Friday, January 23, 2009

Positive Discipline

So, I came across a book in Chapters today that I'm really interested in reading called "Positive Discipline for the Preschooler." Or something like that. Now I realise I'm proving to be more and more of what my friend calls a hippie-granola mom, but most people I know at least respect me for planning to properly and strictly discipline my kid. And because Theo is generally very very well behaved and good-natured (so far), people tend to attribute this to my brilliant disciplinary parenting skills. But to be honest, much as I would like to take the credit for Theo's good behaviour, I really can't say it has anything to do with me. He's just kinda like that. And I have a bad feeling he won't be like that for long.

So I've been toying on and off with the idea of positive disciplinary practices-- as opposed to punitive ones. Now for most people (including myself until recently) this translates into "parent opposed to spanking." And we all roll our eyes and privately nod to each other and think "HER kids are going to be a nightmare." And realistically I'm not against spanking at all. I haven't had to use it yet and my kid is still very young so the jury is out on how awful he'll be-- especially when minibaby arrives.

But the reason a lot of people react this way (I'm guessing) is that they turned out fine (and their parents spanked them) and their kids turned out well behaved (and they used spanking). Plus a lot of parents who don't spank really do turn out the most awful children, who have no respect for anyone, least of all their parents.

Also if parents choose to use spanking to discipline it's hard not to feel judged by a parent who avoids it. In fact, choosing to take any different approach to parenting than another person is sure to illicit defensiveness. Trouble is that there IS a lot of research proving that spanking is NOT the best disciplinary method, even if it works for some kids. It's not an exact formula. "Spare the rod, spoil the child" isn't necessarily the rule for every misbehaving kid. Some kids misbehave WORSE when spanking is used. Besides-- "the rod" itself doesn't necessarily mean a literal instrument of punishment.

I have found, so far, that this method seems to really fail on Theo. Of course it's a bit early to tell. We've only had occasion to swat his little hands once or twice, but every time it illicited screaming and crying and utter misery and I'm not completely sure he even learned his lesson. What he DID learn was that Mummy and Daddy might hit him if he doesn't do what they want and while that might seem like a good thing (ie he knows there are boundaries) I think ultimately it just made him lose trust in us and taught him to hit when people don't do what you want. Of course it's quite easy to gain a toddler's trust back, they're so understanding. But that's all the more reason why I wouldn't want to risk breaking it again--otherwise what seems to me like a good disciplinary practice is really just teaching him to be afraid of me-- and that's when I might find that he starts lying to me or something worse.

Obviously all of this is really just specualtive on my part since my kid is still pretty little and generally good-natured, so I'm not making sweeping judgements about people's disciplinary practices or defining what works best. All I know is my kid and I'm definitely a fan of the "do-what makes-you-sane" approach to anything regarding parenting.

The reason I'm interested in at least trying positive discipline is that it is not, like some people might assume, some fancy way of just being permissive to your kid and letting them be bratty so you can go about your business and ignore their bad behaviour. You know-- go be zen and praise your kid's destructive behaviour for being "assertive" or "creative" or some bullshit. As a matter of fact it's quite the opposite. It stresses being very interactive with your kid and learning to communicate with them in a way they understand-- which, sadly, takes a hell of a lot of patience and work-- something most of us just dinnae got time for. Especially when we're sleep deprived.

It also requires that parents treat their kids with respect and behave themselves too, which I think is a really good approach, but rather difficult for grown ups to accept. We expect kids to behave for us and treat us with politeness, but almost never teach by example. God knows, when Theo is getting in my way before dinner and trying to climb up my leg or "help" with dishes or something, my first reaction is to yell in frustration or say something that, to an adult, would be shockingly rude. Like "Theo! Can you just PISS OFF!!?? I'm trying to get dinner made!!" Needless to say this reaction never illicits a compliant response. He usually gets more and more frantic and upset and frustrated-- and so do I--until we're both at our wit's end.

I learned very quickly that if I took the time and inconvenience to show Theo the appropriate way to help with dishes (that is to say, how to help by not getting in my way) that he would be a lot happier and we could do things together without a fight. After all, it's not unreasonable for him to want to help out-- just inconvenient.

