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the one thing you don’t learn in school…

Oh Joy / Ruby Running

Oh Joy / Ruby Running

We spend so much time of our young life in school learning the skills that are supposed to prepare us for the career we will have one day. But one thing I've always felt the least prepared for is the hardest job of all of them—how to be a good parent. No one teaches you how to deal with a toddler who has an unexpected tantrum or how to comfort a child when they wake up crying from a bad dream. Everyone knows how to make those cute babies but then we are left to fend for ourselves in figuring out what to do with them, how to talk to them, how to raise kids who will turn into good people (and not a-holes), and how to deal with every stage of life your kids go through… 

Recently, my friend Audrey (who is one of the most present and creative parents I know) told me how she and her husband have an annual vacation where they go away for the week and spend the first two days without the kids to talk about how they are doing as parents. It's alone time for her and her husband but also a chance away from home to evaluate what's working and what's not in their parenting. Then they go pick up the kids and bring them back for the rest of the week for a family vacation all together. I love the fact that they assess themselves as parents because most of us just assume that if our kids are generally happy that we are doing a good job. It's like their annual review but for the job of parenting.

Audrey inspired me to re-think some of the ways in which Bob and I parent. We think we do the right thing most of the time but the right thing isn't always so clear and is ever-changing as Ruby gets older. She's had a hard time adjusting to her little sister lately and has been acting out because of it. On top of that, three has been the most challenging year yet for us. As we try and help her navigate her emotions, what upsets her, and how to talk to others, I often find myself getting impatient and demanding. 

Whenever I find myself in a crossroads in an area of my life, it usually helps me to find a new book that might shed some new light on ways to do things that I may not have thought of. I've just started reading How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber. I'm only partway through, but so far it's helped change the way we talk to Ruby when she gets upset or when she's not listening. Instead of trying to immediately get her to stop reacting or to tell her not to do something, we're trying to be calmer and give her a chance to talk, too. It's been helping us to try and remember that she's just three and I can't always rationalize her behavior the way I would for an adult. In some ways it sounds so simple and obvious to let a kid tell you how they feel, but no one prepares you for how to react on the fly in various situations with kids when you need to act/think/respond quickly.

Parenting is one of those learn-as-you-go skills. There's no class, internship, or prep work that prepares you for the real stuff, the nitty gritty of it all. So, I'm trying my best to keep doing what works for us and our kids and also to take advice from books or trusted friends in areas where things aren't working so well.

Have you guys come across any life-changing parenting tricks/tips lately? If you're a parent, do you do assessments of yourself as parents?

37 comments

  1. Yes! We also have a 3.5 year old and a new 3 month old at home. It’s wonderful, but tough on the older child to lose the solo attention and even harder when you’re functioning on less sleep and patience is hard to find. I found this advice from Janet Lansbury’s blog helpful for those situations where the older child has a parent (or caregiver) preference – so tough when you’re trying to nurse a baby and the older child suddenly needs you (and only you!) for help in the bathroom, playing, eating, etc…. 😉 http://www.janetlansbury.com/2015/02/when-children-prefer-one-parent/

  2. Joy, thanks for sharing your thoughts on parenting. I am not a parent yet and always find such insights interesting. There is really no one size fits all guide. Know that you are doing amazingly well balancing so many things in your life. Some days can be harder than others, so please hang in there. Remember nothing lasts forever! Trust yourself and I am sure they will both turn out to be lovely, beautiful beings 🙂

  3. oh joy! i’m right there with you! my boys are 3 and 1 and my oldest has always been a challenge. I’ve been trying to get my head around that recently because in many ways, it’s not him, it’s me. i find it so stressful to not know what’s going on or what to do or whether we’re doing the right things. and because i’m a bit type A — a creative designer type — his typical boy instincts to touch, bang, and crash really push my buttons. instead of freaking out over my inability to control him my new mantra is “you can’t control him.” it’s my way of reminding myself that he’s healthy active 3 year old boy and if he’s going to make a pillow fort out of our couch (again!) or dump the legos out on the floor so he can get to the bottom, it’s going to be ok. add to the mix trying to give us more time for getting from a to b so he can move at his glacial “touch everything” pace and being more organized like packing our bags the night before.
    for books, we’re trying 1,2,3 Magic and I really like it. it’s taking the drama out of discipline and giving us a clear structure for what to do when. i love the instruction for the parents – to not have emotion and not talk too much. those two things have made a world of difference for me alone.
    http://www.amazon.com/1-2-3-Magic-Effective-Discipline-Children/dp/1889140708/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1429109232&sr=8-1&keywords=1-2-3-magic
    and my son is obsessed with Bumblebee Boy which I think is the sweetest big brother, little brother book. it has really helped him understand and express his feelings about play with his brother.
    http://www.amazon.com/Amazing-Adventures-Bumblebee-Ladybug-Girl/dp/0803734182/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1429108998&sr=8-1&keywords=bumblebee+boy
    this one is a sweet big sister book too (that my son loves)
    http://www.amazon.com/Twins-Little-Sister-Hyewon-Yum/dp/0374379734/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1429109057&sr=8-2&keywords=twin+little+sisters

  4. i literally just did a post on books that made a difference in parenting (since yes, they don’t teach much in school) – if you have a chance No-Drama Discipline helped us in that question of the tantrums and especially in the context of a sibling and being realistic about how to respond vis a vis where the child is in their own brain development. Parenting from the Inside Out was also helpful – we focus so much on what our kids are doing wrong that sometimes we forget to ask why we’re having the reactions we are. Those two might help – and I’ll definitely check out your recommendation as well. Loved your earlier recommendation on Happy Sleeper!

