How many times have you been told that the answer to well-behaved kids is consistent parenting? How many times have you actually managed to parent ‘consistently’? How many times have you felt like you’re failing your kids because you haven’t? Yes, me too. But, actually, parenting consistently might not be the answer after all. Parenting flexibly, on the other hand, could be.
What does ‘consistent mean’ anyway?
I’m beginning to think consistent parenting is a bit of a myth.
It’s one of those phrases that gets batted about so much that people stop questioning what it means. In practice. Consistent means ‘acting or done in the same way over time.’ But how can you always be consistent when situations vary? Kids vary? Isn’t ‘consistent’ actually being a bit rigid? A bit inflexible?
As my kids grow, I find consistent parenting harder and harder to do. Mainly because my kids aren’t consistent. And neither am I. Of course we’re not. We’re human beings. Individuals. We’re in a constant state of change. To be consistent would assume that we exist in permanence.
But, we don’t.
Being consistently inconsistent.
If I was forced to choose a parenting camp, I’m not sure where I’d sit.
I mean, I’m all for boundaries and I love a good splash of routine. (My first two babies were Gina babies. Get out the garlic, quick.) And the only time I tried attachment parenting (and intentional co-sleeping), I couldn’t have woken up feeling less attached to my kids. But baby no. 3 wasn’t as much of a fan of Gina as his sisters and so we did stuff with him that we’d never have done with the girls. Like co-sleeping and rocking him to sleep. Shock, horror.
So, I guess that puts me somewhere in the middle. Able to see the benefits of routine and rules but also the importance of not becoming a slave to them.
I’m also realising that just because I’m not parenting consistently, doesn’t mean I’m parenting inconsistently.
Still with me?
Don’t set yourself up to fail.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve felt rubbish because I haven’t parented consistently.
Because either the situation hasn’t enabled me to, my own energy levels have prevented me or it’s Friday and, by then, I’m so over everything I just need a gin in a can.
‘If only I was more consistent,’ I think, ‘the kids would do what they’re told.’
This is such a negative state of mind and all it does is set me up to fail. Because trying to be consistent all of the time, especially when you have more than one child, is blooming difficult. Impossible. And anyway, I’m not sure it’s in the best interests of the child.
Or the parents.
Be a palm tree.
Don’t confuse consistency with stability. I’m not debating that kids need stability. Of course they do. I’m questioning where this stability lies.
Does it exist in consistency i.e. always sitting them at the table to eat their dinner? Or does it exist in flexibility and reasonable boundaries i.e. us, the parents, using our discretion and working out what is best at that moment in time?
Take this weekend, for example. We had family over for Sunday lunch. As we sat down, Beaver had a meltdown. Daddy Pig started to get cross because, understandably, he wanted her to behave. Which made Beaver meltdown even further.
In that moment, we had two choices. To ‘parent consistently,’ (for us, this would mean disciplining her and putting her in her room because that is our ‘consistent’ form of discipline). Or to ‘parent flexibly’ and instead quickly work out why she might be behaving like this – tiredness brought on by a late night and a weekend of gymnastics, swimming, a party, Sunday school and an exciting family gathering – and satisfy Beaver’s obvious need for some quiet time by letting her sit upstairs in the lounge with a film and her dinner, whilst we all carried on downstairs. We went for the second option. And parented flexibly. One hour later we had enjoyed our meal and Beaver was calm, happy and ready to spend the rest of the afternoon as a family.
Parenting flexibly is being that palm tree that survives a tsunami because it bends with the wind.
And isn’t flexibility a life skill we want our kids to learn?
Get in tune with your kids.
I’m also not debating that kids need boundaries. Of course they do.
Kids always need reigning in. This is natural, right? The phrase, ‘give them an inch and they’ll take a mile,’ came from somewhere.
But again, parenting flexibly, enables you to react to this in a responsive rather than directive way. It allows you to see that, today, your kids need an earlier night than last night. Because they are tired. Or that, today, they’re going to eat dinner at the table. Because at breakfast this morning they messed about, just for the hell of it.
Parenting flexibly is about being in tune with your kids. Not ploughing ahead despite them, on some pre-defined logic because that’s what you did last time. And the time before that.
That doesn’t take into account their needs. Or yours.
Tomorrow’s another day.
And sometimes, it’s fine to be inconsistent for no other reason than you’re a human being.
A tired, overstretched human being who, today, needs an easy ride of it. Who can’t do battle with her kids. Whose parenting style today is therefore a sofa picnic of fish fingers in front of Netflix. Whilst you drink gin in a can.
Tomorrow you’ll do what tomorrow demands. Whatever that is. But today, this is good enough.
Remember. Flexible parenting, people. Flexible parenting.