Did it really matter?

I recently received this question from a long time reader, Judy:

What seemed important when your children were toddlers and preschoolers that you now realise didn’t matter? And what are the things that you think were important then and you can now see the long term benefits?

I love this question from Judy and it is something I have been given some thought to of late. I certainly think I have relaxed into motherhood over the years. This is something I think only comes with time and experiences. I can certainly look back and remember times where I worried greatly about things, that with the benefit of hindsight, I should have never worried about at all. There are other things I would do differently if I had my time over again too. Below are just a few learnings I share to answer Judy’s question.

Following the lead of our kids is important

I have two recent examples that made me realise that following the natural development of kids is something important we can do. I think it is easy to get caught up in looking at what other kids are doing and in the clever marketing campaigns of big companies, leading to us trying to rush things that perhaps our kids aren’t ready or we aren’t ready for.

If we focus on following the lead of our kids and the natural stages of their development we are less likely to worry about things that don’t really matter in the longer term. For example, just because they are building trikes and bikes for kids younger and younger doesn’t mean we have to buy them for our kids.

Both my husband and I and most of our friends for that matter, didn’t receive a bike until we were in primary school. My three sisters and I all had the same starting bike. We may have had training wheels for a week or so but that was about it and we were off on our bike.

With our first child, he received his first bike when he was around three and naturally it had training wheels. He found it challenging to learn to ride and bike riding generally meant quite a bit of work for me when we took the bikes out. Fast forward to our fifth child and he received his first bike last Christmas just before he turned seven. He had plenty of scooters to ride, had a trike, but had never asked for a bike.

Last year when people asked him what he wanted for Christmas, the only reply he gave was a bike. Santa delivered a lovely new bike with no training wheels. I took him out for the initial ride in my sister’s back yard, but after that he wanted to do it on his own. On one, not too large square of cement, he taught himself to ride the bike before lunch on Christmas Day.

There were certainly times in the years before getting him a bike, I would see other kids riding a bike or I would think about him not being able to ride a bike and would have a severe case of the mother guilts. A bonus of having five kids is that sometimes you cannot act on every single thing you would like to – there isn’t always the time, energy or resources to do so.

But to look at it objectively, he never asked about a bike before this and he never felt sad or unhappy because he didn’t have a bike and he is completely happy with the bike he has now. Kids tend to live in the moment much more than adults do.

The second example also relates to an experience with out fifth child. This year was the first year he has had school shoes with laces and he is in year two. Despite the fact that I read that tying shoelaces is quite a complex fine motor skill and one that is generally mastered at around six but can be older, {source}, I had insisted that the other kids needed to be able to tie their own laces before they went to school.

To achieve the shoe lace tying I put in many, many, many sessions with some of the kids, who found this task particularly challenging. It was for some, a source of frustration and not really a fun time we spent together.

This January before school started, we bought new school shoes for the kids and made sure master seven had shoes with laces. We had one session practicing on a card with shoe laces, one together with the shoes off his feet and a final one with them on his feet and then he set to practising by himself. There was no frustration and he was super eager to learn this new skill. He spent time on his own persevering and he now happily does his own shoe laces.

I think our kids are the best teachers if we listen. They can signal to us when they are ready, yes some might need a little prompting, but embracing the different paces kids develop at leads to better experiences.

Phonics is key to learning to read

It wasn’t until our third child was in school, did I begin to understand the importance of phonics in reading. Not just to get them going, but to provide kids with the skills to become confident and capable readers.

I have written about phonics quite a bit on the blog and had some amazing experts share their tips, which you can find here.

It is worth the effort to create independent kids

With three kids in secondary school now and two in primary school, I am really seeing the benefits of spending time to create independent kids. Having a philosophy of letting kids do what hey are capable of has meant, that the three secondary school kids are completely responsible for getting themselves ready for school, making their own lunches and making their way to and from school.

The benefit to me is huge, in terms of reduced workload, but it is also incredibly beneficial to the kids as well. They have great life skills and are well prepared when they go on school camps etc. From the age of four the kids starting having set tasks they had to do around the house, on top of basics like tidy their room, put their dirty clothes in the wash basket etc.

I am sure I am still doing plenty of things for the kids that some other parents would think they should be doing for themselves and I am okay with that. I think it is about finding what works for your family. I am also flexible, on days it is raining I will drive the kids to the station, on super hot afternoons, I will pick them up from the station, during exam times I will make their lunches. As this is not the norm though, there is true appreciation from the kids that I have taken the time to do this for them.

Kids develop eating habits early on and it is harder to change when they are older

If you have been reading the blog for a few years, you will know that I have completely changed the way I eat. As I cook almost all the meals in our home, the main meals are fine, but there are some habits the kids have which I would love to change. These habits started before I changed to a healthier approach to eating and I have found them hard to eliminate.

I have always had the approach with food, that I don’t want it to be a battle, so some of these habits I have chosen to accept rather than fight them with the teenagers. Waiting until kids are teenagers to swap them over to brown bread or to prevent them from covering food with tomato sauce is too late in our family.

If you have little ones now, try to ride out the fussy food stage if you can, teenagers are much harder to change!

Kids need to feel a range of emotions

When the first few kids were younger I would very much want them to be happy all the time. This is unrealistic and unhelpful. They need to experience the full range of emotions in a safe environment like their own home. They need to:

  • feel sad when they lose at games they love
  • feel frustrated when they have to wait for their needs to be met
  • feel angry when they aren’t allowed to do something
  • feel disappointed when things don’t work out the way they wanted

It is only through feeling these emotions can they practise managing them and controlling them. Kids bounce back very quickly, I think much quicker than adults. Resisting the temptation to smooth everything over instantly won’t necessarily help them grow emotionally.

I see parenting as a dynamic activity. I imagine by the time I have had three kids reach 18, I will be able to write a similar post on the teenage years. I want to be a great parent, but I know that in reality I am only that some of the time.

I make mistakes, I make wrong choices, I get frustrated and overwhelmed. But thankfully kids are very forgiving. My heart is in the right place and rather than beat myself up on the would have, could have and should haves, I try my best to learn and do better the next time.

What would you answer to Judy’s question?