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3 Times I Failed at Positive Parenting

Photograph by Twenty20

When my son was born, I was looking at various styles of parenting. RIE parenting and positive parenting were the most appealing to my partner and me.

If positive parenting sounds like new-age, Millennial parenting, that's because it totally is. After all, only hopeful millennial parents could imagine living in an environment full of empathy, where your strengths are constantly emphasized. Sure, I love my parents and I am super thankful that they instilled in me hard work ethic. But, truth be told, I grew up in a household where I was told that that an A- was still a minus, so being positive is not always in my nature. This is probably why I was so drawn to the idea of positive parenting.

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These beliefs were cemented when I discovered "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," the cartoon based on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. I watched it with my son and noticed how Daniel's parents always point out the positive and encourage him to work through frustration, jealousy and sadness in healthy ways, which is the type of parent I want to be.

In fact, this is the type of human I want to be.

Emotional intelligence and resilience are some of the most important traits we want to impart as parents. We want our son to be able to deal with the ups and downs of life and push past challenges. We believe positive parenting will give him a confident foundation from which he will have a more empathetic approach to life. As such, we try our very best to model the type of behavior we want to see in our child.

Of course, we aren't exactly living in the made-up world of the amazing Fred Rogers. Daniel Tiger's parent live in a utopia where they never seem to lose their patience with each other or with Daniel. They never have stressful days at work, and Daniel seems to stay calm most of the time.

According to positive parenting, you should trust that your child will do the right thing if given proper boundaries. You shouldn't punish or restrain them. Most importantly, you should avoid raising your voice. This is also some of the philosophy behind RIE parenting, which I read a lot about when he was an infant. The idea is that if you communicate with your child about what is happening, they will not freak out on you. I find that there is definitely some truth to this. If you are calm, it is more likely your child will be too.

Essentially, I was not modeling the type of positive attitude I would want the baby to have.

Problem is, I can't always be calm. As I go down this positive parenting journey, our active toddler can sometimes get the best of us. We've broken a bunch of the rules along the way:

Fail #1: The Runaway Baby Incident

One fateful night, we were putting groceries away. As Dad put things in the house, I took the baby out the carseat. Normally, I pull him out of his seat and place him on the floor. He normally stands next to me or starts walking toward the house. This particular night, we had purchased a set of play balls, and so the baby insisted on carrying one in his hand. I set him down and re-adjusted the bags I was trying to carry.

In a totally novice move, I failed to anticipate that he could drop the ball. When he did drop the ball he ran into the street. As I ran after him, I realized a car was coming towards us—the most scary moment of my life. I screamed at him, grabbed and yelled, "Do-not-do-that-ever-again!"

At the same time, his father came running down the driveway screaming, "OH MY GOD THE BABY!" We proceeded to start bickering about how the incident occurred while the baby watched. Disaster avoided by my heart couldn't stop racing the rest of the evening.

Lesson learned: don't let the baby carry balls, don't try to carry groceries, must hold the baby's hand at all times because he cannot always be trusted.

My son has been vying for access to my iPhone pretty much since birth.

Fail #2: Getting Angry About Not Being a Positive Parent 100% of the Time

This one has happened more than once. We are both into this positive parenting thing. But I admit I sometimes micro-manage the situation. At first, I was super adamant about not saying "No" to the baby. It's not easy. Rather than saying, "No, do not touch that," I would say, "That is not a toy but we can play with this instead." Then I would hear his Dad saying "No" to him and I would turn right around and say, "No, don't say no to the baby!"

Essentially, I was not modeling the type of positive attitude I would want the baby to have.

My exasperation created stressful scenarios for everyone. Then I'd feel crappy about the whole thing. Bring on the #momguilt. The lesson is here that a stressful mom is neither fun, nor positive for anyone involved.

Fail # 3: When He Wants my iPhone

My son has been vying for access to my iPhone pretty much since birth. The glowing lights and buttons fascinate him.

One day, when I was paranoid that he wasn't developing language at a pace the Internet thought he should be, I downloaded an educational app. I swear, I gave it to him once. But ever since that day, he goes crazy at the sight of my iPhone. He even tries to go for my purse to find it.

We are still committed to positive parenting despite these mishaps.

We limit his screen time and try to keep the phones away from him. But one day he just lost it at a restaurant and threw a fork across the table at my friend's daughter. We spoke him to him calmly and explained to him that his actions were not appropriate. A few minutes later, he did it again.

We had had a long day that included family photos, a Halloween event and dinner with friends. He had clearly reached his limit. A big part of keeping your child calm is to be responsive to their needs and not push them to the brink of exasperation. However, Mommy wasn't done talking. He kept becoming more irritated. Finally, I caved and gave him my iPhone. Hey, I'm only human. Don't worry we left a few minutes after that.

We are still committed to positive parenting despite these mishaps. Positive parenting means that you put yourself in your child's shoes. If they are cranky, you wonder what the reason my be. Maybe he is upset because he is overtired? Maybe he is overstimulated? You try to react from a place of love and empathy, not control.

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What I like the most about positive parenting is that it allows you as a parent to give yourself grace even when you make mistakes. After all, in order to teach our kids love, we have to love ourselves, too. On the hard days we can always resort to Daniel Tiger wisdom. He says, "When something seems bad, turn it around. Find something good."

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