On Saturday, I started jotting down a few of the things I've learned along this parenting journey. I know I've still got a long ways to go and lots more to learn, but as first-time parents by immersion to triplets, these are some important things I've realized over the past 2.5-years. Because the alphabet song is a favorite in our house at the moment, I proudly present my A, B, C's of raising children.
*****A = Attitude. Good or bad, my attitude and how I decide to face each day and each situation, is entirely up to me.
B = Breastfeeding. Or, Bottles. Do what works for you, and your baby, and leave the guilt behind. Which ever you decide - or if it is a combination of the two - get in to the habit early of Brushing your child's teeth. (And, then get them to see a pediatric dentist when they are 12-18 months old.)
C = Camera. Our digital camera is my most coveted piece of electronic equipment in the entire house. Even more valued than the computer. I love that it is small enough to fit in my purse (aka: diaper bag) and has the capability of taking videos in addition to still photos. I've snapped over 5,700 pictures, an average of six per day, and have taken more than 100 hours of video footage over the past 30-months. I feel extremely fortunate that images from this precious time in our life, with wee-little ones that wreak havoc every moment they are awake, are preserved.
D = Discipline. As our children have grown older, I'm learning as I go what works and what doesn't. I've decided that I'm not much of a spanker - and when I do spank - 95% of the time it stems from my own frustration. Interestingly, I don't think that spanking accomplishes alot. Instead, it hurts our kids and makes me instantly feel bad that I wasn't able to handle the situation differently. I've discovered that consistently nipping our children's bad behavior in the bud is key because these little people are incredibly smart and will quickly learn that you may not always be consistent. Getting down at their eye level and firmly telling them what you expect and what you will not tolerate, works well. If they keep up with their bad behavior after one warning, I will completely remove them from the situation. It takes a lot of perseverance (especially since there is more than one), but persistence pays off. At least it did with our puppies...
E = Energy. The path of least resistance sometimes involves laying on the couch and watching television. I have to constantly challenge myself to dig deep and find the energy and enthusiasm to turn off the television, pull out the finger paints and crayons, or get outside and explore. I never regret it, when I do. I've found that the more energy that I have, the better I can efficiently burn off our children's energy ... and that's a good thing.
F = Food. We try to offer a healthy and nutritious selection of protein, whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruit with with every meal. Even if our children don't eat everything that we give them - we keep trying. I've noticed that our children don't always devour everything in front of them everytime they sit down - but they will eat when they are hungry - provided they aren't filled up on snacks. With rare exception, we feed them whatever it is that we are eating, which saves us time from having to prepare two - or more - meals to suit their tastes and will hopefully, get them acclimated to eating a wide range of foods. Not long ago, Carolyn wouldn't touch eggs - now they're her favorite. Elizabeth wouldn't touch fish - now she asks for salmon. William ... well, we're still working on him. But I have faith he'll come around. If not, his body composition throughout childhood will consist of pancakes and cantaloupe.
G = Groups. My salvation when our babies were little, were on-line support forums. I visited the Resolve Parenting After Infertility website and Carolyn's Board, every day, and participated in numerous discussions with other new parents. Some of my closest friends, when our babies were young and I was house bound because of nap schedules, were women that I never met and were spread far and wide across the world. As our children have grown older, I have developed a camaraderie with parents whose children are the same age as ours - and we frequently get together for playdates and friendship. The importance of becoming involved with fellow parents (whether online or next door) to share joys and concerns, ask questions and offer support, cannot be overemphasized.
H = Hobby. Having an outlet other than changing diapers, folding laundry and chasing babies has been critical for my sanity. Whether I'm knitting, blogging, cooking or reading - doing something for myself is something I need. Every. Day.
