She's the mum you want to be, and the gal pal you want to have on speed dial when you're in the middle of a parenting WTF crisis.
I've been following Janessa Docking (JEM Creative) since the beginning of time (ok, since the beginning of Instagram, but that's kind of the same thing right?), and I have ALWAYS loved her honesty, the drop of the occasional f-bomb, and the fact that she can laugh about her kids wearing their shirts inside out, no socks with their boots, for the simple fact that her 3 year old has got himself dressed. I idolise this woman for the mother that she is and the fact that she choses to raise her children with their future in mind. Not for the now. But is preparing them with the skills to charge full steam at life, no matter what it has in store for them.
Grab a cuppa, put those feet up and be prepared to nod along, experience a few 'damn straight, girlfriend!' moments and then jump onto Insta to follow her immediately - she shares so many more little golden tips and tricks on her stories to start you slaying at mumlife!
Now, right off the bat, I feel like I need to put a disclaimer. My kids are not entirely great. I mean, they are wonderful boys but they are also very much chaos, and the kind of chaos that includes ridiculous tantrums, no holds barred fighting, teenage attitude and all round shitheadedness. They can be tyrants, pests and positively draining. But, when you break them down to their foundations, the core of what they’re made of, they actually are pretty good kids. The kind of kids who want to share their favourite food with their mates, the kind who get off the swing to give the next person a go, the kind who pick up rubbish in the street and curse the dang ‘litterbug’ who left it there in the first place. Their hearts are kind. My only goal in raising them really.
So, who I am and why should you even bother reading these words that I am about to share. First and foremost I am a mum. But nothing exceptional, I don’t even tinker on the edge of amazing really, I’m just your ordinary, run of the mill, kick about town mum of two delightful boys, trying my best not to turn them into complete turds. E is my easy, affectionate and clever big five-year-old and NoNo is our cheeky, adventurous and sparkly threenager. They’re equal parts magic and horrid. The other half of my life, when I am not mumming, I am teaching. I’ve been teaching primary aged children for 11 years and a many of those years on my favourite grade - Kindergarten. In my job, not only am I responsible for supporting the growth and development of plenty of darling children, but I’m also privy to how different types of parenting frameworks mould particular types of children. And how that type of parenting affects the way the kids act and react in social situations. I read a lot of articles and journals on parenting and child development to wrap my head around my own kidlets, but also to help me support my students. Finally, aside from the hats I wear and the labels I fall under, I actually feel like I am a fairly decent human being in general, with good morals and values, raised by pretty switched on parents. I try to be fair, understanding, tolerant, generous and kind in most life situations, and I expect the same from my children. So, when you read on to hear about how I parent - you can trust that I am not just throwing out random ideas – most, if not all of my tips, are a culmination of my upbringing, legitimate parenting and teaching theories and genuine, moralistic foundations. But while theories are bloody ideal when you want to better yourself – they are just that, theories. Don’t expect miracles, because parenting is actually the bloody hardest thing I have ever done, and all the crap I think I know gets thrown out the window on the daily. Not even kidding.
1. Say No
We say no in our household. A lot. Sometimes to things we actually could say yes to but choose to say no as a means of upholding our status of boss man and boss lady. Can we have a biscuit? No. They are all playing Beyblades at school, can I have one? No. Can I have some canteen money? No.
You see, we can afford the odd canteen money, and probably even some Beyblades for my poor kid who probably plays a small violin on the sidelines of the Beyblade stadium singing his misery for all to hear. But, we say no. We say no for many reasons. In this particular instance, it’s hugely obvious - we want our kids to realise shit doesn’t come for free. You can’t ask and simply receive – life doesn’t work like that. You want something, you work for it. Or, you wait for a birthday. Simple. Proud to say, E hasn’t asked for a Beyblade even though most of his mates have one and it’s 100% because he knows the answer.
Saying yes is easy. Saying yes takes away the tantrums, eliminates public humiliation, allows you some peace and quiet. When far out kids, all we want is some dang peace and quiet. Saying yes almost always makes your life easier. But, saying yes does not create children who are respectful of routines, can adhere to society-wide expectations or follow rules set by someone other than themselves. So, we say no. When it's appropriate to do so, when we have the time and patience to deal with the back lash, when the long-term lesson outweighs their immediate, usually passing desire.
Saying no is hard.
