Updated: Jun 10, 2020
If you read this column very often, you’ll recognize a common message regarding the unnecessarily complicated state of modern parenting. Mothers face a nearly constant onslaught of messages as to what constitutes a “good” mother, and because of this are often discouraged, dispirited, confused and guilt-ridden. In my last post, I suggested the first step in becoming a more confident mother is to stop reading all the latest books, blogs, and websites about parenting, and rely more on good old-fashioned common sense. While there are some good books out there, mothering has been done quite successfully for thousands of years without all of the “expert” advice we’re offered, and the fact remains that the nature and needs of children have not changed.
My second word of advice is very practical indeed, and I’m sure it’s one of those common sense “givens” that mothers of yore never questioned: beat your kids up every day. (Notice the inclusion of the word “up” in that statement, which indicates I’m not advocating child abuse, but merely using the statement as an attention grabber!)
An important key to successful parenting is just to make sure you’re up and ready each morning before your children are. You might be surprised to know what a struggle this is for many, especially those with a child under the age of 2. These little guys are often awake and crowing like little roosters at the crack of dawn; if yours is mobile, the top of his fuzzy little head is likely to be the first thing you see in the morning, just over the edge of your bed.
When I had children of that age (which, since I had five children over a period of ten years, lasted quite awhile), I coveted sleep. During that period of time I was either pregnant, nursing, or dealing with a newborn (usually some combination of those) in addition to my day job, which was caring for and/or homeschooling one to five children and managing our home. Everyone knows that the most delicious moments of deep sleep seem to occur in the hour or so right before time to get up; making yourself leave that state of bliss is not just difficult, it’s cause for mourning (morning mourning?) Surely just a few more minutes wouldn’t make that much difference!
That’s what I thought–at first. My husband would very kindly deal with early morning things so that I could stay just a couple (actually, more like 20-30) more minutes in bed. By the time I got up, my kids would be in full swing, eager for breakfast, sometimes already fussing over something, but always full of energy. I, on the other hand, would emerge bleary-eyed and in pj’s, not at all ready–physically or mentally–for what lay ahead. Because of this, my morning routine was usually pretty chaotic–I had to shower quickly, leaving the door open so I could hear any outbursts, then deal with various issues as I was getting dressed, drying my hair, putting on makeup, etc. Not a great way to start the day, I assure you.
If I didn’t want food all over the carpet (and I didn’t) I couldn’t give them something to eat to occupy them while I got ready. If I didn’t want them glued to the TV (and I didn’t) there had to be something else for them to do; in the absence of a plan, this usually involved squabbling over something. When the older ones could read and help corral the little ones it helped a little, but there was always the potential for conflict, and in the absence of conflict, just plain old mischief. I became increasingly frustrated with my children–why couldn’t they be at peace for just 15 stinkin’ minutes!–until I realized that I actually had the power to change this whole scenario. All I had to do was to beat them up! I had to exercise some self-discipline, deny myself those last however many minutes of sleep, and haul my lazy carcass out of bed in time to be ready for the hordes to descend!
Of course, it was difficult at first; any time you try to establish a new habit, it’s a bit rough for awhile, and if you harbor resentment about it it’s even worse. But I quickly began to realize how wonderful the early morning silence could be, how much I enjoyed an uninterrupted shower, and what a difference it made to speak consciously and intelligently to my husband before he left for work. I had time to think through what the day might bring, and could anticipate and plan for things like meals, appointments, family outings, and anything else that might be on the agenda. I could actually have an agenda!!! I regained a sense of control over the way things would go; being able to spend some time thinking and waking up before the little ones were up and about gave me the jump on them, so to speak, so I wasn’t at the mercy of whatever they cooked up for me.
The simplest things really do sometimes have the greatest impact on our lives. If you’re still moaning and groaning about sleep deprivation (which is very real, I’m not saying it isn’t) and are always feeling that you have no control over the way things go each day, do this one simple thing: get up. Set your alarm for however much time you’re going to need to do your morning wake-up routine. Do not press the snooze button! If you really want to be able to do that, set your alarm 15-30 minutes earlier, so you can afford to press it and still get up on time.
Being in possession of your mental faculties, dressed, and ready for the day puts YOU in charge, not your kids. You can’t lead from behind–your kids are way too fast for that ever to work, and you’ll be playing catch-up all day. You have to lead from the front–and you can only do that if you’re ahead of them! Charge!!!