I = Individuality. Spending one-on-one time with your children is important for them and for you, too. Our kids are totally different when they are removed from the "group" and we are totally different, as parents, when we are interacting with one child, as opposed to three. Whenever possible, Charlie and I try to take just one child out to do something special, while the other parent does something special with the other two. Even if something "special" involves running off to the store to pick up more flour tortillas - while the other two kids remain at home and jump on the couch. It's a nice break for everyone.
J = Just DO it!! As a mother of triplets, one of the greatest challenges for me has always been how I'm suppose to get anything done. How do I go to church with three babies? How do I go to the store with three babies? How do I go to the park with three babies? How do I go out to a restaurant with three babies? How do we fly cross-country with three babies? How do I do anything, without another ten sets of hands to help?? What I've learned is that you just do it. If we let our fear of not being able to handle a situation keep us in the house - we'd never leave. But getting out and succeeding, is extremely empowering. The more you go for it - the easier it becomes. And if nothing else, it provides great material for stories.
K = Kisses. Make time for your spouse and find romance. Chances are, the relationship that you had with your partner existed long before your child (or children) arrived in your home ... and God willing, will exist long after your child (or children) leaves your home. I recently read that the first seven minutes of dialogue that you have with your husband or wife at the end of the day, will set the tone for the entire evening. Make it good and greet them with a big hug and kiss.
L = Laughter. Quite often, I am so overcome with frustration - if I don't laugh, I will cry. Like Saturday night, when we went out to dinner with our kids at one of those all-you-can-eat soup and salad buffets and our son took off running away from us, up and down the 50-foot salad bar dodging in and out of the fellow diners, while one of his sisters took off running for the men's room and the other dashed towards the exit. It wasn't until Charlie yelled "STEP ON HIM!" that someone was finally able to slow William down. Instead of feeling ashamed that we lost control (which happens to a lesser degree, quite frequently) and leaving the restaurant - we laughed about, as did everyone else that witnessed the scene. Humor abounds in parenthood. Some parents are so uptight or concerned with what other people will think or are so fixated on control, they can't find it in themselves to just laugh, relax and enjoy the ride. You may as well laugh - because chances are - people will be laughing at you.
M = Music. I've tried to limit the amount of television our children watch to a short video at night while we're preparing dinner. (Although, this has been a bit more difficult since the Easter Bunny brought the kids Dumbo - which they chant all day long). Instead of having the television on throughout the day, we fill our home with all different kinds of music. Classical, Children's, Rock and Roll, Blues, Disco, African Safari - the list goes on. Charlie received an iPod last year for Father's Day that he hooked up to our stereo and every morning, I'll set it to "random" play and enjoy a fine selection from over 4,500 songs. I love that our kids will stop what they are doing and dance to ABBA - and that their faces light up when they hear "The Itsy Bitsy Spider".
N = Naps. Don't let them trick you ... children need their sleep. We were at three naps a day until our babies were 9-months old, two naps a day until they were almost 24-months old, and even though Carolyn is currently trying to convince us that she doesn't need to nap once a day, I know better. If I still need to take a nap at almost 36-years old, I'm fairly certain she still needs one at 30-months old.
O = One minute, one hour ... one day at a time. When our babies first came home from the hospital, I would have panic attacks at the thought of being left alone. But taking every step of parenthood one minute, one hour, one day at a time - has been some of the best advice I've ever received. Realize that everything you are facing shall eventually pass. Although, I recently read that in so far as the toddler years, time might "pass" like a kidney stone.
P = Patience. Sometimes when I lose my patience - I'll start to beat myself up over it - and then remember I need to be patient with myself, too. Becoming a good parent is a process, it doesn't happen automatically, and it takes practice. All I can do is try my best and learn from my mistakes.
Q = Quiet Time. The "filter" on my life can so easily become clogged with the day-to-day activities of being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and employee ... that I lose sight of what is really important. When I take quiet time for myself, go to church, participate in a small group, or write in my journal, my priorities realign right before my very eyes. Having a spiritual outlet has been a true saving grace for me. The fact is, I have to believe that there is a Higher Power. Otherwise, I may as well throw in the towel, right now.
