Bringing up kids always seemed like such an immense and overwhelming experience to me, especially when I was about 15, when I would get scared if little kids came up to me asking to play. I was extremely self-consious and often felt I couldn't handle kids at all.
But somehow or other, through life experience and gaining confidence through work and friends and being alone in another country for a few months at a time, I lost most of that self-consiousness.
And, as any parent would instantly recognise, there is nothing that could be more potentially embarrassing than your own child! At six months he could cry nonstop till YOUR face turns purple, at fifteen months she could want to feed at the most inappropriate of times (at a table at dinner with your single male friends not knowing where to look, ugh, that's the pits) or at six he could blurt out startling and unnerving revelations about family habits in front of disapproving other people.
So when you are a parent you have a few choices: 1) allow it to consume you and humiliate you till you turn yourself into a social cripple 2) take yourself out of those situations by never bringing kids along or never going out 3) laugh it off and surrender to the notion that you will never be young gorgeous and carefree again (at least not till you're sixty when they finally are making their own money - by which time you're old, saggy and freedom means something else).
I chose a mixture of the above three, at different times and in various mixture levels. I quickly learnt that if I want my kids to have even a modicum of self-discipline, I was going to have to be "on" as a mother almost constantly.
Now that is very hard to do. Reading a book is supremely difficult with kids around, especially if you're the kind who likes to drown in the imaginary world, like I do. Having to stop to listen to inane requests to watch Baby jump imaginary drains is a huge frustration. So I stopped reading while they were awake. I also learnt to read like I watch television - in snippets, when I can. Sometimes the tension this creates is unbearable, but it kind of makes life a little exciting, wondering when I can read another 2 pages.
There is the great temptation to just let kids be - and this is so hard to resist. Just let them watch television all day, let them play whatever games they want, however they want, be as noisy as they want. The thing that gets me off my butt is the thought of them turning out to be lazy, spoilt, nasty human beings. And it's just awful to see the beautiful innocence of children turning into the nasty ghouls that some people out there are: selfish, envious, avaricious people who cannot see anyone else's point of view.
I believe children are born with potential and character. Some kids have a very forceful character and some very gentle. If the forceful characters realise from young that their parents are too weak to discipline them (and they realise this at a really young age, because they interpret ACTION and BEHAVIOUR, not concepts and thoughts) then these kids might turn into bullies. However, if they were treated with kind reproof, and told repeatedly that their way of behaving was not kind or wanted or right, then maybe they would turn into assertive, confident children who learn to stand up for other weak kids.
So parents need to love their children equally even if they have to treat them differently. That's a hard thing to do, especially since kids can misinterpret their parents' behaviour as favouritism. That's where communication comes in, where the parents have to sit down and talk to the kids and tell them why this and why that. Calmly and without blame.
I sometimes lose sight of this when I get melancholy about myself and forget that I chose my circumstances. But my deepest conviction with children is that until they hit puberty, they need their parents by their side, constantly, not physically, but in terms of always listening to and being open with the child, and also keeping a watchful eye out for whatever may be troubling them. (I have never been able to understand when mothers of their unwed pregnant teenagers say they didn't know she was pregnant! "Oh, I thought she was getting fat" UGH! Those mothers need to re-think their concept of fat immediately!) Once kids hit puberty, they take on new attitudes, and if they haven't already learnt the values you want them to know, they will form their own.
So I may be stricter than most with my kids. Sometimes harsh. And sometimes I may be too tired to respond to their lawless playing and let it slide. But they always know that I love them and that nothing would sadden me more than to know that they don't feel loved.
So sometimes I get stony-strict and won't let them have or do something they want. After the initial resistance, they either forget about it or get moody. Then after a while we have another of our hundred daily hugs and they try to lick my face yet again. I should rub garlic on my cheeks. That'll learn 'em!