From the back to the middle and round again

From the back to the middle and around again
I’m gonna be there til the end
100% pure love

Crystal Waters “100% Pure Love” (C) 1994 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Right now this feels like parenting to me. Back around again and again doing it for love. Being there until the end because it never seems to end.

Bluemilk’s Running on empty post on the difficulty of the first year of parenting has prompted this post about the first year of school. This is the second time we have done the first year of school and frankly I was surprised by how difficult the transition has been. I have been to the school three times and taken my child away with me twice, at the schools request. One day, when taking my older child to an annual checkup in Canberra, I took younger child as well as the teacher had said she couldn’t run the risk of me not being there to collect my child if anything went wrong. So we all went to the appointment, there was some colourful language (mine) when trying to find a park at the hospital but apart from that we all had a lovely day. I decided that this meant two things: one the problem was not intractable and two it wasn’t going to be solved by younger child spending time away from school with me. Somehow we had to get school and child to fit together. Coincidentally, someone I follow on Twitter asked how much screen time (TV and computers) other parents gave their children because they were thinking that their kids were having too much. My response was my workmate enforces a strict 2hrs per day whereas we were pretty lax about it all. I wondered if perhaps limiting TV time was something that we needed to do.* I gave it some thought and discussed it with MyNigel and we decided on 2hrs per day of TV/computer and a winding back of bedtime was worth trying. We are also trying switching off the TV at meal times and sitting down together to eat.

At a meeting with the school Principal we gave the following undertaking: bedtime would be moved back to 7.30pm, screen time would be limited to 2hrs per day and consequences for actions would be followed through. I would go to work early and leave early so that their school day finished prior to 5pm. MyNigel is going into work later after seeing them safely to school.

We have done it now for just over a week. On the plus side: younger child is getting more sleep, behaving at school in an acceptable manner, and bought home a merit certificate for being kind to others – which is a huge improvement since being sent home for hitting others the week before. Older child listens more when not mesmerised by the TV. Meal planning is happening and we are more organised.

Negatives: having to police the TV and computer all the time and the whinging that goes along with having to turn the TV off and wanting to return to the old ‘rules’. If we get lax like we did this weekend the old behaviours return quickly. I am tired. Tired from getting up early to get to work early and then coming home and immediately getting into putting on dinner so that meals and baths can take place before 7.30pm. Feeling like I’m a bad mother for not doing this sooner. Wishing that my children would just magically behave without the need for active parenting. It was quite a shock to find that my laid back parenting style didn’t make the ‘good enough’ parenting grade.

I think it is something that we will all grow into and negotiate as we go. I’m hoping that it gets easier and certainly the positive changes in the kids behaviour is worth the effort. I was surprised at how easily they found other things to do, despite claiming to be bored.

It has also highlighted some interesting things with the school. My child is a wonderful child who never does anything wrong spawn of Satan neurotypical child who can be stubborn and difficult at times and angelic at others. As with my older child I think the school needed to make some adjustments to how and who they are, except that in the second instance it all came to a head much quicker. I have had the opportunity to have a lot of input into how the school dealt with the issues and said that I thought group work was an issue. My children have always preferred their own company and I think being forced to work in a group for more than a few minutes at a time was a signifcant stressor of my child. Add to that a sleep debt and bang. I also told them they had to change the way they approached when they were angry, that my child had to know that there was an end to their anger, that doing X behaviour would solve the problem, and that they had to make that clear from the beginning. Also rather than say ‘go over there’ they should say ‘come here and tell me what the problem is’. I don’t know how much of this is being done in the classroom, perhaps it hasn’t been an issue again yet, but I hope they have listened. There was some concern that this approach would mean that my child ‘won’ i.e. their bad behaviour was rewarded with getting their own way, but I pointed out that this was to prevent the escalation to the point where they threw their hands up in the air and called me to come to the school because then nobody won.

I’m hoping for smooth sailing from now on, but we will see how it goes.

*this is not designed to be a ‘you should do this too’ but a ‘this is what I tried because I was desperate and so far it has worked’. This may not be a solution for everyone.

Categories: crisis, education, Life, parenting, relationships

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7 replies

  1. Sounds like a complicated space to be negotiating, Mindy – especially if it’s wearing you out. 😦 I was just really struck by the resonances between your post here and Ariane’s/Shonias’ over here. It’s interesting, I think, how settled the ideas about behaviour management in classrooms is, for lots of teachers (obviously not for all). I have had other friends struggle to have schools and teachers take seriously the techniques they had developed for managing their kids’ behaviours (even in the context of non-neurotypicality, annoyingly!).
    But I hope that things settle down. I can’t give you any parenting stories of my own, but I *do* remember whingeing a lot about not being allowed to watch TV all the time. It must have been so annoying for my parents! Actually the best solution to the whingeing was probably when the TV broke and they didn’t have it fixed for about 6 months…!

