“Good Girl,” Bad Word 

I don’t know what I’m doing, as a mother. Every day is a new set of challenges, discoveries. Last week, we tried time out and this week I’m just waiting it out. There’s a lot of winging it.

One thing I do know is that I don’t want to raise a “good” girl. Yet, I catch myself using this phrase with Mae, and it makes me cringe. I want to put myself in timeout every time this phrase slips from my lips. Mae picked up her toys today and I said “good girl.” I wanted to catch the words and shove them back inside me.

I’ve written about feeling like as a female teacher, I’m seen as either a mother figure or sexual object (the good girl or the bad girl) by male students. Most women, rather they realize it or not, have been limited by the societal expectations that we should be sweet and good. I know I have.

I’ve been a feminist since I took a Literary Theory course in undergrad, so for about 12 years. I’ve thought about gender norms for over a decade, yet I can’t stop myself from slipping into those comfortable expectations at times.

It’s so much more than “good girl.” It’s not owning a toy airplane or dump truck; it’s calling her “cute” much too often when it comes to clothing. It’s the way I’m teaching her to examine herself in the mirror because she watches me. All. The. Time.

I’m not a perfect feminist, no one is, but I want to do better, to improve.

So I’m going to try to  rid “good girl” from my vocabulary. I will say good listening, smart girl, or just give her a freakin high five. 

Mae and I, we’re both a work in progress. You want to join us? 

My Toddler Bible

Mae is throwing some tantrums, saying “No!”, and just being totally irrational–she’s a toddler. And as Jimmy and I always have done, we turn to books for guidance and insight. However, there is a lot of junk out there when it comes to parenting. The one book I’ve found really helpful as we navigate toddlerhood is Tracey Hogg’s Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers. Ignore the cheesy title. It really is full of practical, good advice.

I found this book because I also read the first one, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, which really did help us some with sleep.

Anyways, I thought I’d give you the highlights from her second book on toddlers and then maybe you’d share your finds, too.

One of the main pieces of advice she gives is based on the acronym HELP (don’t we all need that).

H: Hold back. This means don’t do everything FOR your toddler. Hold back and let them try first. See what they are interested in or see if they can navigate a situation. If they begin to show signs of frustration, then help them.

E: Encouragement. This is all about giving your child specific encouragement, not just “good job,” but also not overpraising. She also has a section for setting up encouraging environments in your home. Environments that encourage them to explore and that they can navigate on their own.

L: Limits. Limit choices, meaning give them two choices. Do you want apples or peaches? Giving them a choice helps, but giving them too many choices is just overwhelming. Also, limits means to limit over-stimulation, which sets them up for failure. If I keep Mae fed and well-rested, she’s a pretty decent kid. Unless. she is getting a molar. Then it doesn’t matter what I do!

P: Praise. Praise only for a job well done, so that your praise actually means something to your child. If you are always praising for everything, your child won’t hear it as praise. An example Hogg gives of good praise is “You are doing a good job with that spoon.” An example of not as helpful praise, in my opinion, is “You look so cute in that outfit.”

I also REALLY like her section on offering choices and I need to work on this. She gives examples of how to word and NOT word certain things:

Not Good: If you don’t eat, we’re not going to the pool.

Better: When you’re finished eating, we can go to the pool.

See that simple shift? It makes for a much more positive interaction.

I highly recommend this book. There’s much more to it that I can’t cover here. She has a great section on what “time-out” should really be about.

toddler whisper

What parenting books do you find helpful?

Parent Training 

Once you have a child, you quickly begin to throw around terms like “sleep training” and “potty training,” but the truth is our kids train us more than we train them. At least that’s the case so far in our house.

Mae has successfully trained me in the following areas:

Pantry Training: this is where you go when you want to eat anything without sharing it. You must quietly eat in the pantry and don’t leave before you’re done chewing. They know!

Open-Door Bathroom Policy: Do you still even try to close the door? Mae has me trained. I know she’s coming in, so why fight it?

Snack training: no, not for you, dear parent. Do not leave the house without a snack that you can toss back to your kid while in the car seat. Period. A snack can save your ass. Bring a snack, just do it.