Of course some things are more dangerous than others. He can't really help with cooking or he might get burned. But the idea of a form of discipline that requires the parents to be disciplined and well-behaved themselves (as opposed to assuming that kids act out just because they're bad) definitely appeals to me. At least, I'm hoping if I try it, it might increase my ability to handle difficult situations without freaking out or dissolving into tears of frustration too.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Food for Thought

Lately we've developed great hopes of buying our own place, so we've been trying to stick to what is turning out to be a pretty modest grocery budget of $400/month-- including things like nappies and hand cream and shampoo and cleaning supplies. And while it might see like a lot of money to stretch between three and a half people it really is turning out to be rather tricky. I had no idea we were spending quite so much on food until I tried to set a limit and discovered that we really weren't being very careful at all.

Now I'm kinda torn about this because I really do want to make healthy eating a big priority in our lives-- mostly because I'm quite picky and I like what I eat to be delicious, varied, and filling, as well adding up to all various requirements a pregnant woman needs. I'm also rather concerned about making things from scratch with natural and healthy foods as opposed to highly processed substitutes (you know, butter vs margarine, home made soup vs tinned, tomato and cheese sauces from scratch) . But I discovered that even when I cut things down to the very barest of necessities--minimal meats and fish, plain cheeses (nothing but cheddar), and only the absolute staples in fruits and veg and grains--I am STILL having trouble keeping things under budget. And the very frustrating part is that, as a housewife, the only really creative job that I get to do on a daily basis is cook, so it kinda sucks when we have to limit my materials.

But the other problem is that I really would like to buy local and organic for reasons of health and social responsibility. Organic oranges aren't really all that necessary for our health because you peel them, but if you buy organic you're supporting farms that don't dump chemicals on the heads of their workers. Or we could skip oranges altogether because they come from too far away and bringing them out to the west coast of Canada is bad for the environment. But then HOW are we going to make sure we get enough vitamin C??

There are SO many issues involved in food choices these days. We're both blessed and cursed with the abundance we have in the western world. We have so much, and yet we don't even know where half of it comes from and if we tried to make both healthy and ethical choices it would be prohibitively expensive. And if we COULD afford it-- the question would be where did we get OUR money from and why aren't we giving more of it to charity. It's a vicious cycle.

I have already done everything in my power to keep us under budget. This includes not only giving up organic food and cutting our meat consumption down to a minimum. I also meticulously plan my menus a week in advance, with separate meal plans for Theo in case he won't eat what we're eating. On top of this, I buy in bulk, build leftovers into the week, and never ever experiment with new recipes lest I have to buy a lot of things I don't normally keep in the house or I mess it up and end up wasting things. I ration everything and strictly regulate what's permitted for snacking on. I probably spend over 3 hours hours every week on planning and working out the menu-- not counting the time it takes me to prepare the food. And if I don't keep strictly to the rules I've made for myself we'll go over our budget in a heartbeat. I don't even know what Lent is going to be like.

Now the Bible clearly states that it is what comes out of our mouths, not what goes in, that defiles a man. And with all this rigid planning I already feel like I care way too much about food to even TRY to shop in a healthier, more ethical fashion. Lent is approaching and it brings it's own set of cooking and budgeting challenges. And being pregnant puts another spanner in the works. I often feel that Orthodox Christians can be caught up in food ethics, not just when it comes to fasting, but also when it comes to buying and eating in a socially responsible way. We can so easily be tricked into caring far more about food than we should.

So while I think it's important for us to keep these social and ethical concerns in mind when we go out to the shops, personally, for the coming fast, I'm going to do my best to just be grateful for the abundance this world offers me and try not to over eat. God knows it can be harder to just be grateful for the gifts I have.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

People who inspire me

Okay, Facebook has this annoying new Tri-cyclen-lo advert on about "Who Inspires Us??" --for those of you who don't know, Tri-cyclen-lo is a birth control pill. I find this kind of advertising really annoying because it implies that people who choose to wait or to never have kids (through use of this new and freedom-enhancing drug!) are making their choice because they're so inspired! The subtext is that women who don't live the freedom-enhanced lives of the young and sexually unshackled (my phrase) are somehow boring uninspired people, which is why they could think of nothing better to do wth their lives than have kids.

Now it's funny, because how ever pro-family the Orthodox church might be, one cannot deny that the majority of well known saints out there-- both male and female--are ones who chose not to have children, given that a heck of a lot of them were monastic or, my favourite, got married and chose to "live as brother and sister" when they converted to Christianity. It's not surprising that a lot of non-Christians out there seem to think that we have this mortification with sexuality. The married saints (and there are quite a few) don't get nearly as much press.

However, the BIGGEST saint in the church IS a mother. Now granted, she perhaps gets a little less credit for this than she deserves, probably because she was a virgin and according to church tradition she remained a virgin. But all the celibacy and chastity in the world didn't do her any good because she was still informed she was going to have a baby-- that the birth control failed. And she chose to deal with the consequences anyway. She could have told Gabriel "No WAY am I doing that! I've got plans!!" but she didn't and instead she risked everything and took on one of the hardest jobs a woman can do-- motherhood. And she was willing to do it whether she had to do it alone or not.

Now maybe people don't think that's a fair comparison to your average mum because after all, her son was GOD. But I don't believe for a second that she didn't have to deal with dirty, leaking swaddling clothes, or humous on the walls, or many many sleepless nights. The Bible even tells us that she was pretty darn exasperated to find that her 12 year-old had stayed behind in the temple without telling them so he could preach. And she probably had to deal with it without the help and support and sympathy of her fellow mothers because, after all, she conceived out of wedlock and was therefore to be shunned. And she still managed to keep it together and say "Let it be to me according to Your word?" That's inspiring!

In fact all the people I find most inspiring are either parents or have parental qualities that I can't ever hope to achieve in this life. My Dad-- father not only to my sister and I but to a whole parish of people that he has nurtured for the last 20+ years and continues to do. Try being daddy to 100 kids at once-- and they keep coming! But he pulls it off with patience and diligence. It's his whole life. I've never know someone to more self-sacrificing.

My mother, who has managed to be the most patient and caring wife and mother that I can imagine, not only to us, but to the parish as well. Her job is a lonely one, having to share her husband with so many people, and be a model of propriety for all the women in our parish. Besides my dad she has no close friends here because she cannot simultaneously be both mother and friend to the people in the parish. She must bear her worries and trials almost alone with only my father to confide in. And yet she manages to pull it off with grace and peace. Plus she put up with me at 13 which says a lot.

My mother in-law. 1o children and not crazy yet-- seriously. How does one DO that??? In spite of her many children and rather itinerant life she's still a gracious, patient and self-sacrificing woman.

My closest most inspiring friends, who's names I'll omit lest anyone feel left out, are not mothers, yet, but they possess qualities that are nurturing, loving and show a depth of kindness and patience that I admire and wish I could hope to emmulate some day. One is not only a loving patient friend, but also works at a daycare and knows very well how trying it can be to raise kids. The other, while inexperienced with actual children has always been a model of kindness, patience and forgiveness to all her friends and family, cheerfully nurturing many of us through the toughest times in spite of her own personal trials.

These are the people I find inspiring-- the women (and man) who impress me. Not the people who chose to skip having children because they were inspired by Hilary Clinton or whoever, but because they possess qualities of patience, kindness, love, and self-sacrifice.

My Shameless Brag-list About Theo

Okay, I seriously have the CUTEST kid ever, and if I don't write down just how awesome he is then before I know it he'll be ten and making bombs in our garage and I'll have completely forgotten how rad he was as a baby.

So here's the awesome things I can remember at the moment.

He's an angel in church. He's almost always quiet and he will generally let someone hold him for the whole service. And if he wants to run around, he runs circles around me. You might not think that's very good church behaviour, but for a two year-old kid that spends an average of 2 1/2 hours in a service that you're supposed to stand through and listen to (unless you sing) every week, it's pretty darn good.

He goes to bed with hardly any fuss. Really. I don't have to stick to a SUPER strict schedule at all. Any time between 7 and 9 pm and he more or less goes down without a fuss. He might not go to sleep right away and we can often hear little protests coming from the direction of his room because he feels left out, but they don't last long and eventually he cuddles down on his own.

He has so many hilarious words and ways of viewing the world. My favourite so far: we take him up to Manning Park for a romp in the snow (which turned out to be higher than him, so not the best idea), and he spots a wee patch of yellow snow where someone's dog had been. What does he say ?? "Egg!!!"

He's usually very gentle and cautious, which I think is pretty rare for a two year old. He actually knows what I mean when I say "gently" which means I don't need to worry too much about him getting over excited and smashing something in his enthusiasm. He prefers to carefully inspect things. Like my mother in-law gave him a sort of racket with a plastic center that said "Sonic Smash!" on it and a spoon to whack it with while we were visiting. He enjoyed banging it for a little while and then he stopped and began to very gently touch the spoon on the racket to see why it made that drum-like noise. As though if he did it really slow he could figure out the secret of how it worked. His cautious approach to exploration is pretty convenient too for when we visit people with animals. He loves them and makes this hilarious high-pitched noise of delight when he sees animals, but he's very careful about getting too close or grabbing. Same with other babies.

He hasn't got many words, but he LOVES to talk and since his favourite words are all sound effects (choo-choo, mmmmmooo, bok-bok! etc) his sentences, which can go on and on, are punctuated with all kinds of hilarious sound effects.

He loves to read with us. Seriously, he can quite happily sit on our laps for hours reading and re-reading every book on his shelf. And he has the attention span for books well beyond his age which is nice because one gets really sick of "There's a Wocket in my Pocket!" after a few renditions. The great thing is that it isn't just the pictures he loves either. He really does understand simple story lines. He brought me a copy of "I Have to GO!!" by Robert Munsch and said "Pssss"--which is his word for potty or peeing.

He regularly uses his signs for "please" and "thank-you" without fuss, which is not only great for showing off in front of other parents, but it means that if he's fussing and whining about wanting something that isn't unreasonable I can actually give it to him and make him happy if he stops whining long enough to ask nicely. This is rad because he won't get the idea that whining is what got his needs met, but using the right words instead. It doesn't mean that he doesn't whine and scream plenty. He IS two-ish. But it does mean I can start laying the ground work for better behaviour now instead of when he's old enough to actually say the right words and understnad why they're important.

Oh there's lots of other stuff. Like the fact that he likes olives, and bawls his eyes out when Daddy leaves for work (which is really cute actually), and he knows all his body parts, and barnyard animal noises and I think he knows some of his colours too. Too many cool things that probably aren't out of the ordinary for your average two year-old, but they're impressive to me because I'm his Mama. :)

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Okay--is there like an institution for jerks? Did they lose their funding? Or go on a field trip to the mall today??

Random lady in RW--"Um can you move your buggy so I can browse too??"

Random other lady at Starbucks--"Can you not park your stroller there??" I smile graciously, apologise and then move my stroller to the opposite side of the table. Then I bend over to get into the diaper bag in the cargo rack to retrieve a sippy cup. Same random lady again--"Your entire butt is in my face when you bend over like that!" I laugh and say "Yes it's bigger than normal these days." Random lady "It's not that-- it's just I turned and like it's right there!" WELL IT BLOODY WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN IF YOU DIDN'T MAKE ME MOVE MY STROLLER!!!! Why, oh why didn't I think of something really cheeky to say like "I know-- it's hotter than yours too!" Or "you just looked the type that might appreciate it." seriously. What the hell is wrong with people???

I swear I'm like a jerk magnet these days. Like the other week when a lady in a Jeep honked irately at me for not waddling fast enough onto the ice rink of a sidewalk so that her stupid gas guzzler could take up the whole road at 50 clicks in the snow.

Did someone dump essence of bitch in the water supply or something? Or is it just some cosmic joke that world's biggest jerks seem to find as many pregnant women as they can to give a hard time to?

At least the bus driver was nice for a change...

Monday, January 5, 2009

Parenting Priorities

I have a low tolerance for criticism these days because I'm tired and pregnant and not enjoying it as much as last time. But I've also noticed that a lot of my other mother friends have been experiencing similar frustration. They're being criticised, often publicly, not just by strangers or friends without kids, but by other mothers!!

I'm trying to get my head around why this is such a common complaint-- maybe it always was a complaint. The nagging mother in-law who thinks you can't do anything right is generally a pretty universal parenting problem (though in my case not, my mother in-law is great). But it seems like more and more these days we're getting a lot of criticism not just from parents and grandparents but from our peers as well.

