This week's blog post is brought to you by our friends at Third Coast Birth. They offer childbirth education, birth doula support, postpartum and parenting support to Chicago area families.
I love the honesty of this piece. We all had ideas of how we would parent our children before we had them. Some of those ideas worked well, and some had to be thrown out the window once we met our children and discovered their various personalities! Thanks for sharing this truth, Margarita. I know I can relate!
I had grand ideas about my hypothetical children before I ever met them. I had dedicated the first 12 years of my adult life to a career working with and supporting children and families. I understood kids. I especially understood the kids that gave most adults a hard time. I loved their honesty, their capacity to call bullshit when they saw it, and overall, their unburdened perspective on humanity. I respected them; they respected me.
And then I gave birth to a child very similar to the ones I just described. Except the people who have had a hard time with her are me and her dad, not her teachers, nor her friend’s parents, mostly just us – her parents. My oldest kid is small and mighty, intelligent and opinionated and she takes nothing, and I mean not a single thing, at face value. She is also an empath and an observer. She mirrors the emotions of those around her and for better or for worse, she and I are very in tune with one another’s emotions. This means then, any objectivity I was once capable of as a caregiver becomes completely obliterated by our collective emotions.
Let’s take a step back. I remember the day I graduated with my masters in child development, and a few people said to me:
“You’re going to be an amazing mother!”
Oh, well, thank you. What makes you think that?
“Well, with all this knowledge of children you have, you’ll be so great with your own!”
Hmm, that’s an interesting idea. I didn’t think the information I learned in grad school would actually give me much of an advantage on parenting, quite simply because of the one factor that isn’t present when you’re working with children who don’t live with you: deep rooted emotional connection.
Emotions play a pivotal role in parent-child interactions, I think we can all agree with that concept. The entire purpose of the parent-child relationship within the first 3 years of life is to allow strong social-emotional capacities to flourish within our kids, so that they may be functioning members of society and humanity. That may be a bit harder to swallow, but that’s another discussion for another time. As a non-parent, in my work with kids, it was easier to see each individual child as a whole developing person, rather than as small, irrational and intense humans who lose their minds when you cut their pancakes into triangles instead of squares (even though they specifically asked for triangles and then silently changed their minds during the 5 seconds you assumed the pancake cutting position; true story).
Fact: we cannot be objective with our own kids. We are connected to them on a cellular level, and at a uniquely emotional level that only a parent-child dyad can share. So, what does that mean for our day-to-day parenting interactions with our kids?
In reading this article, from PBS Parents, the following stood out like the kid who has a fresh poop in his diaper in Mom&Baby music class:
“Keep in mind that you can’t actually make your child do anything–eat, sleep, pee, poop, talk, or stop having a tantrum. What you do have control over is how you respond to your child’s actions, as this is what guides and shapes their behavior.”
Wait. What? I know I can’t make my kid do anything, but I thought that I was just doing everything wrong. Not so. I am doing so many things right, and so are you. And if we shift our perspective to accommodate the concept that as parents, we don’t actually run the show, maybe then we can give ourselves the space to have effective and reasonable responses to the ever fluctuating intensity of being the grown up to our 3 year old skeptics, our 4 year old sages and even to our 2 year old tyrants.
The collective expectation in our society: that parents need to single-handedly mold, control, teach our children everything from how to deal with emotion, to how to read and write, to how to pee in a toilet, to how to sleep a socially acceptable number of hours every night, to be polite, etc, is a total farce. It’s time to shift our expectations, folks. And it will be time to shift expectations again every 3-6ish weeks in the first 6 months of life, and then every 4-8ish months thereafter through about age 5. Stay tuned for what that all means in terms of milestones like beginning to sit, crawl, stand, talk first using telegraphic speech and then in full multi-word sentences. It’s a wild ride, but if we stick together, it’s still dramatic and exhausting, but a lot less terrifying.