Lorna’s Top 3 Parenting Tips
My babies are all grown up now, but looking back, there were 3 parenting tips that kept both them–and me–feeling far more secure and safe.
1. Both hands on the car
Shannon was almost three when Aislinn was born, and it was tough to take both to the grocery store, daycare, Grandma’s….anywhere. I could have used another six hands to keep track of them and their gear while running errands. I was always terrified that Shannon would wander into the street while I had Aislinn in one arm and a bag of groceries half-way in the trunk with the other arm. Call me over-protective but I watched my kids like a Mama Hawk.
Whenever I took my preschoolers into the grocery store, I would sometimes tell them to keep “one hand on the cart,” so they didn’t wander off while I was reading labels on their dinner-to-be. If we had to cross a street or even a parking lot lane with a heavy-to-push cart to get to the car, I gave the order, “One hand on the cart.” No kiddies wandering several feet behind me like ducklings to be run over by careless drivers!
I expanded this method for getting in and out of the car until I had everything and everyone ready for the literal next step. Instead of “One hand on the car!” it was usually “Both hands on the car!” While I helped one into the car or buckled her in, the other would have both little palms pressed firmly on the car. This way, I didn’t have to be as worried that they wander into the pathway of a speeding car in the parking lot or behind a parked car preparing to back up while I settle Sister and groceries inside. This was particularly helpful if I had a heavy package to set down in the cargo area before I could help the girls into the passenger seats. Sure, I had hand prints on fenders and car doors, but so what?
That’s been a long time ago, but these days, I will see a hurried, harried mom or dad trying to load the car with three kids under 8 years old milling around behind the car and in the edge of the street and I want to pull over and yell, “Kids! Both hands on the car!”
2. No forced friendships
I’ve often seen parents insist that a child “be friends” with another child, never recognizing that the other child was a bully or in some way a threat. I’ve also personally experienced being shoved toward a pedophile masquerading as a doting relative. As a parent, I tried not to either force or guilt (yep, guilt is a verb) my daughters to spend time with people they didn’t want to be around. I don’t mean that they were bratty and didn’t want to be around a particular person because they didn’t like their clothes or something mundane, but they obviously feared or were unsettled by the person, regardless of that person’s role in my life.
Does the child make up a thousand excuses not to be alone with your beloved uncle/brother/boyfriend? Even though beloved uncle/brother/boyfriend showers them with presents and candy on a weekly basis and suggests trips alone to town? Would the child rather do homework? Throw up? Act out? Do anything and everything to not be alone with said uncle/brother/boyfriend? Maybe there’s a good reason that the child doesn’t feel he or she can discuss with you because said uncle/brother/boyfriend is clearly parent-approved? Don’t expect the child to be old enough, worldly enough or–if they’re a young teen–ever brave enough to explain that the sweet old man you adore can’t keep his hands out of their panties.
Maybe the person the child is afraid of isn’t a sexual threat but a physical and emotional one. I recall being left alone with bullies my own age or a few years older. I also recall being left with adults who were secretly abusive, troubled people who acted caring around my parents but said awful, disturbing things to me when we were alone. These weren’t nasty strangers but close relatives I saw regularly, and as I child, I would not have been believed…was not believed…if I tried in my tiny little voice to explain that they were mean to me. Doing so meant being ridiculed and discounted as being a brat who didn’t get a cookie and so retaliated with fibs.
Bottomline, if your kid is squeamish about being alone with someone, there may be a very good reason. That kid needs to know that he or she is safe, that you’ve got your kid’s back, and that you won’t send them into the clutches of a predator, whether sexual or emotional.
3. No threats of leaving
Every time I see a mom or dad–or even a grandparent–tell a small child, “if you don’t come on, I’m gonna leave you,” I want to do physical violence to that adult. Especially if they actually walk 50 feet across the store and out of the store while a kid in diapers and barely able to walk stumbles crying after a parent who is no longer in his sight or mine. My blood pressure still rises, even now, thinking about that baby, too small to keep up, and his mom already in the parking lot unlocking the car. He wasn’t being a brat–he simply couldn’t walk fast enough at 15 to 18 months old to keep up with his mom’s long legs. Grrrrrrrrr. Never mind that I could have picked up that baby and been out a side door and a mile away before she realized he couldn’t keep up! No, I’m not a physically violent person, but this kind of nonsense does call for fantasies of shaking some sense into the parent or at least screaming into their faces that they don’t deserve that child. That kind of response, I think they’d understand.
The first time I saw this happen, Shannon was two years old and I was pregnant with her sister. Their dad and I had gone to a nice dinner out, and Shannon sat quietly with us, ate without making huge mess, and was the darling of the restaurant because she was so well-behaved.
At the table next to us was a boy a couple of years older. He was…not so well-behaved. At one point, he was hanging off the back of my chair, and the parents never noticed. He threw dinner rolls and the parents never noticed. But when it was time for them to leave and he was crawling under some other diners’ table, his parents turned to him and announced, “Get over here now! We’re gonna leave you!”
And at that, Little Shannon’s eyes grew huge and her lips trembly. That was her first realization that a parent was capable of leaving a child behind–as she watched them walk out of the dining room and not wait for the boy. We stopped right then and assured her that we would never leave her. It wasn’t something she had to go through life fearing. She didn’t always come immediately when she was called, and yes, I was tempted sometimes to tell her I was going to leave without her, but I always caught myself. Instead, it was “We need to leave,” or “Let’s go,” or my patented stink eye, but it was never “I’m leaving you!” and I never ever walked away from her or her sister.
I always promised my kids that I would never leave them, ever. I might be mad at them, but I would never leave them. They could always be secure in that.
Not that I was a perfect parent, but hopefully mommy abandonment issues will never be something they need to talk through with a therapist.