R = Reading. You can never have too many books. Each day, sometimes several times a day, I will sit down and read to our children. At a minimum, story-time is a ritual that we have every night before bedtime. Our house is loaded to the brink with various children's books and I keep a plethora of books in a location where they can access them. One of the many highlights of motherhood thus far, is watching our children read stories to each other, just as I will read to them.
S = Schedule. Life works better for everyone when you have your children on a schedule. More than that: children thrive on a schedule. When I hear people say "our children won't nap ... won't eat ... won't play ... won't, won't won't..." I always think to myself, "Your children will. It's you that won't!" Our kids wake up, eat, play, nap, snack, bathe and go to bed at about the same time - every day. Although there are times when we might go to bed a little later or plan naps around long rides in the car, we have found that when we continuously disrupt our children's schedule, we disrupt the routine and consistency that they have come to rely upon.
T = Team Work. I would not be nearly as successful, or be having as good of a time on this parenthood journey, if it were not for Charlie. We go together like Cheech and Chong, Ying and Yang, Peas and Carrots. If I didn't have such a supportive husband and friend, I'd have to call in for reinforcements. I sincerely do not see how any one can raise small children, completely on their own, and maintain any degree of sanity. The time when children are young passes so quickly and parenting should be fun. If it's not - get help.
U = Understand. Understanding what drives your children is paramount, especially since no two kids are alike ... at least not in this house. With time, I have become extremely in-tune with our children. When they were infants, I quickly came to understand that a baby should not cry uncontrollably immediately after they eat. I came to understand that they should not be awake for more than a certain period of time, before they needed to sleep. Now that we are in the throes of toddlerhood, the better I understand their cues (frustration, fear, hunger, exhaustion), the better I can diffuse a problem (i.e. temper tantrum) before it starts.
V = Vocalize. Unfortunately, no one I know, possesses the ability to read my mind. As such, I have found that when I need help, I usually need to ask for it. If people ask what they can do to help you - tell them. And if no one is asking - tell them anyway. Even if you aren't requesting help - talking through your feelings is extremely important for your mental health ... especially when you have small children that depend on you to be mentally stable!
W = Walk. Ever since our babies have come home from the hospital, Charlie and I make every attempt to go for a walk in the evening. This allows us a great opportunity to reconnect after a long day and has the added benefit of giving us rock hard bodies. (If you consider lava to be a rock.) When our children were babies, we'd load them in to their strollers and set off. These days, it's rare that we can get them all to sit in their strollers long enough to make it around the block, so instead, we'll let them ride their scooters and/or tricycles. Regardless of how we do it, this has become a daily tradition that everyone has come to expect - and enjoy.
X = eXhale. Take a deep breath and then (this is key) remember to breathe in, again. Our breath is the breath-of-life as we received it from God. Whenever I get particularly tense or frustrated, I take five deep breaths and hold each for three seconds and then release. As I breathe out, I repeat the word "peace" outloud. I tried "SERENITY NOW!" but that didn't work quite as well.
Y = Yearly Appointments. I've found that it's so easy to get caught up in parenting that you simply forget about yourself. Although our children are on track for all of their immunizations, I recently discovered that I am 4-years overdue for a tetanus shot and have no idea what my cholesterol levels are. In addition, during my last hair cut, I was informed that it had been over two years since I'd had my hair highlighted. It's no wonder I looked like crap. My goal is to live to a ripe old age, watch our children grow up and meet our grandchildren. I also hope to look nice in pictures taken during my children's childhood. Having the appropriate appointments with my doctor - and hairdresser - are important to insure I meet those goals.
Z = Zoo and Zinfandel. Taking off and going somewhere fun with your children is good for their spirit. Making it a priority to relax and unwind at the end of the day, is good for your spirit. However, if you indulge too much on either of these things - you will end up with a hangover.