By Aviva Patz
Wonder if you're doing the whole mommy thing right? Here's how to tune in to your instincts and know for sure.
I remember one day when my daughter Sadie, now 5, was still just crawling. A friend came over with her baby for a playdate. When she arrived, she looked around and asked, "Where's Sadie?" I shrugged casually and said, "I don't know. I think she went upstairs." My friend, who never let her own child out of her sight, was aghast — I had allowed my daughter to go up the stairs all by herself! It made me wonder: Am I too laid-back? Am I a bad mom?
Fortunately, parenting is not one-size-fits-all. "What works for one mom may not work for another — or her kids," says Michelle Borba, author of 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know. And it's important to get comfortable with your innate parenting style. "If you're always worrying — am I doing it right? — it could hinder your ability to parent effectively," says marriage, family, and child therapist Lisa Dunning, author of Good Parents Bad Parenting. "But if you trust yourself as a parent, you can focus on what's best for you and your child." What's more, feeling secure about your own style actually makes you a better parent — you're not constantly "trying on" other moms' methods, which can confuse your kids. "When you're confident and reliable in your parenting, kids know what's expected of them, and they learn to trust you and feel safe," Dunning says. Follow these five steps to get comfortable with your particular parenting style and make the most of it.
Stop the compar-a-thon.
"Other people are our worst enemy when it comes to destroying our instincts," says Mary DeBiccari, 35, of Lake Grove, NY, who has two kids, 5 and 2, and a third on the way. "When a friend would say, 'You use wipes instead of washcloths?' and 'How could you not feed on demand?' I would second-guess everything I did." Try to tune out those unsolicited opinions. "When it comes to how your child adapts and copes and his unique emotional and physical needs, you're the expert," Borba says. "And when you go with what you know is right for your child, it will make you the best possible parent." Mary Werner, 37, a mom of three in St. Louis, often scrutinizes other moms — and imagines they're doing the same to her. But a little perspective goes a long way toward deflecting her self-doubt: "I realize that one situation — on the playground or in the grocery store — is such a limited view of what a parent is like overall," she says. "The mom who's really good at making up fun games may be terrible at handling tantrums. There's just no such thing as a perfect mom."
Trace the roots of your parenting style.
No matter how hard you try to forge your own unique path as a mom, there's a good chance you're raising your kids the same way your parents raised you — for better and worse. "When you feel a little pain in your stomach because you've triggered a bad memory from growing up, it's a good sign that maybe this is one behavior you don't want to pass on to your kids," Borba says. I got this wake-up call a few months back when I screamed at my 3-year-old — for some trivial infraction — and saw a look of primal fear on her face, as if I were a T. rex coming in for the kill. I had an instant flashback to my own mother's constant yelling — while she always apologized after an episode, I'd feel hurt for days. One of the great gifts you get from being a parent, though, is the chance to right the wrongs from your childhood. "You spend 18 years in your parents' home, so their ways become normal for you," Dunning says. "But if it doesn't feel right, you can make new rules." You can also go overboard compensating for your parents' missteps, however. To tap into whether your style is working, ask yourself, Are my kids responding to me the way I want? If not, examine your choices in certain situations and tweak them to meet your kids' needs and your own.
Celebrate your style.
It's not often that your kids will tell you what a great job you're doing at being their mom. Borba recommends recording your parenting triumphs and wisdom in a log. You might write, "When I lower my voice, it diffuses Will's tantrums." Says Borba, "It gives you confidence because you're not only tracking successes but also making an effort to improve — and both are signs of a good parent." Add to this journal the compliments from teachers and other parents that have made you feel good about your parenting style. Ariel Zeitlin Cooke, 46, felt really proud when her daughter's principal told her, "Your kid knows right from wrong. She won't be swayed by other kids to go along with the crowd." Says the Montclair, NJ, mom, "I thought that was a ringing endorsement for a 7-year-old — and by extension, for my liberal parenting style. I've given Eve room to make choices, so now she trusts her own judgment — and I do, too." Don't forget to also record the delicious things your child tells you, like what my 3-year-old said recently: "Mommy, I love you the best."
Understand that your kid is unique.
Kids are not robots that you can program. "Children are born with different temperaments that determine how easy or challenging they're going to be to parent," says psychologist Howard Paul, Ph.D., a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. And since the exquisite skill of good parenting is meeting your child's specific needs, no one is better equipped than you are — whatever your style — to parent your child. A few years ago, Laurie Hurley, 50, of Newbury Park, CA, was an easygoing mom to then 8-year-old Hannah, but her style changed after she adopted a daughter who had attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. "I went from being spontaneous to sticking to a schedule," Hurley says. "I'd never naturally be that regimented, but it made my daughter's life more peaceful." Yes, you're the mom, but parenting is always a give-and-take proposition. Researchers have recently discovered that even in the newborn period, the baby likely has more impact on Mom than they once thought. Apparently, infants — by communicating through cries and other signals — influence not only Mom's actions (getting her to change a diaper, for example) but also her brain, actually stimulating new neurons, enhancing existing ones, and prepping her to become the particular kind of parent that child will need.
Follow your gut.
Nobody knows your child better than you do — not your pediatrician, your neighbor, your mother-in-law, or some guru on TV. "We devalue ourselves as moms when we don't trust our instincts — that mommy-vision you get when your baby is born," Borba says. "Your gut instinct, which is where your parenting style is formed, is almost always right for your child." And when you start listening to your heart, you'll make peace with your parenting style. This bore out for me when my 3-year-old, who'd been potty-trained for a year, began wetting her pants daily. Her preschool teachers told me to be patient, while my husband thought we should bribe her with stickers. No one liked the idea of making her wear diapers — except me. I thought that it would work because my daughter, who's always striving to act older, would be horrified at a backslide into babyhood. And, after one embarrassing day at preschool in a pull-up, she quit the pants-wetting cold turkey. I did it my way — which was right for her — and it worked.
Want to understand your mom personality — and its impact on your kids? Log on to http://www.redbookmag.com/parentingstyle to take our quiz and find out what your parenting style is.
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