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My son, Ryan, is nine years old meaning I’ve had nine years of on-the-job training as a mom. In all my work experience (in a flower shop, public library, elementary school teacher), I have found that hands-on training is always the most effective type of job training. Everything else is just theory.
I taught elementary school for twelve years and have been around hundreds of children. My son, Ryan, is a great kid, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my kid. He likes to read. He likes to dance and sing and create. He’s curious about space, science, medicine, and nature. He likes the Los Angeles Clippers and Michael Jackson. He picks up items and returns them to their proper shelves in the supermarket without being asked. He remembers to say “please” and “thank you.”
But, I have confessions to make — I do things as a mother that I never thought I would. I’ve broken my own mothering rules (foolishly made before becoming a mom). For our family though, my digressions all work to maintain timely routines (morning, homework, bedtime). Here are seven confessions of my imperfect, heartfelt mothering:
- Offer dessert every night. I don’t believe in dessert only being offered on special occasions. And while I’m not a proficient baker, chocolate in some shape or form is always in our kitchen. Because Oreos are readily available in our home, Ryan doesn’t always say “yes” to dessert. Sometimes he stops after only eating one cookie. Because sweets are not forbidden, Ryan isn’t always wanting them, craving them, or eating too much of them when he does eat them.
- Allow screen time during breakfast. Ryan calls it “his phone,” but really it’s an old iPhone onto which my husband has loaded PBS Kids shows. And “his phone” is a part of his morning routine, sitting next to his plate of bacon and glass of milk. Whether it’s a school day or not, we’re both at the table having breakfast, but Ryan watches a show while he eats, and I read the newspaper.
- Skip teeth brushing. Brushing teeth was supposed to be non-negotiable. It was going to happen every night. No exceptions. Or so I had thought. But because Ryan doesn’t drink soda or sugary drinks, flosses daily, and has never had a cavity, I let him skip a night here or there. After a long day, filled with a challenging social studies homework assignment or a long wait at the doctor’s office for a check-up, it’s a nice surprise to tell Ryan he can skip that step and get into bed a couple minutes sooner than expected.
- Don’t cook separate meals. When Ryan was still a baby and eating mashed up vegetables from a jar, it was easy for me to believe that once he was old enough, our family would eat the same dinner meal. I was not going to be a short-order cook. The truth is, I’m more concerned with Ryan eating a healthy meal and maintaining a peaceful dinner than I am with me insisting on Ryan eating cheese enchiladas when his father and I do. So he eats a bowl of his favorite alphabet-shaped noodles, and everyone is happy.
- Never lie. I was going to be honest with my son. I was going to be the person he could always turn to for the truth. I started lying when Ryan was a toddler, and I haven’t stopped. Lies about a store being closed or the iPad not working because it hadn’t been charged. Now the lies generally involve trying to cover my tracks and not admit that I have purged our home of the small whistle that arrived in a birthday party goodie bag. If and when Ryan looks for the missing item, all I say is “I don’t know where it is.”
- Watch TV before homework. Over the years, Ryan’s after-school routine has evolved. He used to eat a snack and we’d read together before beginning homework. But as Ryan has gotten older and his school days have become more demanding, he requires more down-time after school. For him, that means time to relax, watch part of a DVD, and have a snack. Before homework. As a teacher, I never encouraged screen time before homework, but for our family, it works. Ryan doesn’t fight me when I tell him it’s time to turn off the television. He knows he’s got homework to do, and he understands the responsibility involved with the privilege.
- Keep prescription medications in plain sight. Ryan’s pediatrician, like most people, is a firm believer in medication being locked up and kept out of sight. But in our family, medication is not just a once-in-a-while kind of thing. I live with an autoimmune disease that requires me to take multiple medications daily. My husband and I never hid my medications from Ryan; instead we talked to him, explained that even though families usually share everything, medicines are the exception. My name was on the bottle; I was the only one who could take them, because medicines that are supposed to help me could actually hurt Ryan or his daddy.
Most of my mothering rules were made when I was still teaching, when I observed what was going on with my students and their families, and I vowed to do things differently. After nine years as Ryan’s mother, I do parent differently than other families. Not better than someone else. But different. For our family, it works. No one is getting hurt; everyone is safe. And ultimately, that’s all every parent wants.