Let me say firstly, that there’s no such thing as the perfect parent. I bet before you became a parent, you had all sorts of ideas of the kind of parent you were going to be. You were going to be patient and thoughtful, even after being woken up at 3am for the fifth time. You were never ever ever going to lose your rag, even when you were as sick as a dog and could barely shift the pre pregnancy weight you hadn’t lost, around the kitchen.
Dreams are not reality
Before you had children you probably saw yourself in your dreams, surrounded by dancing serenely happy children, who never argued and never ever had those horrible tantrum meltdowns in public places. You were going to have bright children. You know, the ones that blow you away with the intelligent look in their eyes. They’d study hard and be keen to finish their home work and all because you’d provided them with a wonderfully stimulating environment, the crafts, the right toys and the 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, laundry to do and the teacher wanted just one more book sheet filled out than you could handle. The pre-homework cuddle dissolved in to the pre-homework nag and soccer practice was about to start in ten minutes and dinner wasn’t ready and Ahhhh! Lines started appearing on your face like Krakatoa. Your dreamy pastureland had hit reality.
It goes all too fast
Of course you had lots of moments of pure joy too. Moments throughout each and every day that 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, 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 felt chocked up when you stuck little messages in their lunch box, or they ran up after school and wrapped their arms around you. You secretly giggled over the crazy ideas they had about sex.
Hang on, you’re still in 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 and 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. Want to come too?” Nah, that’s ok mom. Think I’ll stay here.’ Nothing can quite prepare you for that moment.
The funny thing is though, this not a process that starts suddenly. It’s not like they reach adult hood, vaunt out of your arms and start life as an independent adult without having taken the long road with all its bumps along the way. 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. Things that every bone in your body tells you goes against your instinct to protect and nurture. And that’s hard, because increasingly you’re told you shouldn’t do those things because they will hurt your child’s self esteem or ruin 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 fuzzes 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. Allow it to develop by stepping back and allowing moments of stress to happen and then be resolved, is to give that mental image strength. Step in to sweep away problems and you impede its development.
There’s no such thing as a perfect parent and what’s more, please stop trying for perfection. Understand that what’s needed instead is not just love and cuddles, but an appraisal of those 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 their time 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.
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, teaches us the limitations of technology. A few moments having to solve problems on our own, teaches us self reliance and gives us strength.
For more help with any kind of behaviour from multiple temper tantrums and hitting through to potty issues, visit my services page.