When I was a new mother I was often besieged with unsolicited advice. “You should breastfeed.” “You should bottle-feed.” “Let him cry.” “Don’t let him cry.” “You should be feeding him cereal by now.” “No solid foods until six months.” “Get him on a schedule.” “Let him decide his schedule.” “He should be sleeping in his own bed by now.” “He should be taking a nap.” “Get him potty-trained by two years old.” “Let him decide when he is ready to use the potty.” Most of this counsel came from other older mothers who truly felt their way of raising children was correct. I listened, nodded, and then went on to do what I felt was right for my boys. I may not have always followed the traditional route, and I’m sure I made colossal mistakes, but I can swear on a pile of child-rearing books that my children were well-fed and clothed and loved with every single neuron coursing throughout my body.
Young parents today are still bombarded with “should’s” and “should not’s” from well-meaning family and friends. Amazon has over 3,000 book suggestions on child rearing. The internet is awash with mommy bloggers who brag about their perfect children eating homemade vegan lunches or how they were able to potty train little Dakota at twelve months old. There are staged and filtered Instagram posts of Johnny sweetly helping Mommy in the garden, Martha stirring cookie dough in her designer dress, and three-week old Harry peacefully sleeping through the night. You may look at these and think, “What the heck? How come my house is a disaster? Every time I let the kids help in the kitchen, all hell breaks loose. My kid eats dirt… and likes it. The only food he will eat now is hot dogs, mac and cheese from the box, and strawberry GoGurt. Vegan? Sure, that would work. Shoot, I’m lucky if he naps for ten minutes in the car.”
I don’t know much about the latest parenting trends. When I Googled it, I found “grit-style parenting,” "the minimalist parent,” and “post-gender parenting.” Wow. Even I, who is twenty-something years out from raising babies, began to hyperventilate when I gazed over these terms. Some appear to be wise; others border on obnoxious. The only truly honest child-rearing advice that I can give you is this: go with your gut. If something feels right, go with it. If something feels wrong, walk away from it. Really really listen to your instinct, because it is usually right. And remember, your gut may be telling you something different from your friend’s or your sister’s or your co-worker’s gut. That is okay. Your gut is yours. Nurture it. Love it. Listen to it.
And…now that I have your attention, my young parent friends, I’d like to list a few other things that worked for me and my kids. I am not a parenting expert, just a mom who has been there. Here goes…
- Read. Read. Read. Read out loud. Give them books to read themselves. Take them to the library and let them check out books. Ask for books for birthdays and holidays. Set aside reading time. Let your kids see you read. As my boys got older, they loved audio books. They would spend hours together playing with Legos as they listened to dramatic actors narrate their favorite stories.
- Sit down to dinner together. It may be simple, but meal time is sacred. Cherish and honor dinner. Even if you are rushing to activities, go into McDonald’s and sit down. Ask about their day. Talk to each other.
- Bedtime routines. After baths and pj’s, we would snuggle in their bedrooms, and I would sing songs and tell stories and then kiss them goodnight. They demanded this routine for years, and I still miss it.
- Make sure when you are taking pictures of your children that you are in some of the shots. Your children will appreciate it later, I promise. I love the photos I have of my mom with us. They are moments captured. You don’t have to be Instata perfect, just their mom.
- Be consistent. Don’t threaten something and not follow through. Consistent parenting is your strongest tool.
- Let go of guilt. Your way is your way. It may not be everyone’s way, but it is yours. Claim it. Own it. Celebrate it.
- Have fun with your kids. Remember time moves at warp speed. Today you are rocking your first born to sleep, and tomorrow he is living halfway across the country with a career of his own, a cute little dog, and a fabulous wife who adores him. See each moment and be grateful for every bit of chaos. Laugh at their bad jokes. Don’t worry about the mess. Sing loudly in the car. Dance in the living room. Hug them every chance you get.
That’s all I have, but if you think you need a little extra help with your two-year old, I did see this title on Amazon: