A planned approach to parenting

We’ve taken a planned approach to parenting our kids. This doesn’t just mean planning meals, routines and the like. We also take time to think about the way we want to parent: which strategies we’ll use and how we’ll work together. As kids grow in bursts, so do the behavioural challenges they throw at you. Being prepared for each new developmental stage has really helped us to keep on top of things. I do most of the reading, research and observation of parenting methods, but I don’t always have the answers. As the kids grow older and we reach new stages, I’m frequently faced with situations that are completely new to me and I’m unsure how to handle them.

When faced with these situations, my first reference point is always my husband, just as I am his first reference point. If we can’t come up with an approach that works, I seek out more information. Our planned approach to parenting looks something like this:

We realise we have an ongoing issue that’s causing problems at home or need to make a decision on how to handle the developmental behaviour of one of our children.

• We discuss the issue, and if we’re unable to come up with a solution, we look further.

• I use parenting books, podcasts and blogs, or ask other parents for ideas for resolving our issue.

• We read and assess the information, and decide how to apply it to our family.

• We discuss the changes we need to make and why. We come to an agreed position and decide whether someone will lead the change.

• We talk to the kids if the changes will affect them. Then we implement the changes.

In the busyness of daily life it sometimes takes longer for us to work out that there’s an underlying issue that needs addressing. For example, when our second child was about three and a half, we found some of his behaviour very difficult to deal with. We were parenting him the same way we had our first son, but the strategies we were using to calm him down when he had a tantrum just weren’t working. After one particularly exhausting episode, we realised we had to find a different way to work through his tantrums.

That’s when I first discovered Louise Porter’s book, Children Are People Too: A Parent’s Guide to Young Children’s Behaviour. Her strategy for bringing a child in close when they lose control of themselves resonated with me. It took some discussion to convince my husband to try this technique. However, in order for it to work, we both had to use it every time our son had a tantrum. We also had to explain to our son how we’d be reacting to his behaviour. We let him know that every time he started to carry on we would pick him up and sit, holding him, until he calmed down.

It took many long sessions of sitting with him, and there were many moments when either my husband or I felt like giving up, but by sticking to this new approach we eventually had success. We’d found a way to help our child safely through his tantrum and minimise the impact it had on everyone else in the house.

Making time for your relationship

The healthy relationship that my husband and I share exists because it receives nourishment and attention. Family life with young children can be exhausting at times. It takes considerable energy to feed, love and care for youngsters. However, for our family to be cohesive and happy, we have to make sure that as a couple we’re putting time and energy into our relationship.

Sometimes it can feel like there isn’t much energy left at the end of the day for anything other than getting ready for bed! On those days it takes a conscious effort on my part to take an interest in my husband’s day and to step away from my inward focus. Despite this, I feel so much better afterwards, and it keeps our relationship thriving.

Communicating with your partner

Communicating with your partner sounds quite obvious, doesn’t it? During the week I have a very clear idea of what I’m doing and I just assume my husband does as well. In reality, his focus is different from mine, and he may not be at all aware of what’s going on in my part of the world. Not keeping each other up to date on what we’re doing can easily lead to confusion. For example, one evening I went to a girlfriend’s house with the kids for an early dinner not knowing that my husband had left his keys at home. He assumed I’d be home and I assumed he was working late (as he had been all week). His unexpected early finish at work saw him waiting in the cold outside the locked house!

We also find it incredibly useful to take time for talking about what’s on our to-do lists. From these discussions we determine whether we have any crossovers and how we can help each other out. To help us communicate effectively we:

chat each night once the kids are in bed about major upcoming commitments and activities

• use email to send each other information about dates and significant events

• use the family calendar to mark out nights that we’ll be out on our own.

I’ve learned that my husband may not always be aware of how I’m feeling. He’s become much quicker at noticing that something’s wrong, but it’s difficult for him to work out whether I’m okay among the organised chaos of the evening rush. I can wait for him to ask me how I’m going (or get slightly frustrated with him if he doesn’t), or I can just tell him how I’m feeling. If how I’m feeling is directly related to him, he can discuss this with me. If it’s unrelated, he can offer support and advice. Either way, communicating with him can help eliminate potential conflict.

Naturally, the same applies to my husband: he lets me know if anything is bothering him and what we can do to remedy this.

