I had to add the "mostly" qualifier to the title of this blog because my parenting skills are always a work in progress. Another caveat: I know nothing about parenting older kids; I'll figure that out when I get there.
However, I've learned a few useful tricks over the past three years, so I'd like to pass them on.
1. Bring lots of snacks—at least twice as many as you think you'll actually need. It doesn't matter if you're going out for five minutes or five hours, snacks are essential. And if you have more than one child, make sure that you bring enough of everything for everyone. I have a three-year-old and an 11-month-old, but when I whip out the Baby Mum-Mums, the three-year-old instantly wants one just because the baby has one. And vice versa.
2. Keep an extra set of clothes, diapers and wipes in the car, and replace them as you use them. Because it's a given that your baby will spit up mere moments after you've dressed her up in an adorable outfit for your cousin's wedding, or she'll have one of those right-up-the-back poos in her car seat—when you realize that you used the last diaper in the diaper bag yesterday. You can never have too many baby wipes. Never.
3. Teach your kids to go to sleep anywhere. We did a better job of this with our first than with our second—probably because it's easier to go out when you have only one child. Our first was quite comfortable sleeping in a stroller, in a playpen or, later, in the guest bedroom at someone else's house. A transitional object, such as a teddy bear or a blanket, can be helpful. We also have a Sleep Sheep and a Mellow Monkey (toys that make white noise sounds) to help drown out unfamiliar noises or party chatter. Getting your kids used to sleeping elsewhere gives you the freedom to stay out past 8 p.m., so in my view, it's worth the time and effort.
4. Divide and conquer. Particularly when you have more than one child, appropriate division of parental duties is a must. For example, working together to get everyone dressed, fed and out the door in the morning makes it actually achievable. In our case, this means that one parent gets to force a squirming, protesting baby into clothes while the other handles a preschooler's tantrum over not wanting to wear shoes. Doesn't that sound like a great deal?
5. Separate the annoying from the truly bad. Whenever I'm tempted to yell at my kids—which, I admit, is pretty often—I try to take a moment to say to myself, "Is this really a problem, or does it just bug me?" For example: when the baby smears banana into her hair minutes after I've bathed her, or the preschooler spills her milk for the second time, after I've just refilled her glass and reminded her once again to watch out for it. It's easy to get frustrated by the mess when you've been cleaning up after children all day, but it's a matter of picking your battles. If the baby takes out the entire contents of the pantry and dumps everything on the floor, is this really a problem? Or is the real issue that she's now chewing on the power cord for my laptop? I figure this skill will serve me well during these early years...and probably during their teenage years as well.
Any good tips or strategies that work for you? I'd love to add to this list. After all, I still have many parenting years to go.