It's time yet again for Capacity's 'Parent of the Month'. This month, I have the pleasure of introducing you to Di, mum to two adult boys. One of those adult boys happens to be my partner and I've been so lucky to welcome Di into my life as a positive role model for the importance of family and all things fun. We always have frank conversations about what matters in life and how you navigate it's ups and downs. Full of wisdom, I was so keen to ask her about her experiences as a mum over the last 29 years and what she has learned along the way.
As a parent of two adult children, what do you think have been the most important learnings?
Tough love. Being able to say no and being consistent with saying no! And following through with my word. With boys in particular, I felt it was important to be completely firm if I say I’m going to do something.
Is that something you did from the outset or learn that lesson over time?
No, it was always something I was committed to. It showed them that I was rock solid in my decision-making and that there was less arguing with them because they knew if I said no, I meant no. I always let them know it was for their own good even if they didn’t like it! It’s a hard thing to do but because I trusted my instinct and knew that I was being sensible, it was quite easy for me. It caused trouble with my youngest when he was an adolescent, no doubt about it. But we are out the other side of that and I’m glad I stuck to my non-negotiables (certain risk-taking behaviours). It did cause problems but my boys always knew I was there for them when they needed it. Letting them know that you always have their back is important. As is letting them make their own mistakes.
Do you think your boys are resilient? Is this important to you and to them? And why?
Yes I do. It’s important because life doesn’t always go your way. Every day is different. I can see parents struggling now to let their children suffer/lose/experience setbacks. The approach I took with my boys from the beginning is absolutely paying off now - for our relationship and for their success in life.
What kinds of things stand out in your mind as being positive for promoting your children's wellbeing?
Doing things that they loved but I hated, such as camping! I knew it would do them good to be around other men, gathering firewood, and learning responsibility and the natural order of life. When they were young, I made a real effort to have fun. We would eat dinner and then put on music to dance together. Or we would come home and get dressed up in each other’s clothes and be silly. I’m a big believer in rituals for family too. Letting them have a “pyjama day” once a term or getting takeaway on Friday nights. I think it taught my sons that yes I’m firm, but it’s not oppressive.
Do you think there are differences in parenting boys and girls?
Yes and no. I would like to think that I would be as firm with girls as I was with the boys as I don’t think that firmness is gender-specific. You have to let children know who is in charge. Unfortunately, children aren’t in control of everything that happens to them and the world owes them nothing. Because my boys heard from this from a young age, they have a good work ethic and are grateful for all they have.
You describe your two sons as very different. What was it like having one child in your life for 4 years with a certain temperament and then another one coming into your world who presented new and unique challenges?
Well, [my youngest] burst into life and cried every two hours. That was very...extremely, difficult. But you still have to make effort for the existing child. I bought [my eldest] a present and made time for him. I was so conscious of him being pushed aside and it creating jealousy so I tried to dissipate this from day one. I did this by attending his kinder events and everything I could (in the absence of earning money!) as I believed I could never, ever, buy back time with my children. And that’s why I believe I have a good connection with them now.
Families nowadays often experience the pressure of needing to have both parents in paid work. What advice would you give a parent who is struggling to do it all or who is experiencing guilt?
It doesn’t all have to be perfect. But it has to be consistent and make them feel secure. They don’t have to have meat and four veg every night. You can have paper plate dinners and throw out the plates if you need to! They can have pies or pizza and lollies on Friday night, especially if it gets them out of their bedroom or off their laptop. Little things that take the pressure off. Make time to do silly and fun things. Play with them. Sit in the sandpit with them. It’s the time and how you make the child feel. Read a story to them, even if it is while they’re in the bath and you’re drinking a glass of wine. I’ve done it!
Both of your boys are kind, caring, thoughtful and generous with big hearts. What was it like for you supporting your children's emotional development? Was it explicit or did it just come down to your nature?
I always tried to make them feel grateful that they had family and extended family, no matter the situation we were in. I always taught them respect. I taught them that there is always someone that is worse off than you. I taught them to respect women, to never hit them or degrade them. Taking a trip overseas to a developing country really put disadvantage into perspective, particularly for my younger son. I taught them the value of money. I made them earn money rather than handing it out. Unfortunately, I don’t think parents earn more respect from their children by buying things for them or providing an endless supply of cash. And simple things like cutting flowers from the garden to take to the airport when picking up their grandparents. Or spending days in the holidays doing fun things without spending any money.
What kinds of things did you come up with?
Go for a big walk. Have a picnic. Make pancakes and watch movies all day. Chalk draw on the driveway. Paint with water over and over again, on the outside of the house even! When we had a pool, we just swam all day. Have fires in the brasier at night. Turn off the television. Things that are fun don’t always have to cost money!
What are your parting words for a parent who’s in the thick of a pretty rough time?
Tough love, ring Parentline, and have a chardonnay.
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If you are a parent who feels like they could be ready to reach out for some much-needed support, please contact Penny through Capacity Therapeutic Services.