Finding it confusing how to mother? It’s no surprise. There is no shortage of parenting books and articles telling us how we should raise our children. Every week a study is released that offers new parenting insights but often this information is confusing and contradictory. It’s no wonder some mothers feel anxious about their parenting abilities. There are so many mixed messages. Here’s some of the advice that I find confusing:
When did parenting become so confusing?
1. Discipline without punishments or rewards
Wouldn’t it be nice if you never had to resort to threats like, “If you don’t finish your dinner you won’t get dessert”? I wonder how many parents can claim they don’t dangle a carrot occasionally (or frequently) to achieve a desired outcome (like getting your kids to eat vegetables). I know there are studies that suggest punishments and rewards are ineffective, but the threat of no ice cream works wonders on my children. The incentive is not always sugar but the dinner/dessert exchange is the most effective. There’s a chapter on negotiation (read: bribery) in my parenting manual.
Recently I read that reward charts are ineffective. And yet, as my two-year-old daughter mastered toilet training recently, a sticker chart proved to be the most motivating influence. I am still amazed by how excited children get over receiving a sticker. It’s so simple and cheap. I can’t see anything wrong with acknowledging our children’s accomplishments and rewarding good behaviour in special instances.
2. Give positive reinforcement but don’t overpraise
Would someone please explain exactly how much praise is excessive? During a particularly challenging stage with my two-year-old, I did some research into managing behaviour and “difficult” temperaments. One study suggested we should be praising our kids 12 times a day.
This was in stark contrast to another study that claimed over praising our kids will ‘negate resilience’ and will predispose them to narcissist tendencies. I am probably guilty of over praising a painting but I am all for positive encouragement, acknowledgement and praise. And really, are there many two year-olds that aren’t narcissistic?
3. Give equal amounts creative and active play
I see the merits in encouraging both creative and active play but I am not going to give myself a hard time if it’s raining outside and they don’t get outdoors to play. My living room floor won’t thank me for it but it’s OK to go through stages where they experience more of one type of play than the other. I used to go to the park every day with my first-born, sometimes even twice a day. But the addition of each child has made it harder to get out of the house and I am suffering from Park Fatigue.
Creative play doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some people (this is self-directed) aren’t very skilled at making families out of toilet rolls and pipe cleaners. And sometimes it’s a huge effort to get out the paper, paints and brushes. It’s a bit like Jamie Oliver’s falsely advertised 15-minute meals. The cooking might only take 15 mins but the preparation and clean up will take about two hours. Art and Craft with kids at home is a bit like that.
4. Spend time playing with your children but encourage unstructured play
I tend to think that most of us are doing this without a conscious effort, especially those with more than one child. Unstructured play becomes par for the course. I think my third child has a disproportionate amount of unstructured play to anything remotely structural.
I have to say that some of the mothering best moments catch me by surprise. I’ll be swept up in the domestic chaos of witching hour and all of a sudden I’ll catch a glimpse of one of my children playing happily on their own with self-initiative that blows me away. It never ceases to amaze me just how imaginative (and destructive) kids can be when ignored!
5. Prepare and present food but don’t force them to eat it
This one really confuses me. We are told to cook healthy, nutritious meals for our kids but apparently we shouldn’t expect them to eat it. It’s only our job to ‘present’ a variety of food and it’s their call if they want to eat it, throw it or spit it.
I’ll admit to being a spectacular failure in this department. My kids have a very limited appreciation of food. I present – they reject….and so it goes. Apparently I am not meant to be upset about this, but somehow I need to ensure they get 5 veg and 2 fruit a day. How am I supposed to do this in the absence of bribery or force?
Mothering in the modern day is not easy. There’s so much pressure to be perfect parents. In addition to keeping our children alive we need to build resilience, encourage empathy, extend language, teach manners, respect and compassion, and foster kindness. There are times, however, when you just need to make it through the day in one piece. On these days it’s perfectly acceptable to be satisfied with adequate parenting.
What are some of the parenting messages that you find confusing or contradictory? Can you relate to any of the above?