1. DOING FOR YOUR CHILDREN WHAT THEY CAN DO FOR THEMSELVES.
Kids grow up—fast. Sometimes faster than we realize. And before you know it, your child can dress himself, brush her own teeth and get his own snack. The job of a mother isn’t to be a personal assistant to your child; a mother’s job is to teach a child to become independent. That means showing a child how to use a vacuum, then letting him or her vacuum the living room. At an early age, children should be getting their own snacks, making their beds and picking up their belongings. It’s not going to look perfect. It might even get messy. But that’s when you show them how to clean up a spill.
Remember the McCaughey septuplets? They appeared on Dateline NBC when the children were five, and were filmed finishing breakfast and putting their dirty dishes into the dishwasher—a task they had been doing since they turned four. The parents called it basic training; I call it parenting genius.
2. SAYING YES, WHEN YOU REALLY MEAN NO.
Guilt, pressure and the fear of disappointing someone are common reasons why moms allow others to put extra helpings on their plates without saying, “No thanks, I’m full.”
“Being more selective in what we agree to do prevents feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion and reduces stress levels,” says Susan Newman, Ph.D., social psychologist and author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever (McGraw-Hill). “You are less likely to snap at or be short with your children if you have your life in control.” And saying “no” also applies to your children. Newman says moms need to break the habit of saying “yes” to their children because it does their children a huge disservice.
“Contrary to popular belief, saying no makes you a much better parent,” she says. “By turning down children’s endless requests, you teach them how to cope with disappointment, learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them, and understand that they can’t have everything they want.”
If you’re not sure if you want to say “yes” or say “no,” don’t feel panicked into a definite answer. Reply with, “Thanks for thinking of me. I’ll have to check my calendar and get back to you by (give yourself a deadline).” If the person persists, then say, “If you need an answer right away, I’ll have to pass so you can find someone else who is available for certain.” Live with the decision—yes or no—in your head for the day and make your choice based on how you really feel.
When you tell a person “no,” remember that you don’t have to justify your answer. You’re just obligated to give them a polite one.
3. MAKING EXCUSES FOR YOUR CHILD.
“He didn’t mean it. He just gets so excited sometimes.”
This is the excuse I received when a boy at our weekly playgroup clobbered my son over the head with a Little Tikes golf club. The boy’s mom then told her three year old to “play nice,” and continued on with the conversation she was having with another mother.
I don’t know if it’s the embarrassment that their child is not perfect or sheer laziness, but many parents make excuses instead of expecting their child take ownership of the action. The good, the bad and the ugly: children need to take credit and experience consequences for their actions. This is how we become responsible adults.
4. NOT ASKING FOR HELP.
One of the biggest habits moms need to break is thinking they can do it all themselves. The simple fact is, whether we stay at home or combine work and family, we need help, and we’re better parents when we get it.
Moms also need to realize the importance of having a well-developed network that supports them and helps them parent more effectively. Networks aren’t just about our work or careers, they’re about our lives. Mom networks should be providing everything from hand-me-downs, to advice, to help ferrying the kids to their activities, to support that helps cope with stress.
5. PUTTING YOURSELF LAST.
It’s no coincidence we saved this habit for last. Last is what moms do best. Instead, we let everyone else go first. We do without. We take the broken one. Enough already!
Moms are often stereotyped as being frazzled and desperate. And sometimes we are. We live in a world where we often spend more time taxiing kids from one after-school activity to another than we do taking care of ourselves. It’s important for moms to take some of the focus off of their children and put it back on themselves.
How do you do this? By taking yourself seriously. You are a mother, but you’re also a woman, wife and friend. It’s vital that you take care of yourself. If you feel good about yourself, you will do a better job as a parent.
Start by scheduling “me time” in your planner. Whether it’s a daily workout, a few minutes alone with a cup of tea or a monthly day of shopping or lunch with friends, when you commit to taking time for yourself you take the first step in reclaiming yourself.
If this seems impossible, refer to number four!
Stephanie Vozza is a freelance writer. She and her husband have two boys. She struggles most with habit number four.