In May, my eldest son turns TEN! I can hardly believe that I’ve been a parent for one whole decade. That is a pretty scary thought and makes me feel kinda old! I’ve learnt a lot over that time period and made a fair few mistakes along the way so I thought I’d share some of my main reflections after being a parent for the last 10 years.
Please note when reading all of this that these are my personal reflections on parenting and how we have adapted and developed over the last decade. It’s definitely not set up to be a parenting manual – just about us finding approaches that work for us. I have never been one for labelling myself as a parent and have never sought to strictly follow one type of parenting philosophy.
If you want to take on board some of the reflections then great, if not that’s cool too. Every family is completely different with unique sets of needs. What has worked for us as a family might be completely wrong for you and your family. I often see parents tie themselves up in knots over religiously following certain philosophies even when it doesn’t quite work for their family. The important thing to keep in mind always is to forge your own path.
1.Childhood is not a race
In the early days with Mr 10, I was so eager for the next step all of the time – when was he going to talk? or walk? Then when he reached school, the pressure to get him reading and recalling sight words seemed immense.
Let me tell you first hand that it does not matter one bit if little Jack from the mother’s group has started walking first. It doesn’t matter if little Susie is reading Harry Potter at the age of 6 or if Dylan can count to 100 before he is 4. What matters most of all is being in a loving and caring environment, if you’re providing that then the rest will come in time.
If we take my eldest as an example here, he always loved books but wasn’t at all fussed at learning sight words or phonics. He HATED the school readers (and who can blame him because they are often dire)and so instead we tried other approaches that you can read about here.
The main point here is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to child development. Sure there are guidelines you can follow, based on the average child but comparing your child’s progress to that of your friends isn’t advisable. However, if you are at all concerned about development, please do talk to the teacher or your GP.
2.Read stories everyday
I’ve written about the importance of reading many times on this page. I have found that reading stories (with enthusiasm) every single day to my children reaps a whole host of benefits. Mr 10 now writes imaginative adventure stories with ease and Miss 3 will happily play pretend with her ‘Mousey’ and ‘Bunny’ for hours uninterrupted.
It is estimated that children who aren’t read to at home have a ‘million word gap’ compared to those who are read to regularly by the time they reach kindergarten. To put it another way, if you read to your child daily, they will be better equipped for school, making it easier for them to communicate, easier for them to learn how to read and also introducing them to concepts they might never normally come across – in non-fiction books, for example.
When I was working full-time as a teacher, the bedtime stories I would read to my eldest would be even more important. In the week, it was the only real time that we would have together so it became a really precious time for us.
Sometimes it can be pretty hard to REALLY listen to what children are saying. Perhaps it doesn’t seem important or perhaps you are super busy. I do personally find the struggle all too real when my eldest is having an in depth discussion with me about Minecraft or his favourite cars. Yet I listen as attentively as I can – often asking him lots of questions in return so that I can better understand the topics myself.
The same goes for when they are hurt or upset. I’ve found that by acknowledging the feelings with ‘I’m sorry you feel… how can I help?’ a lot better long-term than ‘Oh you’ll be fine, there’s no need to cry.’ Children are much more likely to express their feelings down the line if they have had their feelings acknowledged when tiny.
We make individual time for each child so that they have opportunities to express their feelings. We realised that my eldest was often getting overlooked in the attention department, because he is at school all day and then of course, the younger children often need more focus. To rectify this a little, we switched up the bedtime routines. I now do the bedtime stories for the youngest two, whilst hubby and my eldest watch Star Trek and talk.
Every single evening, we sit down at the dinner table, with the TV turned off and our phones out of reach. We sit and talk as a family – it doesn’t matter if the dinner is beans on toast or a healthy chicken salad, what matters is the time we are able to spend together. This also gives everyone the opportunity to talk about their days.
4. Buy open-ended resources over ‘noisy toys’
I wasted so much money on noisy toys for H when he was small. I was eager for him to have ALL.THE.THINGS but I was pretty clueless on what exactly would be beneficial. I fell into every trap possibly when it came to licensed toys (hello, In the Night Garden) and to cut a long story short, everything from his baby era ended up at the charity shop.
When Z was born, I was determined not to fall into the same traps. I didn’t want to waste money on toys that would only be played with for a few months and I also didn’t want to buy items that wouldn’t benefit her development. Luckily for me, this coincided with my discovery of educational accounts on Instagram, so I was able to better understand what she needed for each stage.
I want to clarify here that open-ended does not have to mean expensive. Admittedly we have a lot of Grimms and Grapat, but it is also important not to go into debt over wooden toys! We save up for birthdays and Christmas and often don’t stick to normal present buying rules. For example, it was recently E’s first birthday. We already had lots of suitable toys leftover from when Z was the same age, so instead of buying him a specific present, we opted for a wobbelboard that the older two would mainly benefit from. I hope this doesn’t sound harsh – he has plenty!
