It’s been ten months since our move back to Manila, but I still think about our time in Chapel Hill a lot. Everything still seems so fresh and vivid and clear. I will forever be eternally grateful for the experience because I don’t think I’d be the mom that I am today if it weren’t for those four years away.
I developed my first ideas about parenting there. I made my first set of mommy friends. I opened myself up and learned a lot from the midwives, doulas and doctors, and I use the knowledge they’ve imparted to me up to now. It’s nice because we’re all still in touch and I still continue to check in with them and ask for their opinions on certain questions I have. A whole lot of my formation as a new mom came from here. It’s what’s ingrained in me and I will carry this with me everywhere we go.
Of course I still maintain that my biggest, most constant set of teachers are my girls. My “parenting style” is forever changing and adjusting to their varying needs and personalities. There is no one set way to discipline or engage them both, precisely because they have different strengths and interests. While Sam likes to involve me in the decisions that she makes, Jamie is very direct and decisive with what she wants. Sam reasons out and negotiates in a logical manner, while Jamie “argues” on an emotional level.
Now that we live in Manila, there are still so many things that I have to learn and re-learn (the irony of it all!). The girls are learning too, but it isn’t an easy transition. How can it be when I suddenly have to divide my attention onto other things as well. And so the one thing – or better put, the one “value” — that I use to ground my relationship with my girls in as firmly as possible, is trust. I know that it’s a given: parents and children are supposed to trust each other, but I feel that sometimes it gets lost in the smaller, everyday things. And those add up. If I’m not consciously putting it at the forefront of all that I do with them, then it could slip through the cracks in the long-term. And so, I make a conscious effort to ensure that the girls trust me wholeheartedly, even when it comes to the smallest things.
I don’t hide things in their food and drink. Even if I know that it’s good for them, I tell them what it is and use other tactics to convince them to take it. I would rather have Jamie in a screaming fit, trying to get down necessary medication than hide it in her milk. I show Sam facts about vegetables that are good for her and convince her to take little bites at a time.
I make it a point to say goodbye when I leave without just disappearing from sight. I remember reading from a parenting book, that even if they cry, it helps them cope better with separation anxiety. I do think it has worked well in our case, because the girls can trust that I will come back. With Sam, it was especially helpful during her most recent ballet recital (the post on this is coming up soon — I’m still recovering from the experience), and she had to perform on a large stage. During the tech rehearsal the parents weren’t allowed to go into the theater and the audience area was dark. Sam, one of the younger dancers in a group of about 200 kids, would get swallowed up in tutus as they made their way down backstage. Her teacher told me she kept looking for me and wouldn’t perform because she couldn’t see me. It’s a good thing we had a chat, because I told her she had to trust me when I said I’d be watching her on the day itself, and that I’d be at the back to get her when she got out. Thankfully it worked and Sam was the “smili-est” ballerina in her group.
I answer questions honestly, even if it is an answer that they don’t want to hear. “Will the injection hurt mom?” Rather than trivializing it or distracting her from it, I say, “yes it will, but only for a while. And we’re only getting it because it’s good for you.” Sam cries at the thought but it helps her get over the pinch faster if I tell it to her straight.
Sometimes I really don’t have the answer. Existential questions or why certain things are the way they are — it’s quite hard to explain to a two-year old when she asks me why. Even to my four-year old Sam. And so sometimes I really just have to look at them and say, “Can you trust mama when I say we should just believe?” And often times they nod their heads yes. I think they do understand.
As much as possible I say what I mean and I keep my promises. And when I can’t follow through, I quickly apologize. Nothing gets past my kids and I can’t pretend it will. I’m actually glad since this is good practice for them in the years to come.
I’d like to believe that it’s this process that has helped the girls be more independent and self-assured. The fact that they can trust their mother, the one constant presence in their lives — day in and day out — makes a big difference with how they interact with the world. In school, both their teachers have told me stories of the girls being able to complete tasks independently, and having little difficulty saying goodbye (to me). They exhibit the demeanor of confident children, very capable of handling any experience that comes their way.
And the best part of it is, I’ve learned to trust them too. Sam uses it on me too when she wants to prove her point and says, “trust me mom!” I have a feeling I’ll be hearing a lot more of that in the coming years. Jamie will negotiate to get her way, but once that’s done then she shows me she knows what comes next. And it makes for easier transition periods with a lot less fuss.
This definitely is not the easiest way to get things done; and building a trusting relationship takes time, particularly with kids. Sometimes it’s just so tempting to “trick” them to make it easier (after all it was done to us many times growing up), and then I think: Trusting adults (who supposedly know better) is all they have. It’s got to be solid from the get-go. And it’s too big a consequence to risk. At least in my opinion.
Am I making things harder on myself? Maybe. For now. But if it means that my girls will have an undeniable amount of faith and trust in me, and eventually in others too, then it will all be worth it down the road.
Thank you Philips Avent for including me in your Trusted Moms Circle. I’m honored to be a part of such an esteemed group. I’ve been trusting the products since we were in Chapel Hill during Sam’s infancy days. We continue to do so until today, with Jamie’s spill-proof sippy cups.