Wednesday, July 4, 2012

9 Essential Gifts For New Parents

Receiving gifts when you're about to have a baby (or babies) is exciting. Being able to give gifts to friends and family is sometimes even better. For me, this mostly has to do with sharing items that have helped so much or have been really useful. I love to pass on wisdom and as a mom of twins, often that wisdom has come through a trial by fire. I like to spare others some of the learning-the-hard-way that I had to go through!

By far, the greatest gifts I've gotten over the years turned out not to be material things, but rather wisdom gained and lessons learned. I threw myself into this job of mothering with great passion, but without a lot of planning. I made a number of stumbles along the way, but slowly I am figuring it out. 

I threw myself into writing this blog in much the same way. And my purpose for doing it has always been to share what I've learned in order to help others. I want to pass on some of the gifts I wish I had received and embraced early on. I truly believe had I been so lucky, the first few years would have been a lot easier on my whole family. So, I share these gifts with you in the hopes that they will provide you with greater insight, connection and peace. 

1. The Gift Of Understanding

Have you ever struggled to explain to yourself, to your partner or to childless friends just exactly how life changes when you become a mother? When I read this beautiful post by The Sage Mama, entitled Rebirth: What We Don't Say, I felt like she had given voice to the wordless emotions I had and made sense of the confusion and turmoil I felt after letting go of a career to become a mother. It's so worth reading in full, but here's just a taste of it:
"When I did get back to me, I was gone. This is the thing that women don’t tell each other about motherhood. That you will never be who you were. That you will not see anything the way you used to see it, you will never hear language the way you used to hear it, music, color, photos, friends, family, career path–nothing or no one came through my transition from single woman to mother unexamined. Least of all myself". ~ The Sage Mama   
2. The Gift Of Perseverance 

If only there were directions, we would
always know which key to use.
I often joke that once you have figured your children's patterns out, everything changes and you have to start all over again. Understanding the best way to reach your children takes more than just reading all the right books and having a bunch of catch phrases. It's an absolute art to be able to understand what a person needs in any given moment - especially if that person isn't able to fully understand or communicate their needs. 

I loved this recent Facebook status update from Kimberly of The Single Crunch (a wonderful blog, by the way). She beautifully makes clear why it is so worthwhile to try, try and keep trying to connect with your children:
"You're standing in front of a locked door. Someone has told you that there is definitely a treasure inside, let's say a check for 10 billion dollars. You are given a key ring that holds 5,000 keys and told that one is definitely the key to open the door. You could break the door down if you want but in doing so, you forfeit the prize. Are you going to say, "Forget this" because you don't have the time? Probably not. You want the treasure. It's totally worth the effort. You'll try for days and days, and most days you won't find the key. Some days you will tire and you maybe won't try as much. But you'll always go back, because the treasure is promised. 
Children are similar. There are SO MANY ways to connect with them, gently. The advice we are given or the words that may work for some families may not work for us. What works one day may blow up in our face the next. Many children are much harder to reach than others. So hard that some days we lose it and don't respond the way we wish. 
But we don't give up, because there is a treasure in every child, and we can access it with our love and patience. Spanking is the quick way. It's breaking the door down instead of opening it. If you have a high-needs child please don't give up parenting peacefully. Keep seeking until you've found the key. Remind yourself that your relationship with your child should he of paramount importance. And give yourself credit for your hard work. No one is perfect, no one is close, and our children don't need perfect. They need peace and compassion. Much love to all parents who've vowed to raise our children free of intimidation and violence, because, as I love to say...
Children ARE valuable people, too. 
And so many of us are outside that door with you. ♥" 
3. The Gift Of Observation

Stepping back and letting children
discover for themselves 
When my children were first born I often felt so unbelievably exhausted. I chalked it up, then, to the usual lack of sleep a mother of newborns has. But now I realize that I was certainly sleep deprived, but more than that, I was mentally exhausted from trying to entertain my babies constantly. 

I was so sure they needed this constant stimulation to reach their milestones and full potential that I was pulled in a hundred directions at any given moment and was, more often than not, frustrated and burned out (and probably my children were totally overwhelmed by the constant activity). 

This terrific post from Janet Lansbury (titled aptly enough "How To Stop Entertaining Your Baby") would have given me so much relief in those early days. Instead of concentrating on their reactions to my antics, I would have realized I could sit back, relax and see that these little beings were in fact learning more from being observed than they ever were by being "stimulated"!
"Most babies do love it when we stand them up, carry them around and otherwise entertain them. What’s not to love? When these ways of interacting become the norm, they are desired and expected. This wish to repeat the familiar can become a distraction that makes it difficult for the child to engage in the slower paced, self-created and self-designed activities that are profoundly beneficial and vital to learning. 
It isn’t that your baby feels “restricted” playing on the floor; it’s just that it is such a new and foreign idea to her. (In fact, she is far more restricted and dependent when you are holding her up). And she may not yet believe that she has your attention when you are quieter and more passive, so you’ll have to prove it. The key is to gently wean your baby from expecting entertainment while providing her the trust, space and time to create her own."
4. The Gift Of Self-Control

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that understanding and controlling my own temper is something I have been working on for years. The few posts I've written about it are among the most popular posts on my blog which says to me that a lot of you struggle with the same issues. 

I think for many new parents the realization that they can feel such intense anger at their own children is very overwhelming and upsetting. Dr. Laura Markham's post, How To Handle Your Anger At Your Child, is one of those wonderful articles that makes you see things so clearly without ever feeling judged. And in those early days of parenthood such clear advice can make a huge difference to overwhelmed parents.
"But no matter how aggravating we find our child's behavior, that behavior doesn't cause our angry response. We see our child's behavior ("He hit her again!), and we draw a conclusion ("He's going to be a psychopath!") which triggers other conclusions ("I've failed as a mother!"). This cascade of thoughts triggers a run-away train of emotions, in this case fear, dismay, guilt. We can't bear those feelings. The best defense is a good offense, so we lash out at our child in anger. The whole process takes all of two seconds."
5. The Gift Of Knowledge.