  5. I’m a mother of 8, never thought I’d have this many kids. You’d think I’d be an expert but each child has different personalities, different issues, sensitivities, etc. It doesn’t get easier dealing with tantrums and hard situations, especially in public like when you’re waiting in a long line at the grocery store. Haha I’m sure everyone can relate. Anyways I have one thing that I’ve found and it’s if your child is having a full out meltdown or tantrum the best thing I can do is hug them. It calms them down faster then anything else I’ve tried. My oldest child had a full out tantrum in the mall because his shoelaces were crooked, he was 2 or 3. I’m sure I tried bribing or anything else I could but I wish I knew I could of made it better temporarily by just hugging him. Goodluck to all the parents trying to deal with kid issues and bravo for wanting to get better at it. Although I can predict some things, like if a child is going to fall when walking up a curb or running down the sidewalk, even having 8 kids it doesn’t get easier or give me more expertise, I’ve just had more chances to see what works sometimes and try to get better at it. Happy parenting!!

  6. Tantrums, love them! Haha, I have two kids and I agree with Darla that every kid is different. What works for one may not with the other. With the first kid, we were strict and it worked(http://amyboonsiriseth.com/weblog/weblog_0812.html#point11). But with my daughter, she is too strong willed so I usually have to use diversion to break the tantrum(http://amyboonsiriseth.com/weblog/weblog_0215.html#point3). But in the end, they grow so fast that by the time you figure them out, they’ve moved on to a more mature stage. 🙂

  7. Joy, when you say there is no class that prepares us for parenting, you are completely right! It is a learn on the job kind of thing. We, as parents, do our best and that is what children will perceive as they grow up. We all went through “growing up” and survived, ha!. And I think that having a sister is the best thing that will ever happen to Ruby. So it will be fine. Books, your personal criteria, and friends help is the answer! Read on Joy!

  8. Thank you for this wonderful post. Although classes can help prepare us, the real world definitely is quite different. As you said, parenting is definitely one of those things where you learn as you go. Best of luck to you! 🙂

  9. Loved this post. One book I have loved for perspective in adjusting to different children in their uniqueness is called The Child Whisperer. At its base are principles for helping children express themselves in ways that honor their true self while understanding how to bridle their reactions. It’s an interesting read that is already helping me with my three month old.
    Ruby is a beautiful gal!

  10. I’m a big fan of Janet Lansbury’s blog. Her advice always resonates with me as true and has helped me immensely with my young toddler. I just started ‘parenting from the inside out.’ It seems very helpful in understanding our own triggers as parents – why some things make us so uncomfortable, angry, etc. I’m convinced that our kids are here to make us better people.

  11. What a great post Joy :). I actually disagree though, i NEVER feel like I’m doing a good enough job as a parent. I constantly feel like I can do better and I pretty much assess my parenting on a daily basis. I don’t read a ton of books, but I do have one bible: “Becoming the parent you want to be” by Janis Keyser. http://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Parent-You-Want-Sourcebook/dp/0553067508
    It has helped me so much I literally re-read it all the time, especially whenever I find myself in a hard phase. I have a 2.5 yr old and a 10month old and my older one is certainly the one with more emotions, stronger feelings, etc. I am not sure I would feel the need to read anything if I only had my 10m old :).
    I find parenting to be by far the hardest job ever because it’s incredibly multi-dimensional and it is EVERY MOMENT OF THE DAY you are with your children. Every moment is a time to model an opportunity to teach. You can always do better. I love it and find it to be my total passion in life (though I do work full time at a huge tech company that I also love).
    Can we do more posts like these? 🙂 Thank you again!!!

  12. I actually took a parenting and child development class in high school. It was for credit and only a semester, but it was offered and a lot of people took it as elective credits. It was very informative, but probably not took in depth for high school students.

  13. I think it’s wonderful that you’re assessing yourself as a parent! As a special education teacher of kindergarteners/1st graders, I spend my days working with students who have difficulty communicating their emotions and developing social skills. I am constantly worrying about doing the right thing based on children’s needs, research, and my own schooling.
    I love Adele Faber’s books! (I have “How to Talk so Kids Can Learn”). I would also suggest “Parenting Without Power Struggles” by Susan Stiffelman. It’s a helpful book that gives you great ideas for what to do in the moment.