5. Keep it simple
Life with little ones can be hard enough as it is, so we try not to over complicate it wherever possible. This rule has only really come into force since E was born last year but it is also one of the most important rules these days. This ranges from buying the little ones velcro shoes over lace ups to meeting up with friends at home rather than in a cafe.
We also tend to time trips around E’s nap times. I take the children out for walks when he is awake and well fed so that he can fully enjoy the benefits of being outside. It also means that when he is asleep at home, I can spend some much needed one to one time with Z.
Keeping it simple also extends to mealtimes. We stick to tried and tested favourites and meals that are quick to prepare / tidy away. We don’t make separate meals for the children and they have certainly learnt not to be fussy! We all eat together too so we avoid having two sets of meals to make and clear up, plus as mentioned above, it is also a great way to spend time with one another.
6. Get outside everyday
Being outside in nature is like magic. It has the ability to change moods and totally reset those days where the mood is off. I appreciate that this can be super difficult: we live on the top floor of a 5 storey building and nature is no longer right on our doorstep, but we always make the effort to get out. In the winter time, the children are rugged up in all in one snow suits and snow boots so that they can still feel the benefits of outdoor time.
Having moved to our new apartment pretty recently, we are now in the process of getting our outdoor area in a fit condition for the children to play in. Outdoor space is really important to us now more than every – we have moved from a house with a large garden to an apartment with a roof terrace so optimising the space we’ve got has become a top priority.
Obviously there are also times when we just can’t get outside – if the weather is too appalling or one of us is really sick.
7. Boundaries on screen-time
When my eldest was younger, iPads we’re just becoming ‘a thing’. They seemed super convenient so we would often take them out and about with us – to cafes as entertainment or to the doctors surgery. What we quickly noticed was the addiction – he wanted it more and more and it became harder to engage him in other forms of play. This resulted in a cold turkey ban of the screen.
TV had a similar effect, especially if it was turned on first thing in the morning before school. It resulted in him being slow to get ready, breakfast was rushed, which usually resulted in me or my husband losing our cool. Nowadays the TV stays off until the early evening.
Here’s the thing, there is absolutely no getting away from the fact that technology is useful and children need to be able to use it. HOWEVER, it shouldn’t be a substitute for play and other forms of learning. Admittedly, this does get waaaay trickier as children get older, especially if their friends have different allowances.
Some of our rules around screen-time include: no television until the evening; computer games on weekend’s only (for my eldest); no ipad’s for the youngest two. Having said all of the above, when we have sick days or I was on maternity leave, we had more than our fair share of Disney movie marathons!
8.Don’t sign up to everything!
Musical Minis, Rugby Tots, Mini Movers, Little Kickers…. the list goes on and on. There can be an unbelievable amount of pressure to sign little ones up to all of the classes going. This doesn’t go away as they get older, either. A few summers ago we made the monumental mistake of signing H up to 3 different after school activities. He had swimming on Wednesday’s and Sunday’s, mountain biking on a Wednesday and taekwondo on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. This was partly by mistake as myself and my husband had signed up for various activities without communicating with one another first!
Do you know what happened as a result of all the activities? He was constantly run-down and sick so he actually ended up missing a fair amount of school that term. Nowadays, we opt for a maximum of two activities (currently lego robotics and taekwondo). Our general rule is something fitness related and something creative – we’re lucky that H’s current school offers a whole range of activities right after school so it means less running around for us too.
9.Everyone has their opinions, but you don’t have to listen!
As soon as your bump becomes visible during pregnancy, people tend to give you all of their opinions on parenting and how it should be done. Sometimes this is well meaning and other times it is plain old interfering. Relatives are particularly bad for this, especially when they feel like they can say more!
When our eldest boy was born, a relative made it pretty clear that they hated the name we had chosen. He was upset that we hadn’t chosen a Welsh name. As a brand new mum, I found this all rather bewildering, but needless to say, we stuck to our guns. It was our first experience of not being able to please everyone as parents.
People will give you their opinions on everything from breastfeeding to homeschooling. Often anything outside societal norms is questioned. We have decided not to send my youngest two to preschool and that was a BIG topic of discussion.
Being firm yet non-confrontational is the best way to cope with this. I’ve found it best to arm myself with research. I’ve downloaded heaps of educational books onto my Kindle and I read whenever E is feeding. That way, when I do find our methods the subject of debate, I am better equipped to respond!
10. Find time for YOU
Perhaps this is the most important point? Parenting means taking on a new identity and is all too easy to lose your sense of self. This can lead to stress, anxiety and even resentment at times so self care is super important. For me, this is going out for a walk, doing a workout or even taking the laptop to a cafe so I can some work without interruption from the children!
I used to work full-time and now i’d describe myself as a WAHM (work at home mum). I personally find it hard not to feel guilty in certain situations but I have to be strict on carving out time for my work otherwise I am literally doing it last thing at night when i’m totally exhausted!
On this note, it is also really important to have a date night or two. This is something myself and the husband are really working on!