I share a lot of my parenting trials and tribulations with you guys, and I think it’s important to do so. Without sharing those parts – where I fail and falter and lose my shit – it’s way too easy to accept an edited, filtered, Instagram version of reality, and we all know that’s bullshit, right? You can’t crop out the mess in real life and nor should you try – that’s where the beauty and the learning live.
I do like to share some positives too, though, and that’s what this list is. I think we all need to write lists like this every so often and then pin them to the inside of our bathroom mirrors or slide them under our pillows, so that whenever the weight of being a parent feels like it’s crushing you, you can pull it out and see some wins.
We need to do this because jesus christ this thing is hard. It’s hard for me when 75% of the time it’s only me, it’s hard for parents of multiple kids, it’s hard for parents with spouses deployed, it’s hard for parents of children with special needs. And even if you’re a “normal” parent with a supportive, helpful spouse and a strong community and financial security and healthy kids it’s still hard because holy shit this parenting gig ain’t easy for anyone.
I, like most of you, probably focus too much on the losses and failures. My parenting spotlight is always shining directly on the places that need work or the current horrible phase I’m white-knuckling my way through. And when Olive and I have worked through that phase, often with patience and grace and constant communication, I don’t often stop to celebrate or reflect upon this parenting win or even notice it, really. Because there’s something else to deal with – there’s always something else.
Yet I do find myself thinking sometimes about what I’ve done right. What I am proud of; what I would do again, if I had the chance. This is a list of some of those things.
1. Eating Habits
Olive is a champion, all-star, eat-anything kid. This is probably just luck of the draw (and please feel free to yell at me in the comments for what I’m about to say) but sometimes I like to pat myself on the back and take a little credit for her stellar eating habits.
I think part of it was choosing to avoid baby food – store bought or homemade. It seems like most baby food tends to have a really sweet base of either pear or apple, and I think it sort of skews baby’s taste buds to prefer and expect sweet food.When Olive started eating actual food, I just basically fed her little pieces of whatever I was eating – sweet potato, broccoli, kale, olives, blue cheese, etc. and I think this allowed her to get used to a huge variety of textures and flavours from a really early age, rather than eating mostly smooth, sweet baby food.
I also really limit the amount of sugar she consumes – the occasional ice cream or chocolate is fantastic, but I don’t buy juice (it has almost as much sugar as pop) and we don’t do daily desserts, fruit snacks, granola bars etc. As a result of this (or, again, maybe just due to freak chance) Olive has a really healthy, veggie-heavy, and adventurous appetite.
There are definitely other things we struggle with at mealtimes (like actually sitting to eat), but I’ve always been able to be stress-free about her eating habits and it’s been fantastic being able to bring her to a restaurant and know she’ll eat pretty much anything.
2. Potty Training
I started sitting Olive on the potty when she was 8 months old. I felt crazy doing it initially, but it was awesome and I would totally, 10/10 do it again.
In the beginning, we would spend about 10 minutes on the potty at the beginning of the day (a little beco potty, in case you’re wondering) and once she got the hang of it, she would poop on the potty every morning and I basically didn’t have to change poopy diapers anymore. This made me irrationally happy – especially since I was cloth diapering – and I think it also made it wayyyy easier when it came time to potty train fully, which we did around 22 months.
Starting that young meant she always knew what a potty was and how to use it, and by fully potty training her before the stubborn toddler phase hit I got to skip any power struggles about the issue.
Seeing how strong-willed Olive has been about other daily tasks (see: getting dressed; AKA the bane of my existence for the past 18 months) I think if I had waited to potty train at two and a half or three years old it would have been an absolute nightmare.
3. Sign Language
Olive and I took a baby sign language class but I learned most of it just by looking up individual signs online as we needed to teach them. There was about 6-8 months between when Olive learned to sign and when she learned to speak in full sentences, and her being able to use sign language to communicate what she needed (milk or potty) or even just tell me what she was seeing (dog, bird) was unbelievably cool.
Also, if I ever need to converse with someone hearing-impaired and/or fluent in ASL, I will be able to understand like 2% of what they say! Hurray!
I found this video the other day of Olive at around 20 months old, sharing some signs. This was just when her speech and signing were beginning to overlap – as she learned the words for the signs she’d been using, they’d disappear. (Also OMG how cute is she??)
4. Positive Reinforcement
This is something I learned in my former job was working with at-risk teens, and it has served me well through the toddler years, too. When tantrums start and boundary-pushing behaviour starts coming out in full force (see: toddlers; teenagers) it can feel like all you do is correct their behaviour all day.There’s a lot of interrupting and redirecting and enforcing appropriate consequences and discussing what went wrong. The misbehaviour is a necessary (and developmentally appropriate) part of the age group, but the constant correcting shouldn’t be the full story.
Despite the many ways I could be parenting better, I think one of the things I’ve done well is to try and recognize and discuss Olive’s good behaviours at least as much as I do the bad. This means that when I sit Olive down to talk to her about misbehaving, the conversation doesn’t end with “Don’t do that again”, it ends with “What could you do differently next time?”.
She suggests things and we work through it until we come up with a reaction that would be more appropriate. This doesn’t always kick in right away, it takes a few repetitions and it can be incredibly frustrating because it feels like you’re not getting through to them at all. But eventually, it sticks. And when it does? Holy hell you need to recognize the shit out of that moment and celebrate it! Literally high five your kid for pausing and interrupting that instinctual response to hit or yell or throw something, and choosing a different behaviour instead. That’s huge!
5. Nursing to sleep
My post about this (which has now been viewed over a million times) is how many of you found me. It discussed the somewhat controversial – but in my ever-so-expert opinion, having had exactly one child, lovely and natural – practice of nursing babies to sleep.
Every mom and baby pair are different, but for Olive and I this worked so, so well. I’m so glad I did this and I don’t regret one moment of those hours I spent with baby Olive watching her drift off to sleep. I really, really miss it sometimes. I would do it again in a heartbeat, no questions asked.
These days we read books before going to bed, sometimes I lie with her until she falls asleep, sometimes if I have stuff I need to get done we cuddle for ten minutes and then I go. Sometimes she’s in her bed all night, sometimes she’s in mine, sometimes she switches from one to the other after a late-night bathroom break. And ironically, sometimes when bedtimes are infuriating and frustrating and I end up putting her back to bed eleventy-million times I wish I could just nurse to sleep – it was so easy!
So, those are five of my small wins in a sea of things I wish I’d done better. What are yours?