I was the perfect parent. After years of scrutinizing people with their kids and taking note of their successes and failures, I had it figured out. My kids would be disciplined, I would never feed any of my babies formula, and my kids would never be the kind to stick their gum on the bottom of restaurant tables or draw on the walls with markers. I knew I’d never be the topic of judgmental parenting conversations—instead, I’d be the example of the perfect balance of a loving and disciplinary mom.
Then I actually became a parent. Needless to say, I was humbled. I fell in love with my baby, Haven, right away, but for the first time I realized I had no clue what I was doing. I wished, probably like so many other people have, that there was a handbook to tell me exactly how to do it all, but the problem was there were too many handbooks and too many voices coming from every direction.
Haven just turned 17-months-old, which isn’t really momentous at all, but a conversation I had with my sister today got me thinking about all the lessons I’ve learned since I became a parent. My sister just had her first baby 11 days ago and she said to me, “We’re just doing what we think is right in every situation.” I can totally relate to that, and I think most parents can. You do exactly what you think is right in the situation, even if later on you realized you made a mistake. This got me thinking about all the lessons I’ve learned in the last almost year and a half.
Lesson #1 – Everybody’s just figuring it out as they go.
We were all getting ready for church one Sunday morning, and Haven had just woken up from a nap. I thought she’d be happy, but instead, it seemed like she had been possessed by another demon child. It was the worst tantrum I had experienced up to that point (yeah, it got worse a couple weeks later). She was rolling around on the floor screaming, pulling at her hair, her skin, her lips—that’s what she likes to do when she’s mad. I looked at James, I’m sure with confused, wide eyes, and asked, “What should we do?” A half hour later, we sat in church with our monster baby, and both of us feeling so worn. I wasn’t even going to consider fighting her for the rest of the day. If she wanted 700 crackers, I’d just give them to her.
Every time James and I think we have Haven figured out, she throws us some crazy parenting curveball. And she’s only one kid who’s not even two years old yet! I fully expect surprises for the rest of my life. I can’t count all the times I have thought, if not actually said, “What should I do?”
I never would have guessed that my parents didn’t really know what they were doing, but I have to believe that now. Every day, I’m just trying to figure out the perfect play for whatever’s thrown at me.
Lesson #2 – People will judge your parenting style no matter what it is.
People judge other people’s parenting. It’s natural, like your mouth salivating at the sight of a chocolate cupcake: it just happens. It’s funny because to some family members, I’m sure I’m a tough mom because I let my baby cry to fall asleep, but to others, I’m a sucker who picks her up too much or lets her get away with throwing everything from my bathroom drawer onto the floor.
No matter how I choose to raise my kids, I know somebody won’t like it. I’d like to say I’m totally okay with that, but I’m not quite there yet. It’s still hard to stand up for what you think is right when you know someone totally opposes your method. I try to do it anyway, stay firm on those things I really believe in, but I also need to accept when I’m wrong about something and should be doing it differently.
Lesson #3 – I will never be a perfect parent.
This should be obvious, but how many of us secretly hope when we’re just starting out that we’ll just get this all down pat? I’ve finally realized, though, that being a perfect parent is impossible. The only way you could really get your children to be just what you want them to be is by completely controlling who they are and what they become…which is ridiculous. Because my kids will be who they are, they will always take me by surprise. There will be situations I don’t know how to handle, probably until I die. And because I want my kids to be individuals and not just molds to be created into exactly what I want them to be, I’ll never be able to be a perfect parent. I do think it’s important that as parents, James and I teach our kids to become good people who respect others—I’ll always try to do that, but I can’t try to shape them by every single decision they make. I have to let them shape themselves.
Lesson #4 – I don’t have to be everything for my kids.
Haven loves to play. James usually gets her ready for bed, and their ritual almost always involves some chasing around the house. I love hearing them and seeing how happy Haven is by the time we put her to bed (it’s amazing it doesn’t keep her up for hours).
I was talking to my sister and telling her about how James is so good at playing. I said, “I should try to be better at that.” Being silly is fun, and I’m all about using funny voices and giggling, but playing for more than like two minutes is hard for me. I just don’t know what to do. When I said that, my sister quickly responded, “No, it’s okay if you don’t play.” She pointed out that James and I have different strengths; he can have fun with Haven, and I can nurture her.
There have been times when Haven is super attached to me, and in a way it feels good being needed, but it feels even better when I see her strengthening her attachments with other people. If I’m everything for her, how could she grow? And how could I? I personally think it’s good to have time to myself, to have hobbies, to be something other than “Mama.”
After that conversation with my sister, it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I no longer felt guilty for not chasing Haven around all day every day; I do it sometimes, and that’s okay. I don’t have to do it all for her.
Lesson #5 – I have a lot left to learn.
James and I have talked about certain situations that occur in other people’s families. We talked about what we might do, but I finally have come to the point where I’ve realized that there’s no way to really know until we’re there. Life will have to be a teacher because I have no idea how to handle a three-year-old’s drama, a teenager’s withdrawal, or an adult child’s decisions I might not agree with.
Maybe watching other people parent their kids has been beneficial to show me things I’d like to implement in the future, but nothing can replace experience. I now know that judging a situation from afar is a lot easier than actually being in it. I’ve realized I have a lot left to learn as Haven’s parent, then with each new kiddo that joins our family.
We’re all in different stages of life. What are some lessons you’ve learned since becoming a parents, whether it’s been two weeks or twenty years?