Other Mothers: Our Own Worst Enemy

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce
Like the bodies that make the babies, motherhood itself comes in all shapes and sizes. And it really doesn’t matter what kind of mom you are; you’ll end up facing criticism. If you work while parenting, you aren’t there for your kids. If you stay at home, you don’t understand how to balance work and family. If you’re a single mom, you’re depriving your child of a father. If you’re a married mom, you have no idea how hard it is to do it alone. Don’t breastfeed? Don’t tell anyone – you obviously don’t love your child as much as nursing moms. Only have one kid? You can’t possibly call yourself a real parent.

Wanna know what’s worse?

It’s not dads or society doing the finger pointing, blaming, and labeling. It’s other mothers.

Perhaps it’s deeply seated in our own insecurities, but many of the harshest critics of the way we all mother is other mothers. Us. We look at another mom and don’t understand her choices, lifestyle, or parenting methods. And rather than extending her any understanding or even an open mind, we judge, quickly and harshly. Many of the issues over which mothers disagree have no clear cut answers. Every mother does the best she can with the experience and unique understanding of her own child that she has.

I’m guilty of this judging.

As a mother of five, I’ve often joked that you’re not a “real” mom if you only have one child…even though many of the most lovely women and mothers I know and are friends with do only have one child. Honestly, it’s more a reflection of my own jealousy or frustration, because with five kids, we couldn’t afford every event and dance lesson our kids wanted that my friend with only one child always could. Or I was frustrated at one more sibling argument that my friends with only one child would not experience.  Suffer with me! That’s what I wanted.

As a stepmom, I was also quick to pass judgement on other stepmoms who complained more about their situation or blamed their husband for the troubles they had. It took a lot of time talking to other stepmoms (and a little growing up) to realize that my situation was the one that fell outside of the norm, with far less baggage and frustration from bio mom than most had dealth with. And now that I regularly work with stepmoms and talk to them about their experiences, I have been humbled by how many struggles they’ve had to endure but still keep loving with all their heart and soul.

Mothers have a hard job, whether they have one kid or many, work outside the home or in it, breastfeed or don’t, have a partner or don’t. It’s time for all of us (me) to be more understanding and supportive of every mother and how she chooses to raise her kids.

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Discipline and Your Kids: Always Follow Through

tantrum

It doesn’t seem to matter if your kids are 2 or 12 or 17 and 3/4. All kids know exactly how to push buttons and they are completely ok with pressing every one of them (as if it were their full time job). Sometimes, it feels like my buttons are big and red and say “PRESS ME NOW.” The thing is, when kids are misbehaving, you can’t ignore it and you can’t dismiss it (even if you’re tired, at the end of your rope, or are on your last button). You know you have to dole out some sort of consequence, but wow, parenting is exhausting.

It’s when they’ve worn you out the most that you have to be committed to following through.

If you tell your that Action A will lead to Consequence B and Action A has been set in motion, you have two choices: You give the kid the promised consequence, or you don’t. If you do, your child learns that every choice has a consequence and that the boundaries you promise exist really do.

If you don’t, chaos ensues.

No, really. Maybe not all at once. But if your kids learn that their bad choices or poor behaviors don’t have the consequences they thought (and they will test) then they’ll assume that you’ve lost control, that they are in control, and that they can get away with that behavior and more.

It multiplies exponentially, too, so that if you aren’t following through when your kids are young, it will be even harder to regain control when they get older. Many parents make the mistake of threatening with something that they either can’t deliver or don’t feel comfortable doing, so keeping your consequences enforceable helps.

Our son would occasionally throw a very embarrassing and loud temper tantrum in restaurants. The first time it happened, we were embarrassed but tried to quickl quiet him. The next time we went out, we told him before we ever got out of the car that if he didn’t behave, we would leave. We didn’t even get a chance to finish reading the menu and he was throwing a tantrum. Dave and looked at each other and made a critical choice that has paid off since: we took him out of the high chair, thanked the waitress, left her a tip anyway, and walked out.

DId it suck that the one time we finally managed to have money, time, and energy to go to a restaurant we’d been dying to try that we couldn’t stay? Oh yeah. Would it have sucked more if we’d have coddled our son through his tantrum and not followed through on our consequence? I’m certain of it.

As much as it sucks being the bad guy, sometimes you have to. Kids need boundaries. It’s not always pleasant but it’s better than the disrespect you’ll earn later.

Disclaimer: the son mentioned above is child #4. We had a lot of practice getting here and still aren’t perfect at it. But we keep trying!

How do you handle these kind of discpline issues with your kids?

