’re having such fun that they scream in distraught voices because they are not yet ready to leave. This was one of those times.
E was excited to see me at first, but when we came close to the doors of the entrance, where the waiting area contains a small round table filled with colorful books about all of his favorite things, he changed his mind. Suddenly he was all about planting his butt firmly in the tiny chair and looking at pictures of dinosaurs. But it was time to go. And I said so. When I tried to put his jacket on, he twirled around to avoid it. When I tried to take his hand, he made himself heavier (you know, how kids do) and fell to the ground. He began chanting loudly, “I don’t want to go! I don’t want to go!” I felt the inevitable gazes of daycare workers and parents in beads of sweat that began forming on my forehead.
It reminded me of two nights before when I took him into my place of work, just briefly, to pick up some food for dinner. I had told him ahead of time that we were not staying, that we had to stand in line, pick up food, bring the food to the car, and then home to Daddy. He seemed to understand. Until we had to leave and he threw an all out, fall-to-the-ground, make-the-biggest-possible-scene fit. I thought, “That’s just great. These are just the people I work with every day and here is where he chooses to throw his bi-monthly tantrum. People would never believe me if I told them he hardly ever acts this way.” I nearly cried from embarrassment.
And here he was, acting this way again. Why. Me.
So I did what I had tried to do the last time, even though the last time ended with me leaving my food on the ground in one part of the parking lot so that I could carry both boys, screaming and squirming, to our mini-van that was parked 5 or 6 spaces away. But, hey, maybe this time it would work.
I picked E up and sat him down in the big orange chair in the lobby. I put his brother down to roam a little and got down at eye level. I told him it was cold outside. He could either put his jacket on or be cold. He chose the latter. I told him he needed to help me carry something. He could carry his jacket or the small bag that contained his brother’s soiled clothes. He chose the bag because it fit neatly around his wrist. I told him that it was time to go. We’d come back tomorrow and he could read all the books he wanted in the morning. Then we all skipped happily out the door and to the car together.
It was magical. I’ve never taken a Love and Logic course, but this had to have been what they taught. I used a calm voice the whole time, I gave him choices I was comfortable letting him make, I explained things to him in a way he could understand them. And in the end he did exactly what I told him and he did it without a fuss! I felt like a mothering guru.
Everybody saw that, right?!
Well, no. They didn’t. Because unlike how the situation began, my approach to it was quiet and did not demand attention from anyone but my son.
Of course, I’d prefer it this way, to handle the situation without having to yell at him in public and elicit the judgmental faces and snide remarks.
But what I really wanted in that moment was for someone to notice that I had done a good job.
So often as mothers and fathers, we dwell on our negative. We only notice the times that don’t end well, the times that we feel like screw-ups. And it’s so easy to do, isn’t it? Because the negatives are what leave a lasting impression. They are also what others tend to notice.
Others can be strangers, they can be family members, or they can be anyone in between. Who among us hasn’t had an in-law comment on how terribly we parent, or “gently” suggest changes we could make? (If you haven’t experienced this, please kindly keep your voice down – it was a rhetorical question – and know that the rest of us are all
a little jealous.)
But we (and they) often fail to notice when things go right. When little man uses every single manner I’ve taught him at the dinner table, when he gives his crying brother a hug and a kiss and a toy without any prompting at all, when he assumes responsibility for picking up his toys before bed, or letting the dog out when she scratches at the door. The moments that leave us feeling proud can be few and far between. And we sometimes wish that they came with witnesses (at least I do – witnesses and videographers and massive choirs to sing my praises when the next person doubts my ability do this parenting gig well).
We praise our children for good behavior all the time. At least when they are young. I’m constantly telling my 3-year-old “Good job keeping your shoes on in the car, kiddo!” or “You’re such a big helper, son!” because I want to reinforce those behaviors when they are done right. And he definitely takes notice. He has started praising himself for the same things if I am not quick enough to do it.
Perhaps that’s what social media is for parents. To tell the world about our parenting accomplishments, however big or small, and expect a pat on the back in return. But wouldn’t it be nice for those moments to be noticed without the obvious bragging post? Wouldn’t it be great to hear from another parent, “You do that so well,” or “I can tell you put a lot of work in to his/her behavior,” or “I’m impressed by how you handled that situation,” in the moment that it happens?
Parents need encouragement, too. Whether we are raising our first baby/toddler combo, or taming teenage tempers for the first time, we are all constantly learning what does and doesn’t work. And sure, reinforcement for our parenting behaviors will best be received from the actions of our children. We’ll know we’ve done something right when they turn out to be respectful, kind, contributing adults. But friends, that is a long time to wait. And sometimes it seems like all we do is wait. Sometimes in the trenches, the little victories go unnoticed, because we are so consumed with worry over the future turn-out of our little ones.
I need, you need, other parents need encouragement now.
It’s easy to only notice when another parent is doing something wrong. I’m guilty of it. You probably are, too. Heck, we were all guilty of it before we became parents. That’s just what people do. It’s human. It must be.
But let’s not allow that to be an excuse to keep doing it. Because it serves no greater purpose in the unity that should be parenthood.
Instead, let’s notice the good things, let’s celebrate the tiny successes, let’s encourage the “good job” moments.
Because every parent has them, even if (like our children), for some they aren’t the norm. Let’s make our encouragement to other parents be so abundant that when we aren’t around for those private victories – and when we aren’t quick enough to say “Well done, Momma!” – the momma still knows she’s doing it right.