I felt sad to read in the mail on line this week that many new parents feel demoralized and depressed by conflicting advice and theories. It reminded me of how I felt when my daughter was born. Suddenly this perfect little being was my total responsibility and the fear of failing her was over whelming.
The desire to ‘get it right’ for my children has never left. Each age has presented new challenges and each child has reacted differently. There is frequently an ‘expert’ or a ‘recent survey’ to tell me how I could be dealing with things another way. I am just about to enter the ‘teens’ with my youngest and they loom before me with a mixture of dread and excitement. Dread because there are all those intense feelings and pushes for independence to cope with again. There is alcohol and parties, exams and driving lessons and (oh lord help me!) more broken hearted relationships to deal with. Will I make the same mistakes? Hopefully not, however I will most definitely make new ones, because my youngest is different and will have different experiences and I am different and going through new life experiences.
Daily parenting challenges are perhaps a bit like cooking. Everyone has a favourite recipe and helpful advice about utensils to use and timing and pinches of salt or spoons of sugar and there are many useful and excellent recipe books to try. If we all followed the same recipes, food would be very boring. Some days food turns out palatable and others it all goes horribly wrong (even when I think I’ve followed the expert’s recipe exactly!) and the kitchen’s a mess and the food isn’t pleasant. But no one dies and I can apologise and try something different the next day. The occasional disaster doesn’t mean I’m a terrible cook – it just didn’t work the way I intended that day. And sometimes, by having the courage to abandon the recipes and make time to trust my instinct, by putting in tasty ingredients with care and thought, I can produce a delicious, unique meal that leaves my family satisfied and content.
- If something is working for parent and child then it’s probably right for that family situation even if a “latest survey’ suggests its wrong. Eg: Sleep routines – if a child goes to bed late and sleeps well without displaying the tantrums or tiredness the survey promises, then what’s the problem? Why fix something that isn’t broken?
- Where there is a challenge, have courage and see what happens by following an instinct before trying an ‘expert’. (There is bound to be one out there that agrees with the instinct any way – Google it for reassurance!)
- Dare to make mistakes and admit them! A perfect parent would be an awfully boring person and how horribly scary for a child to think being a grown up means always having to get things right! When I mess up, I remind myself I’ve done a great job of giving my child permission to make mistakes when they are older!
- Parental love is the only true ‘constant’. Life isn’t consistent in my experience and if I try to be I would wear myself into the ground digging many holes to climb out of. Thoughts, feelings, opinions, “experts theories” all change, every day. Children recognise this and adapt – it’s part of evolution and survival.
- Most important is listening to a child. If, verbally or through behaviour, they are indicating that something isn’t working, then a different approach or method might be useful. As they get older I need to listen harder to my children and really challenge my own desire to control, to ‘fix’ things and to be seen by others to be doing it ‘right’.
- Uncle Bill’s theory! (See earlier posts!)