Peanut butter and jelly don’t have much in common but they sure make a delicious sandwich. Maybe it’s the balance of sweetness and salt that makes it sooooooo good. A peanut butter sandwich without jelly is ok, but it tends to stick to the roof of your mouth and just tastes like it’s missing something.
My best friend and I have worked together for 24 years. We live just a block apart and have kids in the same age range. We have spent part of almost every day together for over two decades, but we couldn’t be more different. First, there are the obvious things—she’s a cat person, I’m a dog person. She has two girls and I have two boys. She loves the summer and I love the winter. I home schooled my kids, she sent her kids to public school. Even our personalities are complete opposites! The reason our relationship works is because we respect (and laugh about) our differences.
The way we parented our own kids was not at all the same, but we both raised kids that have turned out pretty great in spite of our shortcomings. It helped that we walked a few miles each day and talked through every step in the child-rearing journey. Walking with a good friend is actually a lot cheaper than therapy. We really listened to each other when we shared opposite perspectives. I love her kids dearly and I know she feels the same about mine, so I trusted that her opinion was always for their good and mine.
I guess opposites really do attract, because my husband and I often see things differently too. Since I was the one with a degree in Early Childhood, I appointed myself Boss of All the Things with Children early on in our parenting experience. I would frequently inform him of the sentence I had handed down while he was at work and then expect him to back me up. A kid that back talked his mama or deliberately disobeyed was dealt with swiftly and without mercy. In the heat of the moment, I said all kinds of ridiculous things. I’m not saying that I didn’t occasionally stumble on something brilliant, though! When our son threw a piece of trash out the window of the car and then lied about it I handed him a trash bag and ordered him to pick up litter in a parking lot. To my knowledge, he’s an upstanding citizen that has never littered again. (Now for those of you who are freaking out about all of the crazy things he might have picked up in our current world, this was 20 years ago and I was right there with him.)
Eventually, however, I learned that it was better for me to tell the kids that they would be punished for their crime, but I would have to talk over the sentence with their dad first. That way, I had a little while to cool off and gain some perspective and I also had the balance of a little jelly with all that peanut butter. The thing to remember is that even though we come into parenting with a whole set of ideas and our own baggage, there are a lot of ways that work and a little balance is good and healthy. Where Dad might be an advocate of tough love, Mom provides a soft place to land. That’s ok. Both of those are important for a kid.
When I was in college, I heard an expert speak in a seminar regarding the roles of mothers and fathers in the life of a child. He said that dads tend to rough house and toss the kids high in the air and moms caution them to be careful. Both of those jobs are important—the dad is helping to develop balance skills and moms make sure nobody dies in the process. See that? Peanut butter and jelly together makes a great sandwich.
“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind
His mother called him ‘WILD THING’ and Max said, ‘I’LL EAT YOU UP’
So he was sent to bed without eating anything”
(Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak)
I did that from memory and I could keep right on going to the end. Impressive, right? Maybe you can do that too. Where the Wild Things Are was one of my son’s favorite books when he was little, which means that I read it approximately one million trillion gajillion times. I had it memorized. HE had it memorized. And twenty-five years later, I can still recite it word for word. (That has actually come in handy with the grandkids.)
“Read it again, Mommy!” Why is it that kids can listen to the same story over and over? As it turns out, reading the same stories repeatedly has a lot of value. In our younger preschool classes, we read the same story for a whole week. As children become familiar with the story, they begin to understand concepts on a deeper level and become more familiar with words they haven’t heard before. The first time we read a story, we are often stopping to ask children to make predictions about what will happen next. The second time through, they are able to understand the meaning of the story on a new level. The one hundredth time through, unicorns will burst into the room and jump over rainbows. (Ok, I’m just making that part up.) Repetition is key to helping kids master new concepts.
We also encourage kids to retell the story at home (sometimes sending home props to help them remember) because this is an important pre-reading skill. Retelling the story checks comprehension to make sure they understand what they have read/heard. It also encourages vocabulary development, teaches them that written words have meaning, and helps them understand that stories have a beginning, middle and end. If you need to spice things up, just try changing parts of the story to see if they notice. (Who am I kidding? They ALWAYS notice.)
Remember these things when you are losing your mind because you’ve read the same bedtime story every day for 3 weeks. And who knows? Maybe someday you’ll get to recite it for your grandkids too.
These are two of my favorite wild things:
I hope my epitaph reads, “Brilliant wife, mother and nana. Friend to all and loved by all who knew her.” In actuality it will probably say, “Fun, with a little sprinkle of crazy. Spent her life surrounded by tiny humans.” I’ve always been a “kid” person. When I was barely more than a child myself, I started babysitting for people in my church. My first real job was leading a summer playground group for elementary students. My first grown-up job was as a licensing agent for home daycare providers on our military base. I still rock babies in the church nursery and I’m also rocking the whole grandma thing now.
I know a few things about kids. First, I know that there’s no issue you have with your kids that someone else hasn’t already had with theirs. When my younger son was 3, he stuck a broken piece from a Matchbox car up his nose. Alllllll the way up his nose. So far up his nose that we had to go to the emergency room to get it extracted. All the way down the highway my husband and I argued about which one of us had to tell the receptionist why we were there. It was going to be so embarrassing! I finally drew the short straw and plodded toward the desk cringing at the words I was going to have to say. With a beet red face I blurted out our problem and the receptionist barely looked up from her paperwork as she said, “Oh yeah….third one today.”
Second, I know that every child is different and what works for every other Pinterest mother might not work for you. Sometimes you have to just keep throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Our son (yes, the younger one—are you starting to get a picture of him yet?) was a world class fit thrower. His temper tantrums were legendary. For him, the terrible twos started at 18 months and ended somewhere around 4 years old. I had tried many different methods of dealing with this behavior, but one night I’d had enough and put him to bed at 7:00 to save my own sanity. The next morning, a different kid rolled down those stairs. A light dawned on me and I actually heard angels singing. For two and a half years I had been doing battle with a kid who was tired. He didn’t ACT tired and he was able to sleep until he woke up on his own, but he most certainly needed more sleep. That act of desperation was the answer I had been looking for but I was looking in all the wrong places.
In the 30 years I’ve worked in the field of child care and preschool, I’ve learned a few things. Maybe some of those things will help you as you navigate the murky waters of parenthood. Maybe you’ll teach me some new things as you comment about what I write. Either way, I hope we can be friends. I’m still gunning for that “Friend to all and loved by all who knew her” thing, but if I miss that mark, I can guarantee that I’ll hit the “Fun, with a little sprinkle of crazy” head on.
Hi! I'm Janet and I've been the Director of the Before and After School and Smart Start Preschool Programs at the Troy Rec since 1994. My hubby and I have been married 30 years and we have two grown sons. Each of them is married and blessing us with grandchildren left and right. Life is good even when the nest is empty!