Like so many parents, my goal for each of my children, starting at birth, has been to give them the best possible childhood experience to help them grow up into productive and happy people who posses an intrinsic zest for life. At times when one of my babies was peacefully sleeping with all immediate needs met, thoughts of successful, well-balanced people I admired came to mind. At other times, when my bundle of joy was nearly inconsolable and demanding I remain awake all night to a point where I wasn’t sure why I willingly chose to have a child, images of unhappy, angry, or sad people who must have not gotten the consistent parenting they needed growing up flooded my mind.
We’ve all been told there’s no manual for parenthood, but I have wondered if there isn’t at least a loose set of instructions that if followed, will prevent me from ruining my children? So much advice and research suggest the sense of security we as parents seek. Perhaps picking a philosophy and following all of the accompanying rules is the way to go? Still, when looking at the end result of all the parenting methods available, there is no guarantee of positive results. This leaves me wondering how to make my parenting decisions without later regretting them.
It took me a while to realize it, but my parenting philosophy not only has to resonate with my beliefs and the personality of my child, but it also has to make use of my strengths and sources of energy. If you go with a parenting style that requires a strict schedule or routine but have significant trouble following a consistent plan yourself, you may have difficulty with maintaining the routine. Or, the parent who needs a schedule to feel functional throughout his or her day would likely struggle uniquely planning every day around his or her child’s expressed needs. In my situation, I wanted to follow a daily routine that my child appeared to need, but my natural tendency to change plans frequently as opportunities become available or stop as rest is needed resulted in me needing to compromise. Fortunately, both of my children are content with a very loose routine and unexpected changes. They know I will plan ahead to meet their needs of food, rest, and opportunities to release energy as they arise. We schedule events and attend them but do not follow a consistent plan. For us, my need for flexibility and my children’s needs for some predictability are fulfilled to the best of my ability.
I feel content with my laid-back parenting until I see someone else with a similar style but displaying more thought and effort; more attention to detail. It might be that I pull out a processed, packaged snack for my child at the park and see that my respected friend is giving her daughter sliced fruit in a reusable snack bag. Or at another person’s house, I might witness a boy who is told he can’t watch TV happily choosing from three parent-prepared independent activities that will all stimulate his mind. It’s not too difficult for me to stop my children from watching television, but I am overwhelmed at the thought of always having fun and educational alternatives available for them. At times, I am desperate for my children to watch TV or to please do the one activity available just so I can finish my own tasks. Does this mean I’m a bad parent? No, it means that I am my children’s parent – one of the two parents guiding our kids through what they are meant to experience in this world.
Wait, I’m still stressed about how some children are getting the superior experience of parents who seem to handle life better and are more consistently prepared to meet their children’s needs than I am! My kids could be at a disadvantage because I don’t have the energy to make every moment special and meaningful! Then I realize that first, I don’t know what other families do when they are alone, and more importantly, that I have different strengths I don’t acknowledge. I only see my weaknesses and how other people are able to be better parents than I am. Having an awareness that parenting abilities in my mind are exaggerated as better or worse, depending on if I’m thinking about myself or someone else, helps me keep my overall perspective more evenly balanced.
A strategy I use to reconcile my frustrations when I’m encountered with feeling inadequate is to consider if an activity or idea I’ve witnessed could realistically fit into my own parenting repertoire. If I cannot see what I view to be a superior parenting ability aligning with my strength or source of energy, I let it go and maintain admiration for the other parent’s ability to be so clever, thoughtful, or disciplined. If I think this new idea could fit into my life, but it still sounds overwhelming, I put it on a list of ideas to be considered later when I’m not so overwhelmed. We all continuously improve ourselves one slow step at a time in between long stretches of survival. It’s okay to see a change you want to make and save it for a less stressful time.
Recently I have realized that more importantly than any particular aspect of my parenting, how I treat myself is what my children are internalizing. If I feel self-critical for what I cannot do, my children learn to have their own inner voice of self-criticism. If I continuously overlook my own needs to only focus on what’s in my children’s best interest, my children will ultimately learn to overlook their own needs to focus on others. Knowing that my children will become what I model, I make every effort to balance being accepting my needs and who I am while also giving back to my children and others. Because I want the best for my children, I must live my life as the productive and happy person who posseses an intrinsic zest for life – the end result I want for my kids. By learning about my own priorities for success and happiness, I am able to teach my kids who I hope they will be when they become adults!