Let me say, firstly, that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. I bet before you became a parent, you had all sorts of ideas about the kind of parent you were going to be. You were going to be patient and thoughtful, even after being woken up at 3 a.m. for the fifth time. Even when you were as sick as a dog and couldn’t move the pregnancy weight you hadn’t lost around the kitchen, you were never going to lose your rag.
Dreams are not reality
Before you had children, you fantasized about peaceful, happy children who never argued and never had those dreadful tantrum meltdowns in public. You were going to have bright children. You know, the ones that blow you away with the intelligence in their eyes? They’d work hard and be eager to complete their homework because you’d provided them with a wonderfully stimulating environment, crafts, appropriate toys, and endless encouragement. You had moments where you could see your children all grown up around a warm fire, with the snow flakes landing softly outside, telling you what a terrific childhood they’d had. It was all going to be enough to melt your hot chocolate.
Then reality hit, and your little people were born. You found out that you felt so tired some afternoons after being awake all night that you could barely hold your eyelids open with toothpicks, even though your preschooler was showing you their new drawing. All you could do was mutter, and the utterances sounded more like “give me a break” than “Oh, darling, that’s wonderful!” There was work to finish and laundry to do, and the teacher wanted just one more book sheet filled out than you could handle. The pre-homework cuddle dissolved into the pre-homework nag, soccer practice was about to start in ten minutes, dinner wasn’t ready, and ahhhh lines started appearing on your face like Krakatoa. Your idyllic pastureland never turned into reality.
It goes all too fast
Of course, you also had lots of moments of pure joy, moments throughout each and every day when you hugged your little one close to your beating heart and felt that glow of inner warmth. You felt the pride that only a parent can feel when your child finally toddled their way across the floor, even though their first joyous sojourn ended when they fell over the cat. Your heart leapt when they forgot their words in the school play, and you had the insane desire to run up, catapult yourself nimbly on to the stage, and save them by whispering the forgotten words in their ear. You got choked up when you put little notes in their lunch boxes or when they ran up to you after school and wrapped their arms around you. You secretly giggled over the crazy ideas they had about sex.
There’s no such thing as the perfect parent: Hang on, you’re still in the thick of it.
Wait, hang on. I’m getting ahead of myself. Of course, most of you reading this are only part way there, but of course you know where you’re going. It’s not something you probably think about, weighed down as you are with diapers, bottles, and the week’s groceries. There will be one day, though, when suddenly you are not going to be needed in the same way anymore, when you lean out of the car and say, “I’m off to do some shopping. Do you want to come too?” “Nah, that’s ok, mom. I think I’ll stay here.” Nothing can quite prepare you for that moment.
The funny thing is, though, that this is not a process that starts suddenly. It’s not like they reach adulthood, strut out of your arms, and begin life as an independent adult without having travelled a long road with all its twists and turns. From the moment they first toddle away from you, they take their first steps toward independence. Toward a life of their own.
What can you do now to nurture eventual independence
Your job is to step back and allow that to happen, and that means doing difficult things. It means holding back when your natural instinct is to rush in to protect and nurture. And it’s difficult because you’re increasingly being told that doing so will harm your child’s self-esteem or undermine their confidence.
But the more we pander to children and act desperately to protect them from every bump, the more we render them unable to solve their own problems and the more emotionally fragile they become. We have legions of kids now in college who simply can’t cope with all the ups and downs that life entails. Without mommy and daddy at the end of a cell phone to solve their problems for them, they are helpless.
What we are witnessing is a breakdown of our children’s coping mechanisms, and it starts, ironically enough, because everyone’s trying to be the perfect parent, always available and hovering, always on watch. As a result, children aren’t coping on their own terms. Teaching your children to one day be independent starts not when they enter orientation day at college but when they are sitting on your kitchen floor in a diaper, babbling nonsensically, and sucking on a spoon. Each moment throughout the day, your children are faced with a challenge. Those challenges are little, tiny ones at first, like how to reach a toy that’s beyond their immediate grasp or move to a more comfortable and advantageous spot, but slowly, those challenges become more demanding.
Baby needs to plant an image of you in their brain for stress relief
The cuddles that you give your baby act not only to give them the immediate warm fuzzies, but they also act over time to plant an image of you in your child’s brain, one that gives them fortitude in times of stress. Allowing it to develop by stepping back and allowing moments of stress to happen and then be resolved is what gives that mental image strength. Step in to sweep away problems, and you impede their development.
There’s no such thing as a perfect parent, and what’s more, please stop trying for perfection. Understand that what’s needed is not just love and cuddles, but an appraisal of the skills your children must learn to be able to cope as successful adults. It may seem a long time in the future, but the sweet little girl or boy that clings to your legs now is going to live some sixty years on average beyond the time they spent growing up with you. During that time, they will meet with success and failure, triumph and disaster. Nothing you can do will alter that. No matter how much you may wish for an easy passage, they will not dance through life in a bubble. Some of the time, you will be there to offer support. Other times, either through chance or circumstance, you won’t.
There’s no such thing as the perfect parent: You won’t be there for ever
At one point in your children’s lives, inevitably the “phone,” that is, you, will literally run out of juice. It would do us well to remember that a few moments with useless batteries teach us the limitations of technology. A few moments of having to solve problems on our own teach us self-reliance and give us strength.
For more help with any kind of behaviour from multiple temper tantrums and hitting to potty issues, visit my services page.
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