Parents, Just Be Kind

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Image via Julia Pelly

It’s been a hard day — the kind of day that started too early and ended too late. In the morning, there were tears at breakfast. In the afternoon, there was a tantrum at the grocery store that left you both sweaty and red in your coats. At dinner time, there were spilled milk and pleas for something — anything — other than what you made.

And bedtime.

Oh, bedtime. 

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Bedtime went on and on and on. There were requests for water and songs and books; for the nightlight to be on and then off; for the door to be open and then shut again. In the hallway, you sat, singing and waiting, policing little feet as they tried to climb out of bed.

As you waited for quiet, you thought of how desperately you needed a shower, how the dishes were piled up downstairs, and how the dog had yet to be fed. You thought, too, of how early tomorrow was going to start and how today — this day — wasn’t what you imagined parenthood would be like. 

Yes, there were beautiful moments today — at least when you look for them. There were the snuggles that came with the early wake-up and the laughter when you pretended to glue the toast back together at breakfast. There was the mastery of a new skill after the tantrum as your child checked the fruits and veggies off your list as you shopped. During dinner, you talked about your day, and your child told you about their naptime dream, and you wondered how someone so little could have an imagination so wild and big.

And bedtime.

Oh, bedtime. 

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As you sit and wait, you know that it won’t be like this forever, and you try your hardest to relish in the fact that they need you so much. And as tired as you are, your heart still soars when you hear them sing the song you’ve whispered to them since the day they were born. 

Despite all the wonder throughout, you categorize today as a hard day. You wonder why your child won’t eat or sleep or shop in peace. You’ve read the parenting books; you’ve asked in mommy forums. You’ve talked to friends and cousins and your own mother about how to help your child live without all the drama, but no one seems to have the answers.

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Everywhere you turn, there’s advice that doesn’t seem to work and answers that just don’t fit. For every person that tells you to make your child eat what you eat, there’s someone else who says that forcing them to eat something they don’t like will destroy their relationship with food forever. For every fellow parent who claims your child should be putting themselves to sleep by six weeks old, there’s another who tells you that they accepted not sleeping when they became a parent and that they enjoy the night quiet that co-sleeping offers.

What they don’t tell you about parenthood is that there is no book or website or mommy forum that’s going to give you all the answers. Bits may work from here and pieces from there, but your child, the beautiful hollering mess they are, is a unique being who simply doesn’t fit into any parenting-book boxes. Some babies like the quiet; others like noise. Some eat every three hours, and some like to be fed all day. When you’re lost and frustrated and unsure, especially when your ears are ringing with your baby’s cry, trying to remember all the “should’s” that never seem to work for your baby anyway can be just too much. And you don’t have to. There is only one piece of advice that applies to all parents and all kids and it is simply this:

Be kind. 

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Kindness takes many forms and differs from family to family and child to child, but always, at its core, is a parent who wants the best for their little one. Sometimes kindness is getting down on that supermarket floor and feeling your toddler’s feelings with them for as long as they need. Sometimes it picking them up and leaving the store. And sometimes it’s buying them the darn candy and getting on with life.

Kindness, extended from parent to child, is a beautiful thing, but parents, please don’t forget to be kind to yourselves as well. During the day, when your temper flares, don’t feel guilty for your feelings — recognize them, name them, and decide how to handle them. You’re not a bad mom for feeling angry; you’re a human. When guilt creeps in after a tantrum (theirs or yours), remind yourself that you’re doing your best. When you just can’t keep it together a second longer and you step outside for a breath of fresh air, know that, in being kind to yourself, you are being kind to your child.

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Being kind won’t stop the tantrums right away or get them sleeping through the night by next week, but over time, it will help your children grow into the kind of person you want them to be. I promise that they’ll sleep through the night one day. They won’t go to college with a pacifier. They’ll learn to eat fruit and veggies at some point. And those tantrums in the grocery store? Those will stop, too. I promise. As they grow and change, face new and different challenges, the one thing that will remain constant is you — you and your kindness. 

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Parents, Just Be Kind

Julia Pelly has a master's degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. She is writing a memoir on pregnancy, motherhood, and sisterhood and lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young boys. ... More

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