Planning time alone together

The concept of planned, regular ‘date nights’ is hugely popular at the moment, and while I love the idea, it hasn’t always been practical for us to implement. With a new baby and a number of young children, the idea of regularly organising a babysitter so we can go out — in addition to other social commitments with friends, school and kinder — actually seemed like hard work to me. For a few years when we were living in the inner city we had a subscription to the theatre. This meant every six to eight weeks we went to see a play. However, during the last year that we had the subscription I ended up seeing a play on my own as it had become difficult to line everything up.

We’re fortunate to have some family in Melbourne who generously help us with babysitting. However, it’s generosity that I don’t wish to overuse. An alternative to going out for us is to have a night in — a night where we let go of the household chores, put on some music, grab a drink and enjoy each other’s company. With the kids settled in bed, it’s refreshing to spend this time alone having an adult conversation. I particularly love it in summer when we can sit outside on the warmer evenings.

Regardless of how you do it, it’s important to find time in the family schedule for parents to relax together. As our youngest child gets older, I can see how it will be easier to organise a regular night out on our own, but we aren’t quite there yet.

Preparing for the evening peak hour

It helps for parents to work as a team, especially at times when not doing so can have a big impact on family harmony. One of these times is the peak-hour evening rush. I heard an ABC podcast called ‘managing stress‘ that said research shows that the first hour after the second parent arrives home in the evening is a high-risk time for disagreement and conflict between parents. This can increase the stress levels of the family by flowing on to the kids

Inspired by the research, over the past year I’ve made a conscious effort to set aside any negative comments or complaints for the first hour after my husband comes home. This restraint has made a big difference to how the rest of the evening flows.

In the past, in the heat of rush hour, I’ve been known to vent the first moment my husband walks through the door. An example is if I’d asked him to fix a kitchen cupboard, and he hadn’t yet had a chance to do it. Before he came home, I’d spend considerable time trying to get the equipment I needed for preparing dinner out of the cupboard. Meanwhile, the older children would start to fight and the toddler would cry incessantly because he was tired and wanted to be held. All these factors converge, and I see the cupboard as the main cause of the situation, which — of course — it isn’t.

In a scenario such as this one, when my husband walks in the door, I’m still frustrated over the situation so I blurt out to him within the first few minutes that I ‘wasted 15 minutes on the cupboard and doing so caused all sorts of other annoying things to happen’. He feels attacked and is on guard from the moment he arrives home. The kids pick up on this bad vibe and may choose to talk about the negative aspects of their day rather than focusing on the fun things that happened. The evening peak-hour rush is descending further into negativity.

Nowadays our evening routine looks more like this:

• My husband arrives home.

• He has a general chit-chat with the kids.

We get the kids off to bed.

We have an adult-only discussion about the big and the small issues.

By changing my approach and choosing not to talk about an issue until later in the evening, we’re experiencing far less conflict during our evening routine. This doesn’t mean I don’t communicate my frustration or unhappiness to my husband, but it means I’m choosing the best time and a calmer approach. In reality, in our house it’s often much longer than an hour before I get a chance to talk about whatever is bothering me. By then my frustration has dissipated and I can talk about it more calmly. Quite often I don’t even bother bringing it up. With the heat out of the situation, I realise it really wasn’t such a big deal after all.

This approach requires commitment from my husband too. If he arrives home to a house that looks like a cyclone has blazed a path through it, he realises it’s not wise to comment — even in jest — as there’s a fair chance I won’t see the humour, and this could start the evening off on a negative note.

Preparing for the morning peak hour

Another time when working as a team has a significant impact is during the morning rush hour. Mornings run smoothest for us when there’s been adequate preparation the night before. Reducing the workload in the morning decreases my potential stress levels and means I’m better prepared to cope with the unexpected things that so frequently occur with our youngest kids. Preparing the night before without interruption — when the kids are in bed — saves us time as everything only takes half as long to do.

I can’t say we always feel like doing these things at night when the kids are in bed, or that we wouldn’t prefer to flop down on the couch with a book or watch some TV. However, from past chaotic morning experiences, that 30 minutes of preparation the night before makes all the difference to us having a good start to the day. It also means I can get to the gym some mornings and my husband can ride to work occasionally. Here’s what we do in the evening:

set the table for breakfast

prepare the lunchboxes

complete the notices that need to be returned to school

ensure uniforms and clothes are clean and ready to be worn

empty the dishwasher

generally tidy up

empty the bin/s

check the family calendar

write a ‘to do’ list

wind down.

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