It's no wonder they used to refer to it as "the boob tube"
The one thing I did decide before the kids were born was that there wouldn't be any television for them before the age of 3. I had read enough here and there to convince me that it wasn't good for their brain development, but I had trouble convincing others who thought there was really no reason to worry about how much television kids watch. 

Even my husband thought I was nuts about refusing to let him have it on, even in the background, when the kids were around.

I wasn't able to back my intuition up with research I could pull out of my back pocket. And listening to friends or acquaintances tell me about how much time their babies were spending in front of screens made me insane. But then I read this wonderful article from Teacher Tom's blog called Watching Television Is Relaxing and at last I had something that would make people take notice. In the post Tom discusses the powerful research that shows that television actually has a similar effect on our brains that narcotics do:  
"In college (30+ years ago) we were already talking in our journalism classes about the narcotizing effects of television. It's a real thing. I'm not saying that you should keep your child away from TV, but you need to know, it's no different than putting them on drugs. It's an effective, but not a harmless way to buy yourself a little peace and quiet."
For additional scientific links provided by Teacher Tom on this concept, see his follow up post I Don't Know What It Means, But It's True

6. The Gift Of Peace Of Mind

One of the hardest things for me when my children were new to me was looking at those charts that lists what your children should be able to do by each stage in their lives. Were they sitting up at the right age? Were they using multi-word sentences by the right age? Were they playing with other children or still doing parallel play? What did this all mean? Were they OK? Would she ever learn to "play nice" or would she always be the child who hit other kids?

As children begin to get a little older this fear morphs into "Kindergarten Readiness". You begin to hear the constant refrain of "what does my child need to know to be ready for school?" and while many parents will list their child's number counting or ability to spell, this often serves to stress people out because it sets up a competitive energy among parents. 

I have always loved this post from A Magical Childhood called What A 4 Year Old Should Know:
"She should know that the world is magical and that so is she. She should know that she’s wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvelous. She should know that it’s just as worthy to spend the day outside making daisy chains, mud pies and fairy houses as it is to practice phonics. Scratch that– way more worthy."
7. The Gift Of Simplicity

Along the lines of getting caught up in whether or not our children are experiencing every advantage and reaching their potential, comes the idea that we want to encourage, but not praise mindlessly. But in our efforts to encourage, do we actually end up making our children not feel good enough? Does all of the narrating and extensive detail used (while avoiding the pointless "good job") actually make our children focus too much on their accomplishment or lack thereof? Do they feel the pressure of living up to our words of encouragement?

Rachel from Hands Free Mama wrote a post recently that made a really big impact on me (and on many thousands of others judging by her Facebook page's explosion of popularity): Six Words You Should Say Today. These 6 simple words can change the way you see your family immediately. Try might make a huge difference.
"It went against my grain to not elaborate, but I said nothing about the dots, nothing about the notes, and nothing about her pitch. This was a time to simply leave it at that. 
My child’s face broke into her most glorious smile—the one that causes her eyes to scrunch up and become little slices of joy. And then she did something I didn’t expect. She threw herself against me, wrapped her arms tightly around my neck, and whispered, “Thank you, Mama.”
[...] In some cases, less is more. 
Less can be exactly what they need to hear. No pressure … just love, pure and simple."
8.  The Gift Of Cooperation 

In the few years that I have been organizing parent ed meetings for our multiples club and writing this blog I have noticed that one of the main topics of interest is how to get children to cooperate. I think what people often mean by cooperation is "how do I get my children to do what I want them to do?"

As a new parent it can be incredibly frustrating to feel that you're spending your whole day stopping your children from throwing food on the floor or from jumping on the couch or any number of other things you don't want them to do. To make things worse, you get so many conflicting pieces of advice from different "experts" that you may end up feeling paralyzed.

I have learned a lot about relating to children from Lisa Sunbury and had a hard time choosing just one of her posts to include here. But What To Say Instead Of "NO"! 6 Ways To Gain Your Child's Cooperation is one of those light bulb moment posts that I wish I had read when my children were toddlers. 
"Did you know? The average one year old hears the word “no” an unbelievable 400 times a day! 
The problem with the word “No” is this: when it’s used too often, toddlers tend to tune it out after awhile.”No” alone doesn’t help your toddler learn what to do instead. Also, saying “No!” in a louder and louder voice (as you may be tempted to do when your toddler all but ignores you the first five times you say it), is not going to help him hear and heed your message any better. It may just lead to frustration for both of you."
9. The Gift Of Remembering

"There was a time when you were five years old,
and you woke up full of awesome.

You knew you were awesome.

You loved yourself.

You thought you were beautiful,
even with missing teeth and messy hair and mismatched socks inside your grubby sneakers.

You loved your body, and the things it could do.

You thought you were strong.

You knew you were smart.

Do you still have it?
The awesome."

This is the beginning of one of my favorite posts ever. It's called Waking Up Full Of Awesome and it's from a blog I love called Pigtail Pals. It's part of my gift list because I think there's nothing more powerful than remembering what it's like to be little and feeling like everything is a possibility and that you can do anything. 

Every one of us once felt that way...and some of us lost our awesome along the way. I don't ever want your kids to lose theirs. That's why I want you to always remember what it was like waking up full of awesome.


I hope you enjoy these gifts. There were so many others I wanted to share with you, but they'll have to wait for another time. Take your time with these, try things on, see how they feel for you and if you want to let me know what you think, I always love your comments!
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