2. Let them be bored
We all know that being a parent is selfless and rewarding, but at times it can be utterly draining. Ok, most of the time, utterly draining. The routines, the sibling rivalry, the bottomless pit of washing, the lunchboxes that need remaking, the lost readers, the latest recommendations around screen time. Fruitcake! Never. Bloody. Ending.
So, as a way of giving ourselves the time we need to manage the chaos and calamity of being a family, we let the kids be bored. Every single day, there is a chunk of time where they are left to find their own fun and enjoyment. They literally have a house full of stimulating, educational and engaging toys and activities, so really, it is not a hard task. Sheesh, I wish I had more time each day to simply sit and indulge in something that didn’t involve the well-being of someone else. Hubby works long days and I am a working mum, with my teaching as well as a side biz – so the hustle has always been there. Through both maternity leaves, on all of the school holidays and most nights and weekends I am doing some sort of ‘work’ on top of the daily running of the household. So, thankfully, due to years of needing to entertain themselves, they are now absolute pros.
As brothers of two years apart, they almost always find a middle ground so that the game being played is achievable for both. Over the years I have heard them work together to solve problems, invent new games, create their own rules collaboratively, diffuse their own arguments, teach each other new skills, roll with each other’s imagination and find pure joy in each other’s company. Please don’t think it is always this way – they still fight and on the odd occasion it escalates to what can only be described as a drunken girls’ cat fight – Lord give me strength! But, all in all, these days I can leave them to find joy on the most boring of days. In a world of constant stimulation from screens and devices, letting children be bored allows them to retrain their brain to focus on one task for longer periods of time, use their imagination during play, it encourages creativity and problem solving, allows them to build their independence and come to realisations on their own which has a whole heap of growth mindset benefits.
You’re doing a good thing letting your kids be bored, even if it’s tricky to start with, even if they resist, even if they repeat how bored they are until they are blue in the face. The whinging and complaining will stop if you stick with it – sending them outside, throwing a bunch of craft on the table or giving them free reign of the board games cupboard are good places to start.
3. Slow Down
The rat race of working parents is fierce, frustrating and often dictates how we parent! It always seems to be an internal battle between being a devoted, involved parent and being a reliable, promotable employee. Late nights home after school pick up, crazy Saturdays spent sport hopping and chaotic school mornings trying to get out the door bring a whole new level of defeat… why does time move faster while kids move so much slower? How long does it bloody take to button your school shirt, kid?! Well, it actually takes a dang long time.. especially in our house where my mum mantra is ‘I am not your slave’.
Learning new skills, alongside building independence actually relies on your kiddo trying, failing, feeling frustrated and then determined to try again. This little mind process needs to be repeated over and over to create new pathways in their growing brain, and can only work if we as parents support it. If we intervene too early or rescue them before they have the chance to fail, how will they ever learn for themselves? This is really important for us as a family, so we try really hard to sloooow life right down. For us it means pushing the pause button on fast, time-poor mornings to let our little one try to do their buttons themselves before delving in to speed the process along. It might look like your toddler spilling 99 noodles, just so they can get one into their mouth. It might look like shoes on the wrong feet, tables set with mismatched plates or toys packed up but shoved in so hard that the drawer won’t open. Slowing down with the purpose of giving your child time to figure things out themselves actually tells them that you value their ability to have a go, are proud of their efforts regardless of the outcome and that you think their attempts are worth the wait. In the classroom, we have a huge focus on learning assets and one phrase we often refer back to is ‘Praise the process not the product’. So, in the home environment, getting up a bit earlier, being a little bit more organised and a lot more patient is our way of promoting the process of achieving a desired outcome – be it tied shoelaces, made beds, set tables or buttoned shirts. The look on their little faces when they hit that goal is actually priceless.. and one hundred percent worth the time you are investing.
4. Set chores
Being part of a family means being part of a household. And heck, a household cannot be run by ONE person. As I said earlier, I am not my child’s slave, nor am I my husband’s. I am a working mother, and while I am home 2 days a week – it does not mean that I am profoundly more perfect for the job of picking up everyone else’s mess than any other person in this family.
