I remember an article I wrote about eight years ago reprimanding parents who let their children cry in church, disturbing the rest of us heaven-bound Christians who wished to listen to the sermon. I also had a few words for mums who bribe their children with sweets and chocolate to get them to cooperate forgetting how they are breeding a generation of obese kids. Needless to say, I was young, naïve and had no children of my own.
Fast forward to 2016 and I am that mom who sits with her 11-month-old baby in the service where the little girl imitates the preacher, dishes out diapers from my handbag to strangers and pats people’s heads for smiles. I think it’s cute. No, I’m not trying to distract everyone; just a desperate mom who wants to listen to a sermon away from the chaos of the crèche where you find the service ended and you have no idea what the preaching was about.
Which other ways have I been “that” mom who sets herself up?
I have bribed my son with treats to get him to cooperate. I make him pop corn or give him my phone to play a game so that he can stop whining when I want to finish a movie or chat on Facebook. I have succumbed and bought him the chocolate he wants in the supermarket just because I do not have the mental energy to deal with a tantrum. I give him lollipop when we are in the car to make him forget he is hungry. I have let him eat cake for supper just because I didn’t want to get involved in the battle of wills.
I have forced my children to eat their meals, with varying levels of success. I used to be a firm believer that children should be allowed to ask for food when they are hungry, and to say ‘no’ when they are full. Until I met my son who will only ask for drinking chocolate or juice and never food and my daughter who has flat-lined on the growth charts mpaka the nurses doing growth monitoring give me those eyes of “irresponsible mum with skinny baby”. The problem with leaving my son hungry until he decides to ask for food is that hunger is the source of major toddler meltdowns in my house. Whenever my son is acting out, I first feed him and often the “bad manners” disappears. So to avoid a meltdown when we are headed to school or church, which then gets everyone involved in a bad mood, I force him to take his breakfast even if that means I have to hold a cane to him.
On holding canes, I thought I would be the mum who gives hugs to the tantrumming toddler, does timeouts, never yells (especially that one), and has perfectly behaved children. Honestly, how are you supposed to reason with to a two-year-old who will ignore you until you yell for the umpteenth time or pinch his ear? How are timeouts going to help the boy who keeps hitting his sister and runs away laughing telling you, “You can’t catch me.” I start out with very good intentions usually. “We can discipline without yelling or spanking,” I tel myself. But then my good voice gets ignored so I resort to whining, then yelling. Even the yelling doesn’t work so I either have to go and carry the boy physically away from something or to something, or I just bring the “mwiko” and I get instant results, most times. Moms love instant results and most other tools of discipline do not bring these. When you are strung out by an colicky infant, are stressed out by work, have just had a bad day in traffic, you want instant results. I try not to result to caning out of frustration and anger. But sometimes only the “mwiko” works. Also (hiding my face) I have found myself driven to the wall and in need of an outlet; and I need to to teach them who is the mom in that house; So mwiko, or the remote, or slippers, work well.
I have let my children sleep in my bed when they were small. I once saw a movie that romanticised the idea of sleeping with the kids. This couple had a huge bed, so on Saturday mornings, the kids would jump out of their beds and into mommy’s for a warm snuggle. I thought that was awesome and I too wanted the big bed. My daughter hated her cot- she would wake up screaming a minute after being placed there, every time. Not even changing the mattress helped. She also woke up five times, sometimes more, in a night to feed. One night I almost dropped her as I dozed while feeding her. That’s the night I started feeding her while lying down in bed. Let’s just say I got my sleep back but taking her back to her cot has tested my patience and Christianity.
I let my children set the rules and run my life, sometimes. We sometimes find ourselves watching cartoon the whole day because a little boy won’t let us change the channel — well, we can change but we choose to indulge him. We have eaten chips because that’s what my son wants for supper. I let my son run around the house for hours with no bottoms on because that’s what he wants. Last Sunday even the dad succumbed and let him go to church in shoes that were clashing with his outfit because that’s what he wanted. We have learnt to choose our battles and to know the things that are worth fighting about. Staying in the house with no shorts or underwear will not kill any of us so why fight over it? He wants to eat cake for supper? Let him eat, brush his teeth and go sleep. Did I really needed that 40 bob change? Well, let him have the crisps. What’s the worst that will happen if i let him step into the mud puddle?
I sometimes ignore bad behavior. Often all a parent needs is 15 minutes of quiet and calm. So instead of always intervening when one child does something to the other, sometimes I ignore that and leave them to test each other’s limits and willpower. As long as they are not strangling each other, I will ignore their bickering and toy snatching and let them sort it out themselves. I have watched my daughter pour a whole plate of spaghetti on the floor and proceed to play with it, because i knew that would distract her for a good 10 minutes and which mum doesn’t love 10-minutes of uninterrupted time.
I have parented by threats that I don’t mean to implement. I tell my son that I will never buy him another toy if he doesn’t let his sister play with his trucks. I threaten to call the neighbours or visitors to our house to get my son to put on his pants. At one desperate moment I even told him I will go to work on a Saturday if he doesn’t take his breakfast — I know, low moment for all womanity!
I have hidden from my kids. Sometimes I have to instruct the nanny to hide with the kids so that I can slip out of the house without dealing with a toddler meltdown. I have locked myself in the toilet to Facebook without having little hands smash my phone down. I sometimes sneak into the house because when one little person sees me, she will no longer ea her supper.
I have entertained my children with TV or gadgets. When my son was younger I realised that YouTube makes a wonderful child minder as does Teletubbies. The little guy would stay fixated on the screen, even forgetting to take a bathroom break. So what did I do when i wanted to watch a movie or cook without interruptions? I gave him the tablet. Now I use my phone to bribe him to stay still, or to make him stop following me around the house.