 

Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep

Baseball and gloveA strong relationship is built upon trust, which is so hard to maintain yet so easy to lose. Even your child’s trust isn’t guaranteed, although it may be more steadfast than other relationships. But after a string of empty promises, a child of any age will notice if you aren’t reliable. Once a child feels they cannot trust you, it can be very difficult to go back.

It’s important that you are honest with your child. If you aren’t going to be able to make the baseball game then don’t even say there’s a chance. And don’t keep saying “next time” to your child about a special day together. It will break their heart every time that you don’t appear and soon they won’t believe a word you say. It’s difficult to disappoint your child, but disappointing them with honesty rather than the emptiness of false promises helps your kids know you care.

To avoid such sad feelings on both ends, don’t assume you’ll be able to do something. Know for sure before you make any plans — and then stick to them. Your child will forgive one or two cancellations when you are there for them most of the time. The time you spend with your child is so precious and they will remember those moments forever. And if something changes for the better and you can make that baseball game, the surprise of you showing up unexpectedly will bring your child more joy than you can imagine.

 

Claim Your Status, Stepmoms!

familyI don’t run into as many problems any more with the older kids out of school, but there was a time when being a stepparent caused annoyance and frustration.There were times when I was unable to speak for my kids, like when teachers called and wanted to speak to a parent, or when the doctor called. I literally wore through the paper I carried with me that Dave signed authorizing me to seek medical treatment for the kids – just in case we ran into some administrative jerk.

It was upsetting when a school administrator or other authoritarian would dismiss my role as inconsequential. These are MY kids!

Although I knew it wasn’t personal, it certainly felt like it in the moment. Sometimes being a stepmom can make you feel a little second rate, especially when you’re the primary caregiver. You don’t have to be helpless, though.

I had to remind myself that regardless of what the birth certificate said that they were my kids and I was not going to stop advocating for them. You do have rights as a stepparent and you should take every step necessary to be recognized as a guardian if that is what your family needs. It’s unfortunate that both biological parents can’t always be around. But that doesn’t mean you or your child deserve to be short-changed. You can still be a first-rate stepmom.

Should Your Kids Have Facebook?

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

social mediaSocial media is everywhere.

And especially in our house, where my husband and I run a niche marketing firm that focuses in part on social media strategy and content marketing, social media is prolific.

But does your child need to have Facebook? As a parent, letting your kids venture into the world of social media can be a little scary. How do you protect your child from the entire world that they now have access too? Where do you draw the line? (We draw the line at snapchat).

We’ve allowed the kids their Facebook pages on a few conditions:

  1. We get to be friends. There is no way they get an online profile without our ability to monitor it.
  2. They are not allowed to accept friends without our approval first.
  3. We know the password.

And of course this privilege comes with a talk about safety, privacy, and a touch of common sense that we hope to instill.

You’ll be able to decide at what point you think your child is mature enough for a social media profile. Just remember that it might be better to allow controlled access with your approval and guidance than to refuse completely. The internet can be accessed anywhere and your child might create an account secretly (something Kira pulled when MySpace was popular), so keep an eye out.

We also allow our kids to have their own webpages and manage their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts (following the same rules).

We have found that it is better to educate our kids about online behavior and etiquette than shield them from it completely.

 

#BacktoSchool: The Battle of Homework Hill

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Back_to_SchoolSchool will be back in session here soon, and once again we’ll begin the battle of homework hill. You know, the part where teachers assign huge projects, send them home for the kids to do, and leave unsuspecting parents to pick up the pieces the night before the project is due.

The thing is, kids need parents to be part of their success academically. They need you to teach them how to prioritize homework over video games; they need you to teach them how to break a big project down into manageable steps.

Doing homework at the end of a long work day, which usually means sitting at the computer for even longer than we already have isn’t always what we want to do. But as parents, it is certainly something our kids count on us to do.

It’s worse when our kids are not enthused about the assignment. It’s worse when our kids forget to tell us they need posterboard (by tomorrow). But it is part of the back to school process.

We also understand that many times our supervision is necessary, which is not really what we want to do at the end of the day, but it is what it is. What makes this experience even more tedious is when the child is downright unhappy with the task of completing their assignments.

In our house, we require homework to be done before anything else. No computer time, no video games, no friend time, no iPods, no dance lessons, no guitar lessons until homework is done. We aren’t ogres. We let them go to the bathroom and get a snack.

[Tweet “Make homework the first priority after school to keep your kids on task. #backtoschool”]

Because our kids have had this expectation from the start, we no longer have to wrestle with them. They simply know it has to be done. It saves us the enormous stress of bedtime homework and the even lovelier early morning oops homework.

