The First Commandment of Parenting: Know Thine Rules

When your baby was born, there was a LOT on your mind.

Aside for logistics — kiddush? Bris and shalom zachar? Where are the other kids going? Do you have the clothing, furniture, diapers, wipes etc.? — you’ve got this new little person demanding much of your time, love, attention and sleep.

And, I suspect, if you were like all other new parents out there, rules were the farthest thing from your mind.

Rules, Chaya Shifra? This baby is itty bitty! What rules are you talking about?

Yeah, yeah, I know — I say crazy things a lot (keeps it fun and lively!), and this one is just along the same lines as the others. Yes, my dear: rules. You’ve got to have rules for your newborn.

Don’t worry, I’ll explain myself.

Great Expectations

We all have expectations of our kids. That’s fine; that’s normal and healthy. If we didn’t have any expectations of our kids, then they probably wouldn’t turn out to be the healthy, stable, productive members of society that we want them to be, right?

But the trouble starts when somewhere, in the back of our brains, we have Expectations. With a capital E.

We’ve got all these things we’re anticipating that our babies will do (or not do!)… and then don’t do anything to really make them meet those goals. So they don’t

The result? We’re frustrated by our kids. We wonder why they’re not doing the things they ought to be, and why can’t they just be normal, and why doesn’t this work, and who thought it would be a good idea to be a mother anyway?

And that’s normal. All of those thoughts and frustrations are totally normal.

But what if having some rules could make those thoughts go away?

So what kinds of rules?

In my book, “rules” and “expectations” and “family guidelines” and whatever else you want to call them all mean the same thing: what your kid should do.

In Habit Five of my free guide on the Five Habits you Didn’t Know Your Baby Needs To Sleep Well (see that pretty yellow button on the right to download!), I have you do an exercise on expectations: what are your mental expectations of your child and what are you actually showing them that your expectations are (through your actions)?

What I mean by that is, if you’re thinking: “Moishy should really be sleeping through the night already. He’s 17 months old and eats solids beautifully and does NOT need to nurse in the middle of the night anymore!” But when Moishy wakes up at 12 and 2 and 4 and 6, and you take him into your bed and nurse him, what you’re telling him is that you believe that “Moishy really should still be nursing during the night.”

Make sense? So there’s this dissonance between what you want or expect him to do and the message that you’re sending him through your actions. (Because our kids aren’t mindreaders!)

So the “rules” (or whatever you want to call them) that you have will, of course vary age to age.

For a new newborn, your “rules” might be: I will hold you when you cry, feed you when you show hunger cues, and put you in bed when you’re at the end of your awake time limit.

For an older newborn, your “rules” might be: I will help you fall asleep for naps at the end of the day, but you do need to fall asleep on your own for the earlier naps and for bedtime. You’re welcome to wake in the middle of the night to eat, and I will feed you when you wake, but you need to go back to sleep once you’re done.

For a 6 month old, your “rules” might be: You need to fall asleep on your own for all your naps and sleep 12 hours at night without waking at all. When you eat solid foods, you don’t have to like it, and you don’t have to eat a lot, but if you spit food out, then you’re done.

For a 12 month old, your rules might be: You need to fall asleep on your own for all your naps and sleep 12 hours at night without waking at all. I’m fine nursing you a couple times a day, but you do need to eat 3 solid meals nicely. You can stay in your highchair if you’re eating nicely; you can stay in the bath if you’re sitting. If you bite while you’re nursing, I will unlatch you. 

See where I’m going with this? The rules will vary age to age – and will reflect your increasing expectations and their increasing abilities.

In my house, since my twins were 2¾, one of our rules has been that they need to dress themselves. I will help them with their tights if everything else is on, and I will turn inside-out clothing the right way (sometimes that happens when they have to try multiple times), but I will not put their underwear, undershirt or dress on them. They don’t always like it, but they are capable of doing it, so I’ve given this task over to them.

Of course, I do dress my 15 month old, because he’s just not capable of getting himself dressed.

Deciding what your rules are

Before you can actualize your expectations and follow through with your rules, you need to know: what’s important to me?

What do I absolutely NEED my kids to follow? What doesn’t matter as much and I can let slide?

Since we simply can’t make an issue with everything, we each have the things that will be more important to us as individuals and to our families as a unit.

One woman told me that she doesn’t care if her toddler stands in the bath — he bathes alone, so she’s not worried about him setting a trend for the other kids, he’s a good stander and she’s right there, so she’s not worried about him falling and she does a chick-chock standing bath.

That would never fly in my house (all three kids are in one tub!), but it works for her.

I had another mother tell me that mealtimes are kind of hefker for her kids — she has four rowdy boys and all she cares about is that they stay alive (don’t run into the street), don’t kill each other (sit on the baby’s head) and go do sleep on time. She’s chosen to let go of the issues that are, in her family, less important.

I let my girls cut paper all day long. They love it, and, aside for having cut each other’s hair, they haven’t done any damage with their kiddy scissors, so it doesn’t matter to me. Other mothers think I’m bonkers.

I also let my baby feed himself. He started eating yogurt on his own when he was about 8 months old, and made a royal mess. I cleaned him up after, and shoin. 

Every family will have their own balance, their own set of rules and their own “negotiable”s.

Your assignment

So here’s what I want you to do.

First: notice what your expectations are. The best place to find this is to notice what frustrates you – that is usually because of a dissonance between your expectations and reality. Think of everything you can and write them down.

Then, take a good honest look and your expectations and ask yourself: which of these are reasonable for my baby’s or child’s age and capabilities?

And then ask yourself: does it really matter to me? Is it worth it, or should I just let it slide?

Once you’ve boiled your list down to the reasonable, important expectations, translate those into actions: how are you going to teach your children what your expectations are? (Remember that our kids don’t learn from lectures! They learn from our actions and reactions.)

What are you going to do differently?

Which behaviors are you going to consequence?

How will you positively reinforce this change?

 

Tell me what you think in the comments below — what expectations are you going to shed, and how are you going to tweak things up to help realize some of your important expectations?

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