Cell Phone Hiding: unless you want a child begging to use your phone, you better hide it. I’ve learned to hide texting from my toddler like my students hide it from me in class…which means not very well, but I try!

Motion Training: When Mae was a newborn, you better not stop moving that stroller or she would start squalling. Really, we just learned to sway at all times. I still catch Jimmy swaying while daydreaming and standing in line sometimes. 

How have your children “trained” you? 
One area in which I will not be trained: Coffee, which is not really a habit as much as an addiction. Mae knows coffee happens first. You can scream at me as much as you like, but I’m getting my coffee with sugar and cream. Period. 

Insights from a Temporary Stay-at-Home Mom

So I’m really lucky to have the schedule that I do. Maybe I should reword that: I worked hard to have a job in which I have the schedule that I do, and it’s also lucky. I don’t work 9-5 in an office, and I get the entire summer, from mid-May to mid-August off. This means for about a 1/4 of the year I’m a stay-at-home parent. I’m not going to make a claim about which is more difficult, staying at home or working or something in between, because they are all challenging, and who cares? Let’s just support each other. All of our parenting situations are exhausting at times.

But I think I have an interesting perspective on staying home as I continually move in and out of this role throughout the year, with a month off in December and then three months in the summer, so really I stay at home for about a 1/3 of the year. Wow! I hadn’t done the math until now.

For me, staying at home is less stressful but I get less done and I’m more exhausted. Working and mothering at the same time is more stressful, for me, but I also feel more balanced when doing so. Basically, none of it’s perfect, but I’m pretty happy with my schedule. I don’t like monotone, and going between working and staying home makes for a lot of variety and change in my life.

Here are some of my insights on staying home from a working mom:

1. Stay-at-home parents should still get childcare. If this is feasible in terms of your budget, you should freakin’ do it. Right now, I still take Mae to her daycare for 4-6 hours a week. That’s not much, but it’s enough to keep me sane.

2. Join a gym with childcare. I also take Mae to the gym daycare. This took some getting use to, but she loves it now. It’s my me-time. Now when I’m working full-time, I feel guilty taking this time away from her, but I’m fine with it during the summer. That’s just me, and I probably need to get over that.

3. Schedule the day like a job. I’m so use to having a schedule, and I like a schedule. Now I know kids are professionals at obliterating schedules, but it helps me to have something in place for the day. In my mind, or even on paper sometimes, I have our day laid out in hour increments. I know, I’m anal.

4. Call other adults when you’re riding in the car! This is the perfect time to talk with someone who speaks in full sentences. Even if it’s only for five minutes, these calls make me feel human again.

5. Alternate fixing dinner with your partner. I don’t assume it’s my job because I’m home. Jimmy can easily throw something in the crockpot before work, and Mae screams at me to hold her if I spend more than 5 minutes alone in the kitchen. A warm dinner isn’t part of the deal. 

Stay-at-home parents, what are your tips for me?

Reminders from My Partner

I got a weekend away at the beach! Without the toddler or husband! Just friends and wine and good times. 

Then I came home because I’d caught Mae’s terrible cold/cough, which is so bad that Jimmy is trying to talk on the phone right now and he had to step outside because I’m hacking so loud. Sigh.

The point of all this is that Jimmy has had most of the grunt work since Friday. Tonight, I asked if he’d put Mae to bed, again, as the evenings are when I start to feel worst. I said something like, “I know you’ve done it alone a lot of days in a row but could you do bedtime again?”

His answer: “It’s okay. We aren’t keeping score.”

Ding! Ding! His words hit me hard and slowed me down. Oh yeah, we aren’t keeping score. We are all just doing the best we can at any given time, and he knows me well enough to trust that. 

It’s a lesson I must learn again and again when it comes to my marriage and other relationships: don’t keep score.

Mae and I just laying around, which is all we do lately.

Conversations with Mae

After waking up too early from a nap and in a very fool mood:

Me: Do you want to go to the pool?

Mae: No (furious head shaking).

Me: Do you want to play in the sprinkler (she loves the sprinkler).

Mae: No (with a look that said “hell no”).

Me: (getting desperate as she won’t stop screaming) Do you want to watch a show?

Mae: No

I put her down and she proceeds to tuck pom poms (little fuzz balls) under my legs for twenty minutes, totally delighted by this.