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The Big Picture

Those first few years with babies and small children can be a total blur.  They should be the amazing, unselfish years when, as a mother, you find yourself completely absorbed in the lives and needs and of your gorgeous little creations.  It is worth trying to keep some perspective at this time, if you can, as you are setting down behaviours and patterns for the rest of your and their lives.

It is very tempting I think, as an over-tired, stressed out mother, to take the line of least resistance with kids when it comes to food and discipline.  And no one can blame you.  But I think we all have our limits and a sensible mother will have an eye on the Big Picture as she gets from day to day in the tricky early years.

The way you raise your own family has a great deal to do with your own expectations and should you choose a totally child centred family, no one should criticise you.  BUT if you have a child centred family and struggle with the reality of that (letting children fall asleep when they feel like it, eat, wear and do what they feel like and generally dictate the terms of the family’s life) don’t expect a lot of sympathy when you complain that you have had yet another sleepless night or you find being with your children out or just with other people a struggle.

If you understand how your child and your family will (inevitably) have to fit into the larger society when you enter the scary world of school and the social necessity that brings with it, you can begin to understand the problems you may encounter.  If you have ways of dealing with your children at home which embarrass you or would seem “odd” to other people, do appreciate that sooner or later you are going to be part of a larger community and you may find that his sweet little quirks may cause him (or you) embarrassment.

I know many mothers who left dealing with peculiar loo habits until school.  I can remember a mother being loathed to accept a teatime invitation for her children and thought she just didn’t like me and was trying to give me the hint by constantly refusing.  Eventually it all came tumbling out that her child would only poo in a nappy in spite of his advanced years and four pm was the appointed hour.  Once this was out in the open, she did come for tea, armed with the nappy and all was well.  I do think for her that school was when she realised that she would have to force the issue with her five year old and sure enough a few weeks later he was pooing in a loo just like everyone else.  I think she found converting him to a normal pooer a lot easier than she had expected as well, when she finally grasped that particular nettle.  Sometimes avoiding a situation gives it a lot more power over you or your child than it should… “feel the fear and do it anyway” seems to be an appropriate battle cry for all mothers.

Food is another tricky place.  You know what you will expect your child to eat at home and with your own family and if a steady diet of strawberry yoghurt and crisps is acceptable to you, then don’t let anyone else put pressure on you to change that.  If you are aware of basic nutrition and also would like to be able to send your child to other people’s houses for meals, it is probably an issue you should deal with sooner rather than later.  Most children have a few food fads, but you – as their mother- should lead by example, and try to find a way to deal with the most extreme of them to make your little honey less socially different.  (Having said that, we have a very lovely friend who is married to a top consultant who works at a teaching hospital in London and comes to dinner parties requesting a fish finger sandwich… white bread and marge as well, none of that home made organic bread crap.  He has survived in to his forties so far and seems to be at the top of his game in spite of his lack of a well rounded diet.  His wife may tell you he is hard to take out, but he seems very happy.)

Most children are remarkably flexible when you get right down to it, but if they sense a weakness in you, don’t expect them not to capitalise on it.  If you let them peel the wallpaper off their bedroom walls or refuse to have their hair washed, they probably will keep it up for as long as you let them.  Any socially unacceptable behaviour must have consequences… if not in your home, then how is your child going to learn that we have a certain expectation of behaviour in the extended world?

Motherhood is about balance and trying to find a way to see the Big Picture without causing yourself undue anguish.  Having a child who sleeps through the night may be a necessity for most of us.  Encouraging that through incentives is a very healthy way forward.  Trying to raise a child who has a varied diet and can eat pretty much anything that is put in front of them is always convenient for travel and visiting friends and family and a lot less embarrassing in a restaurant or when visiting Great Auntie Maud.  I would rather raise balanced and socially capable children rather then cripple them with phobias and fears and psychological quirks which may have just started as bad habits.  Or worse, maternal short cuts.  I know that when I was at a low ebb and couldn’t be bothered to labour a point my kids got away with murder and could have kept it up if I hadn’t realised I was the adult and reigned them in.  My children were ghastly in grocery shops and so I tried to go when I was alone.  What I had failed to appreciate was that sooner or later I would have to do take them with me and because they weren’t used to it, they behaved worse than ever.  If I had just gently introduced the idea that we behave with patience in a super market trolley I would  have been much better off.  Instead I was stressing about their behaviour which, of course, they picked up on and played to their own advantage.  I was never going to be the mother with the child in the trolley eating crisps…  

A child who can sleep anywhere is a lot more portable than the one who needs to have an adult gently singing the Skye Boat Song whilst lying next to them stroking their head until they fall asleep. And you may find (as I did) that most children tend to prefer parameters; they actually like knowing the rules and are reassured that you are in charge and that there are consequences for aberrative behaviour.  So, try to be aware of limits you are may be placing on your children and, if you can, get rid of them.  You want to try your best to raise confident, happy, children who become confident, happy, adults… not strange people who can’t pee in public toilets, eat anything that is yellow or sleep anywhere but in their own beds.



Posted on Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 05:57PM by Registered CommenterLucy Symons | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

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