From the time the boys were little, hubby and I have always integrated them into the running of their home – since they began eating, they have set our table and always popped their plates in the sink after meals. They ‘make’ their beds (I use the word ‘make’ loosely as it’s more a toss and run type situation), use one box of toys at a time then pack it up before grabbing out the next activity, they fill their own drink bottles, brush their own teeth (under strict watchful eye), unpack and repack their school bags, feed the dog, help with the vege garden and clean their rooms. And this list is just the bare minimum, they are often asked to do other jobs outside their basic contributions and sometimes these jobs don’t even directly benefit their well-being at all. In the past month, the boys have been asked to help dad wash the car, pull out some weeds, wipe out the bathroom sink and sweep the garage floor. At this age, they join in with a smile and see it as fun. Doing adult tasks for some crazy reason, excite the crap out of most kids.. and while this haze of pure deception lingers, we will continue to milk them for all they are worth.
So, at the moment my boys don’t get pocket money. However, there have been instances when our biggest boy has wanted something pretty desperately – and his birthday is just too far away. So, it is through the ‘over and above chores’ that he can work up enough money to get what he wants. Chores outside of the normal realm of expectations allow him the opportunity to work for some pocket money. This type of set up can work in many ways – a set of extra chores that have monetary value ie Wash the car for $5, take out the bins for $1, vacuum the floors for $3 etc. You can also just give pocket money when they are saving for something in particular and negotiate the standards with your child, or you can set a number of tasks each week and pay when they have been achieved. Whichever way you work it, ensuring that you and your child understand that household expectations and household chores are two different things is important. Expectations are daily tasks that children should be doing to be a contributing member of a family, doing their part in the smooth running and weekly upkeep of their home. The skills they learn from this, such as initiative, independence and care for shared spaces, will transcend into their classrooms, sporting teams and work places later in life. While chores are bigger ticket tasks, tasks that require focused attention, a bit more time to dedicate and often have a reward attached to encourage work ethic, teach the value of money and develop their understanding of output of jobs resulting in payment.
Chores, put simply, are the backbone of preparing your child for the real world. A world where they will need to be a cooperating member of a team, a smart, switched on consumer and eventually one prominent part of a safe, clean and functional family home. Plus, giving them chores means less chores for you – if that isn’t incentive enough?!
5. Butt Out
This one is short, sweet but probably the most important for us. And, boy has it been a huge part of our big boys’ transition to school. Butting out.
There have been and will continue to be so many times in our children’s lives where we want to run into the flames and save them. Be it a playground bif, a speech they don’t want to make, an athletics carnival they feel nervous to attend, a confrontation with someone they know. As a parent, our gut instinct is to support, save and scaffold. We want to take their belly butterflies away, eliminate their nervousness, their worries and their fears. We want to make it easier for them. But, my husband and I know that if we butt in – for whatever reason – we are taking away the lessons they would have learnt, the skills they would have acquired and the confidence they would have built if we stood back and let them sort it out themselves. As a teacher, I am often witness to parents who want to help their child this way – by doing things for them, sorting out their friendship problems, telling them they don’t have to participate in activities and events. When we take away those tricky, belly-churning life lessons, we are limiting the opportunities for our kids to practise and develop resilience, self-regulation and determination – all skills very much needed to navigate life in general.
A quote from Judith Locke that I repeat in my head on those times I send my kids into a situation that I simply want to save them from, a quote I recite to parents who want to fix all the small playground problems for their child.. ‘I trust that I have raised my child with the skills to navigate these problems on their own.’
Parenting is the single most difficult thing I have ever had to do. Every decision, every choice is questioned and evaluated against who I want my kids to grow up to be. So, these tips, while excellent in theory, come with tantrums and meltdowns, from both the adults and the children. Parenting was not meant to be easy. If it’s easy, you’re probably doing it wrong. Flipside – for all the times we stuff up, there are a million ways we are killing it. Every single day is full of small, amazing successes and we should be bloody proud for those simple wins. Got the kids out of the house? Go you! They nibbled the corner of vegetable? Unreal! You only lost your shit 4 times today? Nailing it! Parenting is exhausting yet exciting, challenging and life-changing, blissful but brain-snapping… thankfully, the magic nearly almost always outweighs the mayhem!
I’ll finish with this, hopefully very obvious clause – I am not a parenting professional nor am I an A+ parent, I am just a mum who happens to be a teacher and likes to be well-informed. Many of these approaches and values that we as a family believe in come from some very well-read, practical parenting professionals. If you want to read further, please try The Bonsai Child by Judith Locke, anything by James Nottingham, and many of the articles, books and publications by Maggie Dent or Steve Biddulph.
You’ve got this! Know that you are always the star of your children’s life, regardless of how you choose to parent.
Written By Janessa Docking - Jem Creative - @jemcreative
Photography Credits Mel Hill Photogaphy - @melhillphoto