Parenting is a peculiar thing. When I was in the early stages of pregnancy with Chief, I have a clear memory of walking into a popular bookstore and perusing an aisle of advice books. Pregnancy advice. Entire books about babies sleeping through the night. Oodles of books on weaning babies. How to deal with a disruptive child. How to manage the teenage years. Calm parenting. Positive parenting. Gentle parenting. They were all there.
I believe that we all try our best. We bring up little, vulnerable humans and present to them an uncertain world through a combination of realism and joy, exploration and humour. We try to instil in them the idea of hope and love above all else, before they come face to face with some playground horror or another. Our mind abuzz with ideas of what we should be doing, what we could be doing, we balance plates of baked bean juice and fragments of fish cakes. Inwardly we curse that we should have encouraged our children to tidy up, outwardly we smile at the muddy little creatures exploring the garden and making a snail shelter or two.
When I was employed I would set out my development plan at the beginning of every year. This invariably consisted of events outside the working day, like evening or weekend workshops and reading up on innovative industry ideas and case law. I always wanted to be the best that I could be.
When I became a parent I stopped, or perhaps paused, my career. For one reason or another the idea of wiping noses, bottoms and eyes (not necessarily in that order of course) appealed to me more than a clean carpeted working office with warm cups of tea and adult conversation. Eager to please my little charges, I set about with the same determination that I had harnessed my professional career with. The advice books were read. Some with interest, others discarded when it was clear that my children had no interest in expensive developmental toys being pushed as the only thing to help your child master one skill or another. While pages, no doubt endorsed by some of the big players in the toy market, held up products like diamonds in the light, my children turned their backs and chewed on a Velcro style hair roller or a wooden spoon. They sported an almost constant food smudge at the corner of their mouth and they paid no attention to the need for volume control, especially when in public places.
I looked into parenting courses but was told by a somewhat weary consultant paediatrician that I wouldn’t learn anything that I didn’t already know. My insatiable desire to be the best that I could be began to wane. Self-doubt instead began to rear its head. The internet supplies a plethora of information if you ask the search engine nicely, but not always from identifiable sources. Was I using the right approach? Had I read real research?
I started to feel disheartened and anxious. That I might somehow miss a crucial milestone in childhood development. That my children might stray so far from the rails in their adolescence to make up for my shortcomings I might be met with a hefty counselling bill in later life. But then the most amazing thing happened. They started to eat solid food. They recognised colours, numbers and letters. They slept through the night. They even potty trained at which point any thoughts of a teenager unable to fathom a toilet disappeared (although I imagine they may resurface when I have three teenage boys living under my roof!).
I do believe that education and learning is a constant, and I continue to strive to do my best. I am always interested to learn about ideas new and old. To read and read again, over and over until my brain has definitely absorbed the latest concept in child rearing. My conclusion though, is that this has to be paired with a great deal of common sense, determination and experience. Neither one nor the other will suffice alone. The books have their place, but they don’t know me, or my children. Sometimes, as it turns out, trusting your own abilities is by far the best approach to take.
What do you do? Are your shelves lined with invaluable texts, or do you rely on gut instinct? Or perhaps a bit of both! I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂
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