Learning How to Parent Little Kids: An Ode to Partnership, Self-Awareness, & Sticker Charts


When you’re a parent to kids under five, everything seems to revolve around them (I wonder if/when this changes…).  Are they sleeping and eating?  Are they socialized, healthy, and happy?  Milestones… What about the milestones?!?  These questions shape those fleeting early years.  Frankly, as long as you’re maintaining some semblance of sanity while keeping the little ones safe, and you can see they’re growing up strong with more smiles than tears, it’s fair to consider yourself ahead of the game. 

But some days, you feel like you’re just putting out fire after fire, barely holding it together.  There’s nothing like having little kids to make an otherwise accomplished, happy grown woman feel like a failure. 

At least, that’s how I have been feeling more and more over the past year, dealing with my growing munchkins (now 3 and 4.5).  I try to be patient, I really do… but my children – the apples of my eyes, the lights of my life – well, bless their hearts, they can drive me nuts.  Yes… they’re so amazing and I’m generally loving life.  BUT.  The stupid arguments over nothing.  The whining.  The mess.  The rowdiness during mealtime and bedtime and outings. Making me repeat myself 30 times before they acknowledge my existence.  Enough!  I’ve had some stretches where – despite my best intentions – I become a stern, snarling beast, barking demands left and right, counting down the minutes until my kids are asleep and I can enjoy precious silence.  I’ve taken my frustrations out on my husband, whom I accuse of not “getting it” because he wasn’t the one who just spent two hours wrangling them before bedtime for the fourth night in a row.  I’ve cringed as I’ve heard my older daughter mirror me as she bosses her little brother around with a harsh tone, giving an ultimatum and telling him to do something “because I said so, that’s why!”    

I have struggled with the fear that I’m missing these precious years with my family, too wrapped up feeling lost in the whirlwind of parenting small kids.  I know I’m not alone, but this isn’t how I had wanted to parent.  I have felt out of control.  I’ve wondered: What is wrong with me?

Well, nothing (probably).  While I’m a natural with babies and small toddlers, when it comes to kids – and dealing with boundary-pushing and teaching etiquette and instilling structure – I’ve humbly found myself at a bit of a loss.  This realization was not expected!  Despite any advice to the contrary, you don’t tend to imagine as you’re traversing the baby years that things just get more challenging from there on out!  It has been more than a simple challenge trying to learn how to be a better parent, while also teaching my kids how to navigate the world.

So.  What am I currently working on, in this evolving adventure of parenthood?

  • Admit it when you don’t know the answer. My instincts have failed me on more than one occasion when it comes to figuring out what works for my family.  When I am at a loss and all my tricks have failed, I need to admit to myself that I need help and that’s OK!  My family is my mirror; what’s not working for us?  And to answer the call for better ideas.  My husband, my friends, and the internet are my best resources.
  • Listen to your partner. My husband and I tend to agree on so many things that it sometimes frustrates our ability to have conversations (who likes talking into an echo chamber?).  But parenting styles, surprisingly, have not always been among those things.  I’m too lax, and he’s too uptight.  We butt heads, but have learned that our techniques work best when they represent a give-and-take of ideas and strategies.  We are in this together and need to remind ourselves of that often!  I’m not always right, as it turns out.  (Who knew?)  Neither is he. 
  • Give it a shot! Some ideas just seem wrong to me.  For instance, I fought sleep training for a long while with our first kid.  But my husband pushed for it, and guided me along the way.  Let’s just say that with our second, he had to hold me back from doing it too early!  Another thing: what works right now isn’t always going to work, and what has failed in the past might work in the future!  Try and try again.
  • Sticker charts do work. We have a sticker chart and freely reward the kids when they do anything we want to reinforce (sharing, listening to our directions the first time we ask, learning and practicing new skills, polite table manners, etc.).  It took some time to get into the habit of this reward system, but my kids have responded wonderfully and are so excited to continue their positive behavior.  In our house, we have sticker milestones where the kids get prizes (usually a couple M&M’s) when they hit X number of rewards.  It’s like magic and works for now…
  • Mean what you say. Consistency is my white whale.  It’s too easy to give in to puppy-dog eyes or whines or tantrums.  But I’ve come to understand that if my kids realize that a boundary can be pushed, they will push it over and over again.  I have to follow through – on the good and the bad – and am seeing that my consistency leads to better behavior and comfort levels all around.
  • Take care of yourself. This is the hardest one for me, and the one I need to repeat over and over.  It means making time for relaxation and alone time.  It means reconnecting with friends.  Eating well, drinking less, and exercising more.  If I feel good physically and mentally, the benefits extend beyond myself.  I will be a better mom, partner, and friend. 

There are never easy answers to this parenting stuff.  There’s no one right way to do anything, after all!  But I’ve learned to keep revising my goals and keep in mind that change is going to be the only constant in this parenting game.  

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Lorrie lives in Cupertino with her husband, two small children, crazy dog, and obese cat. Originally from the Chicago area, Lorrie headed west in 2010, and hasn’t looked back. She loves exploring the Bay Area, and finds that even after six years, there is always something new to discover. Lorrie is a licensed and practicing attorney in both Illinois and California. She is proud to represent employees in all manner of work-related disputes, and partners closely as Of Counsel with Caffarelli & Assoc. Ltd., a Chicago-based firm. When she is not working or chasing her kids around, Lorrie likes to tinker with home improvement projects, walk around on sidewalks and trails, zone out on the internet, and “Netflix and chill.” She also likes to run, and aspires to one day make it to a yoga class.


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