As far as I can tell there are two kinds of mothers. Mums who think parenting ought to be all- consuming and mums who like their kids but would like to have a life too. These ideals aren't restricted to parents either. Non-parents will often adhere to one school of thought or the other. And neither group is willing to cut the other any slack, leaving most mums-- who tend to fall somewhere in between the two groups in practice, feeling unappreciated for how hard they ARE trying and also that they really aren't trying hard enough.

For example, some mums want to work whether they have to or not. Maybe they love their job, maybe they just like the opportunity to get out of the house, maybe all their friends are at work, maybe they just need to feel appreciated for something other than their boobs. Other mothers want to stay home, whether it's financially easy or not. Maybe they don't have a good job to go back to, maybe cloth diapers and organic home-cooked food is a HUGE priority for them, maybe they aren't ready to give up the control over what their kid learns and who their kid interacts with to someone else yet. The working-mum group gets accused of being selfish and vain and the stay-at-home mum gets accused of being a control freak or a hippy. And neither groups cuts the other group any slack.

To add to the problem, mums have strangers and non-parent friends imposing their parenting standards on them. Case in point: when I was pregnant with Theo I was told by a customer that I was absolutely insane (translate reckless and selfish) to have chosen a midwife instead of a doctor. And I have been told the same by non-parent friends. I've also had random grocery clerks tell me to absolutely NOT share a room with my baby or he wouldn't be independent (translate: he would be spoiled). Some mothers take what worked for them and apply it as a rule to parenting in general and this is something I am guilty of myself. We work really hard to find a solution to whatever problem we have and when we are victorious we tell everyone about how clever we were to have figured out the secret of getting our kid to sleep through the night-- or whatever the problem was.

We also count it as a victory if our kid doesn't have a particularly inconvenient habit we've noticed in other kids, whether our brilliant parenting was the reason or just our kid's personality. For example, I have a friend with twins (bless her!) who's got her kitchen entirely locked down-- the whole house in fact--because the kids get into everything. It would be tempting to think that I'm such a great parent because my kid listens when I say don't touch and knows what he's allowed to play with, but realistically, I only have one kid to wrangle-- not two, (who encourage each other in their exploratory pursuits no less). She's doing what works for HER sanity and it's just as valid as what I do for my own.

Some people get very worried about the mess Theo makes with my pots and pans and containers in the kitchen when they come to visit. They try to be helpful by way of telling him "no, no!! Don't get into that!!" They're baffled when I say it's no bother. "What do you mean?" they say, shocked. "You don't care that he's taking all the cutlery out of the drawer and throwing it on the floor? I would!! I don't want to clean it up!!" Privately they're thinking-- MY kids will hear the word "no." But from my perspective, he can't hurt himself on the stuff he gets into and the poor kid already has so many boundaries he can't cross because he's little and because I don't get out often enough to let him run around. I'm picking my battles. If I say no to everything that's inconvenient as well as everything that's dangerous, I'm going to make a lot more work for myself and my kid is going to feel completely oppressed. Besides, I don't want to spend every minute of every day saying "no! don't touch that!" and trying to keep my house spotless or I'll go crazy.

Most parents set up HUGE standards for themselves long before they have kids and discover very shortly after their kids arrive just which things are big priorities for their sanity and which things aren't. They then take the priorities they do have and tell all the other parents they know about why their priorities are the most important ones and then justify not making other things priorities by criticising parents who do. For example, I use cloth diapers because I like em and their better for the environment etc. Some cloth using parents scornfully criticise women who don't for being lazy and irresponsible, while mothers who don't use em scornfully criticise women who do for letting their kids needs completely control them and take over their lives. No one says-- look, just go do what you want! We all need to feel the way we're doing things is the BEST way to do things and since kids don't usually appreciate the job we're doing we have to get our approval from our peers and from other parents.

But no two kids are alike and no two parents are alike and we all have different needs, so that approval is really hard to get. I don't know what the solution is, but it would sure be nice if everyone just relaxed and did their best and stopped criticising each other for what is more often than not, just a difference in priorities, not a real lack in parenting ability.