  2. Limiting screen time does sond like a good way to go, Mindy. It’s something we’ve always done, ‘though it was never a deliberate strategy, just something we did right from the start. But I think it might be because I am a bit noise-sensitive: I don’t manage well when there is too much background noise, so the TV tends to stay off unless there is something we specifically choose to watch. Also, it got easier when e children got older and much more able to engage in other activities by themselves, instead of me supervising them or having to do it with them. There’s a real age and stage dimension to this.
    Ditto with family dinners – it’s agreat way to go. It has been a ritual in our house since the children were big enough to sit in highchairs. A messy ritual early on, but a good one.
    Regarding teachers and managing classroom behaviour, it hasn’t been an issue for us, but we have had to make a big effort with some teachers to get them to work with the particular ways our daughters were doing things, rather than expecting them to be like the other kids. This happened with my younger daughters and their reading, where they were struggling to learn to read, and the mistakes they were making weren’t standard mistakes, so the standard solutions didn’t apply. The usual story, I suppose, common to every profession: some excellent teachers, some perfectly good, and others there just to do enough to collect their pay.
    Best wishes for keeping up with the changes. I guess that it may take some time toned in, like maybe the rest of the term. A word of advice, if I may… I guess that school holidays may be a time to slacken off and relax a little, which is a jolly good thing, but it may be worth returning to school routines a few days before they are due to go back, if possible.

  3. Thanks WP and Deborah, it’s good to know we aren’t the only ones. I think in school holidays we will try and keep up the rules just because the kids are so ratty when we don’t as we found out this weekend. Of course this means that I might have to get more involved in Goddamn Craft and such but I think the sacrifice is probably worth it.

  4. My main memory of parenting is of setting boundaries, guidelines, rules for children to follow. I considered myself a pretty laid-back parent – and certainly other people did too! But I found the trick was to decide how important each thing was, and put the appropriate amount of energy into that. Keeping them appropriately clothed and fed, clearly a top priority. Having the latest clothes and gourmet meals, not at all. Bedtime – this was always a really clearly defined process that occurred at the same time every night, weekends included. and we always sat round the table for dinner. (1970s-80s – TV the only screen!) Keeping the house safely clean and a bit tidy (so things didn’t get lost) – important. Keeping the house spotless, having fresh flowers – not at all. It’s up to the parent, not the child, to set the broad limits of their day, and it’s constant and bloody tiring, there’s no doubt about that.

  5. Parenting is damn hard work. And (most) do the best we can with what we have.
    Hang in there Mindy.

  6. Love this post, Mindy, thanks for being so gutsy about sharing a difficult time in parenting with the Internet. It is so nice to see others mull over their working parent troubles so you can see where your own stresses fit in with it all.
    Thoughts on the issues you’ve raised:
    We’re not big in this house on enforcing bedtimes either – partly because we’re night owls, partly because bedtime is boring, and partly because we’re working parents and we all kinda look forward to hanging out together at the end of the day. But, a couple of years ago I read NurtureShock and had the pants scared off me about the importance of sleep for small children and so Bill and I then put all this effort into moving bedtime earlier and earlier in the night for the children.. and like you, it was a pain in the arse trying to get everything done in time, but man, like you, it made a difference to the kids and their behaviour. We’re not rigid about bedtimes even now but we certainly saw the benefits of an earlier night for them.
    I banned screen time for the school aged kid when she started school for the weekdays, so she can only play on the computer or watch TV on the weekend because I found she would be too difficult to motivate through the very tight morning and evening routines that we have because of being working parents otherwie. There is always a bit of whining when she comes off school holidays and back into the school routine and loses all her screen time, but I can tell you with this one that the whining abates soon enough once they realise it’s a done deal, and it is worth it, so hang in there. I am really keen to tighten the limits on screen time for the toddler now (he gets to watch a bit of kid TV in the morning after the school aged kid goes to school.. and then more and more creeps in during the day) because I think everyone, Bill and I, and also his grandmothers rely a little too much on this with him but weaning us as his carers off the TV is probably harder than weaning the toddler off watching it.
    I think the point you raised at the end about your child finding it exhausting to be in groups all day long at school is an incredibly important one, and something too rarely recognised by the extrovert world. It was certainly something I experienced a lot of trouble with in my daughter when she was a toddler – her capacity to sustain herself through long, social days has grown hugely as she gets older and much more social. I try really hard to respect her need for quiet time alone when she gets home from school to recharge and unwind, even if it seems like she is being unkind to her brother because of it.. and it is one thing I really like about Montessori education, their respect for an individual child’s learning space and teaching other children to respect that and not interrupt or crowd a child in when she is working singularly on something in class.
    Anyway… good luck, poor you, this parenting thing is exhausting.

  7. Thanks everyone, we seemed to have turned a bit of a corner. She is still getting in trouble at school, but both the school and she seem to be dealing with it better so I’m not getting called in. Last time she got in trouble, three boys who were involved as well got in trouble too and they all had to spend recess eating their food on a bench together while the other kids played. I tend to think that this punishes the teacher too as small children don’t get to run off their energy. But I guess it’s a system that works for them. On the whole the going to bed early and limiting TV during the school week seems to work. By default I think we have decided that we are too lazy (and busy) on a weekend to enforce the 2hr rule. Although since the kids are getting used to watching less TV we are doing a lot of other stuff as well and the kids are also starting to go off and make a mess in their rooms play lego and stuff. We are also teaching our 9yr old to play Settlers of Catan. He isn’t quite ruthless enough yet, but his strategic thinking is coming along well. I had an awesome victory against them yesterday.
    Thanks for the muffin tips. My pair will eat chocolate muffins but I might have to expand their repertoire. I tried to buy the 1 mix 100 muffins online but it is out of print. Still these things pop up at booksales every now and again so I might get lucky.

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