What I’ve Learned About Parenting Since Becoming Mom
As the oldest of four children, I had a lot of practice playing substitute mom, which left me feeling confident that I would easily have a handle on this whole “parenting thing” when the day came. Then that day came and guess what? I was humbled! As I’m approaching the five-year mark of “Mom-dom”, I’ve come to a few conclusions regarding parenting that could mainly be summed up as this: I was convinced I’d be a better parent before I had kids. Beyond that, a few other revelations have surfaced. This list is by no means exhaustive and in no particular order. So here we go!
1) Read parenting books at your own risk. When I was expecting our first child, I viewed those nine-months of pregnancy as a do-or-die time of academic preparation for parenthood. Sure, I thought I had a pretty good handle on kids between my experience with my own siblings, babysitting, and later on, teaching, but as far as I was concerned the fate of my child’s success and happiness depended on me knowing anything and everything I could about child development and parenting philosophies. If a grade were to be given in this self-given parenting crash course, I was sure to have been an A student. I started off devouring instruction manuals on newborn care and by my third trimester, I was researching how to handle teenage rebellion (no joke, people!). Baby Wise, Attachment Parenting, and Love & Logic were all thoroughly investigated and topics discussed at great length. Then it happened. Luke came into the world kicking and screaming... and he didn’t stop for the first three months. Colicky cries permeated our home so incessantly, I still heard his wails in my sleep and daydreams. I tried every method I had read about how to deal with a colicky baby but to no avail. It was my first indication that Luke broke the mold and wasn’t like the textbooks said a baby would be (never mind, there’s a huge variance for what’s considered “normal”). Later, you could fill in the blanks with every new developmental milestone- eating solids, potty training, the “terrible two’s, etc- and it only served to confirm that the person who knew how best to handle it wasn’t Dr. Dobson, Dr. Spock, or Dr. Sears... it was me. I don’t regret all that time spent pouring over books- and, in fact, I still enjoy reading up on parenting when I have the time- but I’ve learned that parenting books have their place. They’re something to consider, but I also have to keep in mind that my child’s not a lab rat and the same technique applied towards parenting him will not ensure the same outcome a book promises. And along those lines, I learned that...
2) Having an easy baby doesn’t mean you’re an expert parent. It more than likely means you were gifted with a mild-mannered bambino. Your baby sleeps fourteen hours a night and you attribute it to your killer bedtime routine? Could be, but more than likely your little one just has a thing for dreamland. Don’t think you’re the expert just because your little one doesn’t put up a fight. And likewise, don’t offer advice until it’s asked of you.
Which leads us to our next point:
3) Don’t play the My Baby/Child’s Smarter Than Yours game. I’m guilty as charged. A light-hearted conversation about baby milestones with fellow moms can easily turn into a bragging enterprise. As their mom, I should be my children’s biggest cheerleaders- and sometimes it’s hard not to brag on their accomplishments!- but that comes with the need to use good judgement. If I’m not careful I can easily turn peers into competitors and act as though my babies’ successes are my own. My babies were always off the charts in height and weight but it wasn’t because they were healthier, it was because they were genetically predisposed to that build. Likewise, my mama pride went soaring when my pediatrician announced my oldest was lightyears ahead in fine motor development for his age, but it wasn’t necessarily because of anything I had done. Little ones blossom in their own good time and one of the things I learned early on (albeit, the hard way) is that if I want to train my kids that they’re value is not exclusive to their advanced developmental milestones or their accomplishments, I need to highlight that to them by how I speak to other adults about them. More determined focus to exult character qualities I’ve seen displayed in them no longer pits my kids’ accomplishments against their friends’, but shows how they’ve grown compared to where they were in a past time.
4) Time Outs Aren’t Just for the Kids. A long, long time ago- B.C. (before children)- I used to have a long fuse. Now with kids.... eh, not so much. It took a few years before I made this beautiful discovery, but guess what? You can give yourself a time out! It does wonders for helping a mom calm down, assess a situation, and handle discipline with an unruly child more effectively.
5) Quality time and quantity time are one in the same to a child. For months I saw this Meme floating across the sea of Facebook updates: “I used to want it all; now I all I want is to pee alone.” If you’re laughing at it like I was it’s because you identify with the demands of being a parent, too! There are no vacation days, no sick time. As a parent of little ones, it seems there are a thousand questions to be answered, a thousand emergencies, and a thousand moments full of training and discipline. Focused one on one time (“quality time”) lets our children know they are valued, but meeting those day in/day out demands that come with a little one (quantity time) fills their love tanks just as much.
What about you? What’s one of the most valuable thing you’ve learned since becoming a parent?