How to not break up with your kids

Who here remembers the dating days? You know, those first early days of a relationship when you are all smitten as you get to know the other person: What makes them smile, what makes them laugh, what gives them the heart eyes. As the relationship progresses you learn what upsets them, what pushes their buttons and how they deal with conflict. As things go on you decide if this is a relationship you want to commit to for the rest of your life, or if your differences are just too great and a break-up is subsequently on the cards. Well guys, I hate to be the one to tell you this but even if we have huge differences with our kids, breaking up is just not an option.

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My husband and I are almost complete opposites. When we did a pre-marriage counselling questionnaire we kinda failed, like miserably. We had different views on just about everything other than our spiritual beliefs. This proved itself to be a pretty accurate representation of our first year of marriage. Five years on, with two kids, a city move, buying our first home and a soon-to-be first big overseas trip as a family all part of our deal, we’ve certainly grown into a greater understanding and love for each other. But just when I thought I had finally started to understand this man I’d married, along came our daughter – with an almost mirror-image of her daddy’s personality.

These last few years have been a huge learning curve for me, especially as my daughter journeyed through the ‘terrible twos’ and the infamous ‘threenager’ stage, and I’ve realised just how different she is to me. What makes me tick is not the same for her. How I would naturally address and resolve conflict is definitely different to how she would. I figured that if I was going to raise a kind, confident, resilient and respectful human who I was going to enjoy relationship with for the rest of my life, I needed to get to know her.

Time and place

This is key! We need to set aside time to intentionally get to know our kids, in an environment that works for them. Going on group dates is fun but I find that if you really want to know what’s on someone’s heart, you need the right environment – one that suits their personality. As a child, I appreciated the time I spent with my dad each morning as he drove me to school. My daughter, however, needs the physical closeness and eye contact available in the quiet of our home or while sitting together in a café, but not in the hustle and bustle of morning traffic.

Identify triggers

Isn’t it ironic that it is usually the ones closest to us who can hurt us the most. Probably because they know exactly where our sore spots are. Finding these triggers in our kids is important because once identified, we can help our children work through these big feelings and consequently teach them how to self-regulate or ask for help when they need it. A big trigger for our daughter is over-tiredness, which I suspect is quite common. We would especially see this around dinnertime, when big tantrums were a regular occurrence. I’ve realised I can eliminate this problem by swapping dinner and afternoon tea around. This way I know she’s eating nutritious food while she is really hungry after kindy, and then she just has snacks and fruit while we have our dinner. This routine isn’t always possible, so we’ve learnt how to constructively deal with any bad behaviour if it happens. The hardest part is sticking to our boundaries and not being a jellyfish parent by giving in to a tantrum.

Choose understanding over principle

She is not me. Sometimes I find myself repeating this in my head. I’m big on being polite and respectful so it really gets to me when we arrive somewhere and my daughter doesn’t return greetings. I really don’t understand it, but I’ve come to realise it is just her. She is cautious and sometimes gets overwhelmed when entering a different space. I’ve learnt that time is key in helping her adjust. Although I value being polite and respectful, I just have to keep modelling these principles to my daughter the best way I can, while still understanding who she is and what she’s comfortable with. Showing love and understanding to our kids is sometimes much more important than insisting they follow our principles.

Tell you what, that first year of ‘wedded bliss’ was pretty hard but as my husband and I have grown in our marriage, we have found that strength comes from our differences. It can be the same with parenting. As we grow to know our children more deeply, we will realise the value their wonderful and unique personalities bring to our families and wider community. So let’s keep watering our little seedlings with all the love, time and understanding they need. Really get to know your kids and breaking up with them will never even cross your mind.

About the author

Former city girl, Magdalene Paul, is navigating/fumbling through mum life in Rotorua. She loves a good yarn and is often telling stories about her two kids and husband over on Instagram. Mags is passionate about empowering mums and helping them realise their importance – not just in their families but society as a whole. When she’s not in mum or wife mode, you’ll find her experimenting in the kitchen or curled up with a good book.

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