It’s not a perfect system, and there are times when we just can’t get all the math problems done before we have to head out the door for dance class. But for the most part, we’ve solved the battle of homework hill by making it the top priority – the JOB – for our kids after school.

When other activities are not allowed until after homework is done, kids often find a motivation to complete assignments that wasn’t there before. It sets a standard of good priorities and gives your child time to complete everything. They may not be in love with the task but homework (done well) is non-negotiable.

Healthy Snacking

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

healthy grocery shoppingFrom fruit snacks and juices to crackers and cookies, there are a lot of snack choices in the grocery store isles. If your kids are like mine, they are begging for all o them.  What’s worse is that every single one of these potential snacks is likely to have some label boasting about its nutritional value. It’s tot that they are lying. There really are essential nutrients buried somewhere beneath the sugar.

It’s frustrating to navigate, because even the snacks you thought were healthy probably aren’t. Fruit snacks are loaded with sugar and other go-to snack choices have high sodium levels and trans-fats. You also have to watch out for organic products, because the label for organic by itself does not guarantee healthy eating, as organic products can have just as much sugar and calories as a non-organic snack.

When it comes to snacking for both you and your child, try to shop fresh produce as much as possible. Vegetables and hummus make for a delicious snack and  a piece of fresh fruit satisfies the sweet tooth. It’s pretty easy to pack a small bag with an ice pack to keep snacks cool, and if you do really need a portable snack, consider a handful of nuts (for those without food allergies) or a string cheese.

Making smarter snack choices is good for your kids and teaches them better eating habits, but it’s good for you, too.

Time-Out Doesn’t Work: Now What?

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

tantrumYour child has earned time in the corner again, like every child is bound to do. Problem is, your child doesn’t quite mind time-out. They practically mock you as they smile and sing in the corner as if nothing was amiss. Clearly you need a new tactic.

Each child is going to react to rewards and punishments differently. If the traditional methods aren’t working, you need to assess the situation and decide what would really send the message home to your child. You may have to restrict privileges such as a favorite toy or television show, or even go as far as keeping your child home from something they were really looking forward to. One missed bowling party will show that you mean business.

It might feel a little cruel to go beyond time-out and no, this isn’t going to be fun for you, either. But if your child isn’t getting the message, you have to let them know that poor behavior is not acceptable. They will get the hint eventually. Just remember to start small and escalate only as needed (and always add a touch of love). Most importantly, you have to be able to follow through.

They will call you bluff, and that’s not a position you want to be in. Rules are in place for a reason; it’s out of love, not dominance.

[Tweet “Rules are in place for a reason; it’s out of love, not dominance.#parenting”]

Play Dates for Adults

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

1509319_10203647724500798_8824631631744993255_nIt’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the social life of your child. Even when you do spend time interacting with adults, it’s often still child-related as if your life was nothing more than birthday parties, teacher conferences, and extracurriculars. You had a social circle before children, and the same circle can easily exist when you have kids.

The benefit of having adults-only time is that you can discuss things other than your child. It may seem obvious and even a little callous, but it’s reality. Sometimes you want to talk about yourself as a person and not as a mother, which is easier to do when your kids aren’t there. It can be a time to stimulate yourself intellectually with those you met in college or just catch up and have a good time with a lifelong friend.

If you have to schedule your own play date then by all means, make it happen. Life gets busy and it’s so easy to say to someone that you’ll catch up later. Make definite plans and schedule something fun to do with other adults in your circle. You might even be able to have beverages that you don’t find at children’s parties.

Breed Curiosity and Adventure in Your Kids

20130908_135630Everyone has their comfort zone, no matter the age. We all have a preferred activity or lifestyle, and it is hard to stray into the unknown. But we are probably born with a passion for curiosity. What changes?  Maybe we become complacent or simply learn to fear what we don’t know. But you have to think about your reaction to life in general, because that is what you’ll be passing on to your kids.

Children take on the qualities of those who surround them, which is most often the parents. Therefore, a parent who encourages a child to try new things most likely does so themselves. And whether you realize it or not, you’re teaching your child about the world indirectly. Anxiety especially is easy to pick up on. Children can sense if you’re nervous about something and will copy your behavior. Just like that, your child can learn to fear something even if they haven’t experienced it.

[Tweet “#Parents easily pass along fears and anxieties to their kids. Let them try new things.”]

This is not to say you should fake it for your child. But when you take an opportunity to broaden your own horizons and set an example, your child may benefit. No one’s asking you to start mountain climbing to face your fear of heights. It could be something as small as trying a new food. You may have fears that your child does not. Be proud that your child can do things you can’t and support them the best you can. Pushing the limits is not a bad thing, and teaching your child that everyone’s limits are different is not a bad lesson either.