What I've learned in three years

Emma is 2 months away from her 3rd birthday. Life is busy around here. Here's what I've learned and observed in the past three years about parenting and about little people:

  • The easy way is almost certainly the wrong way (if it doesn't hurt you're not doing it well)
  • The crowd is seldom right
  • Research, plan, analyze and iterate
  • Strive to achive a broader perspective about ourselves and the world around us
  • Observe how animals tend to their offspring (they have no internet, yet they know everything about parenting). Perhaps if we had no internet we also knew better?
  • Keep it pure magic - don't let kids grow up too soon!
  • Toys - and everyday objects - that were around before the digital era are what kids need. Anything with a battery or a screen is not for kids at this age.
  • There is nothing on TV that provides better value than doing anything other than watching TV.
  • Let them take their time when going for a walk or grocery shopping, etc. (but don't let them drag their behinds)
  • The quantity, arrangement or size of blankets has nothing to do with how much time it takes for them to uncover themselves
  • Get feedback from your spouse and anyone else you can and carefully consider the validity of the feedback given
  • Don't be rigid - plans for the day can fall apart in a minute...just make the best you can of every situation
  • Remember that children want to help so approach them with that mindset: if something breaks there is a very good chance it broke because they were trying to copy adults or help one way or another. Never punish or make them feel bad for an experiment gone bad or for being do-gooders.
  • Don't take kids to Walmart
  • Buy used clothes and used toys. You'll save a ton of money and won't have a fit when something breaks or gets dirty
  • Choose your daycare very carefully and be in constant contact with the caregiver
  • Not everything must be shared. There is a big difference between sharing as a two year old or sharing as a three year old. Forcing a three year old to share is a bandaid solution. Sharing doesn't promote a sense of ownership.
  • Always honestly answer their "why?"-s
  • Stay away from strollers! Use a wagon if you must but carrying them is best. Your back will hurt but they will give you a kiss once in a while (or pinch your nose).
  • Leave food laying around on the table, countertop, etc. and pay no attention to it - she will randomly take bits and pieces without any encouragement
  • Don't be obsessed with taking too many pictures and don't be too fussy about the quality of the pictures either. The natural flow of play is interrupted if too many and too carefully directed pictures are taken. (Experiment: leave your phone, camera and watch home a few times when you go on outings. It'll be strange for a while not having your phone in your pocket but over time you'll start to play with your kids instead of jumping around waiting for the perfect photo moment or texting your buddies.)
  • Breastfeeding is how young children are meant to be fed. It's foolish and arrogant to ignore hundreds of thousands of years of evolution for comfort.
  • Don't make a big deal about being ditry. Being dirty is a natural side effect of care-free play.
  • Read stories, make up stories, look at picture books
  • Go to farmers markets and let her eat anything (yes i need to buy what she started to eat but i will never say "you can't eat that peach" just because it costs $4. I never say "you can't eat that" at all).
  • Involve kids in every activity: dishes, laundry, making coffee, taking out garbage, pumping air to the bicycle tires, washing windows, feeding pets -- everything. A few dishes will break, laundry won't always be clean, there will be coffee beans everywhere, some recycling items will get mixed up, the bike tires will stay flat, the windows will be smudged and dogs will eat cat food. For the first few times. Then, they learn - they want to learn. Then you'll have a child who can do everything perfectly on their on.
  • Childproof every square inch of your house -- that way you will never be worried or paranoid. Worry and paranoia cripple playtime.
  • Mommy and daddy should be interchangeable in most situations.
  • Stay away from the ordinary
  • Ear infections are brutal - they hurt but they can't tell you where and how much and when and how
  • Always know where the health card is
  • Notice that as children grow up society (including schools) puts emphasis on academic skills over everything else -- don't let math and reading steal playtime
  • Bicycles rock!
  • A tired child tends to misbehave -- luckily there is a very easy solution
  • A hungry child also misbehaves -- there is equally easy solution
  • Be firm. It's not the parent's job to keep children happy at all costs. The parent's job is to teach and enforce reasonable boundaries. If you give in once it'll be expected that you give in again.
  • Never, ever break a promise just because it's about a seemingly small thing. If they forget that you promised something and you remember, remind them and follow through on your promise.
  • They understand and remember a lot more than you think
  • Read "How to make the terrible twos terrific" by John Rosemond. Then read it again.

Making up and sticking to these rules results in long term payoff. Actually, we already feel the payoff. When we go places there are no tantrums. We can leave the playground without crying. We can travel anywhere without headaches. We have great converstations. She listens without being a soldier. She loves going to daycare. Bedtime is easy. She loves taking medicine. She likes doctors. She had a very short "terrible twos" phase, which was more like a "testing limits" phase - nothing terrible about it, with very few and very short fits -- mostly because she was tired. She is curious, confident, clever, pleasant, healthy, balanced, sociable, emphatetic and in general great fun to be with and doesn't exhibit any of the behaviours that most parents have nightmares about. Are we lucky? Yes, because we are able to provide for her. No, in a sense that our willingnes and commitment to care is not by chance.