  14. i have 5 babies. the youngest is 8 months and the oldest is 14 and i’ve found that one thing works no matter what age. i ask myself if my decision/rule/etc. is out of fear (not to be confused with discernment or wisdom) or love. love should win every time. xo . rae

  15. Thank you so much for this post!! I was just having a difficult morning with my 3.5 yr old daughter about her dance class. I’m in the same situation as you with 2 little girls almost the same age as yours. I am going to order these books right now and I’m also checking out the ones everyone has mentioned in the comments. It’s comforting to know that we’re all going through the same struggles and this phase will pass.

  16. Hi Joy, I enjoyed reading this even though I’m not a parent yet. I like to find books to guide me as well whenever I need help on encountering/going through a new stage in life. I’m glad that I get this “heads-up” before I head into parenthood. Always lovely to read your posts 🙂

  17. thank you. so true.
    I wrote my first “not so great” post today (minitecture.org) – i am glad i’ve got to read your post tonight!
    thanks again

  18. We’ve all been there, Joy! I’m a firm believer that you never know what you’re made of until you’ve lived with a three year old. It gets easier. It really does. Hang in there!

  19. Hi Joy. Please don’t be so hard on yourself, I think the fact that you are reflecting on your parenting skills says it all – you are a fantastic parent. We are all doing the best we can and honestly, there is no right way to do it. There are many ways and I honestly don’t think there is a right or wrong way (except when you are deliberately being neglectful or hurtful towards your children). I think that is why there isn’t a manual to tell us how to raise them. I think this is true for many things in life, there is rarely a single way to approach something that is the “right way”.

  20. Its terrible 3’s for sure, 2 is a breeze.
    I was recommend the same book by my pediatrician, but she also suggested the book “pocket parent” I found it very helpful because it gives you list of many ideas on how to confront/deal with a certain behavior, emotion, or problem.

  21. Nothing can ever completely prepare someone for being a parent, but there are so many resources available for anyone who wants advice or help! I work as a Family Support Specialist for families with children ages 0-3. It’s an income-based home visiting program and I work with the families on child development, discipline techniques, family goals, etc.
    I recommend this website to a lot of families: http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/ There are parent modules with techniques on a lot of topics.
    But really, I think the best parent is one who tries to make themselves a better parent! 🙂

  22. That Faber book is great! I read it while in graduate school for education. Honestly, it will completely change the way to talk to you child–for the better!

  23. Now that I think of it, you might also be interesting in Love and Logic. I use it as a teacher, but they have books geared toward parents, as well.

  24. Thank you for this post. It is so true. Parenting is hard, and we’re all imperfect. By the way, I feel like three was much harder than the “terrible two’s!”

  25. I’m not a parent, but I do love how much consideration you seem to have for your kid. I wish more parents would actually take the time to think about how they treat their children and whether or not their expectations are age appropiate. It would make life so much easier for both, the children and the parents. Thank you for this lovely post!

  26. I would like to recommend an amazing book called “Simplicity Parenting”. It’s beautiful and practical and helps to realize and bring about the dreams we have concerning our children.

  27. so so true. i also recommend sibling rivalry by the same author. i think those two are the best parenting books i’ve read to date.

  28. Recently my husband stayed home with our daughter for her spring break from school. After a rough day he seemed tired and we talked. I shared with him that my personal parenting barometer is measured by those moments when you know, for absolutely sure, that you are doing a good job. These moments are fleeting. For me it occurs when I make my daughter laugh her head off, or when I take her to the dentist, or I buy her a ball and we kick it around for a sunny hour. I aim for just one of these moments per day. Then I know I’m doing a good job.

  29. Thank you for the wonderful post, Joy! I also started to read this book and even I’m now reading at chapter 2, I can truely recommend it for everyone!
    I thought, it’s not only helpful for parenting but also for the communicating with adults! The book starts with the sentence ‘I was a wonderful parent before I had children.’ – I totally feel the same and I could change this only with few words, ‘I was a wonderful partner before I had my husband.’ haha.:-))
    I’m not saying that we as adults are just like children, but the basic skill of talking each other or discussing together seems to be always the same and I could have prevented more than 70% of conflicts with my husband, if I read this book before. And when someone’s still having trouble to talk with his parents, it might be also due to the improper way by talking each other from the childhood.
    Thank you so much again and I wish you always happy, healthy days!

  30. I feel like taking a calmer and kinder approach than I want to or feel like always helps. I follow this woman on FB (and everywhere), and she’s amazing. Seriously! She’s full of great, funny, real-life stories and reminders about how to keep your wits about you and parent the best way for your personality and the particular kid(s) you have. Promise this isn’t spam. http://www.positivelyparenting.com/

  31. Great post. I am so with you here. We have a 6 year old and a 2 year old. The two year old is a major pickle and tests me every single day. Everything I learnt from Amelie has been torn up and thrown out the window. Just when you think you have it sorted it all changes. I have read the book by Adele Faber. It’s great read.
    Amy

  32. haha, I too was a wonderful partner before I got married. Although I still think I am and it’s just him who’s changed! 🙂

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