I had a motherhood epiphany a few weeks ago. My background is in special education. In 2002, I began my official teaching career. I have worked with typically-developing children, children with autism, children with mild to severe cognitive delays, children with emotional-behavioral disorders, children with learning disabilities, children toddler-age through high school age. With the exception of a few in group homes, they all have one thing in common: Parents. One of the most challenging things about teaching special education is collaborating with families. For the most part, the children I taught had limited verbal skills, which meant that the parents relied on me heavily for all information regarding their children’s progress. I always placed a lot of emphasis on the parent-teacher relationship, and I was willing to work with parents before, during, and after school. I only worked with children about 30 hours a week – parents have their children the rest of the week. Successful gains will only be made if the parents and teacher communicate openly, sharing not only what has happened, but how to tackle situations in the future.
The one thing I have always preached is consistency and being firm. I remember saying things like “When I have a child, I will ignore all the tantruming” and “These are all just attention-seeking behaviors. The child needs to get over it.” Well, what I have learned over the past few years, is that it is much easier to ignore someone else’s child’s behaviors than it is to ignore your own. It is much easier to be consistent as an educator than as a parent. Add a second child into the mix, and it’s even more challenging.
So a few weeks ago, I had to evaluate a toddler-age child at work. The mother had many questions for me, and all I could think the whole time was “Wow, I would have answered these so differently before becoming a mother.” I was always certain being an educator would shape who I am as a parent…but parenting has changed who I am as an educator. I may tell parents that they need to be consistent or they need to handle behaviors a certain way, but I also preface it by saying “As a mother, I understand that this is really challenging.” It’s a completely different voice from what I used to have, which, in retrospect, may have sometimes come off as critical rather than helpful.
So after attempting to say the right things to this parent, I went home and realized that I needed to give myself a tough love speech. As a work-at-home mother, I am with both my kids 24/7. At 2 1/2 years old, my daughter has been seriously testing me recently, particularly during mealtime. She went from a great eater just a year ago to a very difficult eater recently. I know that I have allowed her to get away with not eating well. Sometimes I am with Bryce, and I’m not able to be as consistent as I’d like. Sometimes I tell her she needs to eat, but I cannot always follow through. I used to tell parents not to place a demand on their child unless they could follow through. That is definitely more challenging than I realized, but I still try to stick with this.
So the past week, I have had to literally force-feed my daughter to eat several meals (or at least the first few bites of a meal). I ask her “Do you want to eat the nice way, or do I have to feed you the mean way?” and there have been times that I had to feed her the mean way. I have to remind myself that I cook healthy, delicious food, and it’s very important for her to eat it. I have to remind myself that she needs to learn to comply with directions at an early age. I have to remind myself of what I used to tell all my students’ parents: if you do the work upfront, it’s much easier long-term. I also need to forgive myself for the times that I just cannot do it all. Every day as a parent is a new challenge, and it may take some time for me to learn what is best…but I always try to ‘practice what I teach.’