The first few months were busy but mostly uneventful. There was a lot of breastfeeding, lots of diaper changes and sleep deprivation that was bordering insanity. We were very tired but other than that the biggest issue was bottle-training that happened around 9 months, then off she went to daycare at 11months. In retrospect the first year was perfect, no major mistakes, none that I can think of. We spent lots of time together and rarely went out. None of that insane late night shopping with newborn in a stroller at the mall. I don't agree with that. I think the first year is about bonding, quiet moments at home near the parents. It's for simple and little things. It's for feeding and sleeping and staying cozy and marveling at each other. It's for cuddling and humming. The lack of sleep can be very hard, but overall every second is worth it.

Then she learned to walk and say simple things and the experimentation began. I was surprised how much time she spends sleeping. She spent the rest of the time eating and playing. By playing I mean putting everyting in the mouth, touching everything, looking, listening. It's a sensory overload indeed. Daycare was (is) awesome with plenty of individual attention, nap time and play time. We went out more and more to dog parks, walks, playgrounds - but not too much. I like how we babyproofed our house. And turned the entire main floor into a baby-centric area - we emptied a kitchen cabinet and made it into a play-cabinet. The entire floor was one big play area. Dogs were around and the cat without a single incident. Because of all the sleeping (on baby's part) I had time to cook and prepare a variety of healthy meals - one of the biggest challanges we'll face next time around as I won't have time to cook as much. There was no acting up, no tantrums, no disciplining, just random and continous play.

Some time after her second birthday she started to understand a lot more about the world. What markers are for, what is a slide, what is hot and cold, dogs eat dog food, etc. and she has become extremely curious and wanting to do anything by herself. We let her do everything by herself (with safety in mind) and never help unless she asks for help. There weren't many tantrums but the sometimes unreasonable and ever-changing attitude can catch us off guard. We have our occasional fights about food once in a while because she doesn't eat much vegetables and I don't like that and bedtime can be exhausting at times because she keeps talking to herself and her animals for a long time before falling asleep and I can't stand that. She also refuses to go on the potty 80% of the time and just goes in her diaper and it gets very annoying that 5 minutes after having a long and serious potty talk she pees in her diaper. Those are the three things that present a challenge at the moment. Not falling asleep easily, the potty insanity and not eating healthy foods. They have control over these and they cannot be made to do any of them. They need to be persuaded. But reasoning with a two year old is much like talking to the wall. Except the wall doesn't need a diaper change. I also don't care if the wall eats good foods and it won't talk after bedtime. Otherwise the same.

Update at 33-34 months: she is now pretty much potty trained - rewards did the trick: one sticker for each successful time on the potty. We even go out without a diaper and have used public toilets a few times. We can also reason with her about simple things and she understands before and after a lot better: "after naptime we go to the playground then before bedtime i read you a book but if you keep bouncing as i read to you i will stop reading and put you to bed" - she understands this perfectly. She also reminds us of things we do but have told her it's not OK, like "daddy - take off your shoes in the kitchen" or "you can't run with a stick" or "be gentle with the doggies".

We go out a lot. Everywhere. On train rides (not to a desination but for the sake of a train ride), parks, waterside, book stores, bike rides, walks, back yard, farms, city-events, grocery shopping, etc. I took Emma to Hungary for 10 days just before she turned two. It was great. People were so shocked to learn that I travel alone with a small child. I found that odd. Why should I have a problem traveling with my daughter? Weird. I like to take her places. She's an angel and we always have a good time.

Would I do anything differently next time around? I need to control my temper. Other than that, no regrets, all is well. She draws faces now - quite recognizable faces actually - talks OK, very agile (queen of the playground), interested in letters and numbers, has a very good imagination, loves books, calm (for her age), full of emphaty, loves nature, healthy, pretty - anything any parent can ask for. She is actually way ahead of her age and we're not even trying to "push" her in any way.

I have been doing a fair bit of reading about parenting (nothing overkill but I do my bit) and try to keep a step ahead at all times, so far successfully.The next challange will be pre-school but nothing we can't handle. Dogs are hard to fit into the toddler-centric day because they need to go to large open fields and forests to run at least 4-5 times a week. I love taking Emma with us but she also needs to see other places, not just dog parks.

Anyway, this page turned out to be memory lane and a bit repetitive, oh well, this is what I had in mind today.

Zero to three

Four + zero

The daycare and SK years

Six year old big sister, two year old little brother

Ten years total