Magda Gerber, founder of R.I.E once said, “Parenting is a most difficult job for which you cannot really prepare yourself.” Perhaps my first wrong turn was my strong belief that I had prepared myself. I had spent six years in toddler and preschool classrooms. I had spent the next six-years as a nanny caring for young boys ages nine-months to four-and-a half years. My diaper-changing stats were off the charts. My soothing skills were top-notch. I had naptime prowess. I had once majored in early childhood education. I’d read The Continuum Concept and every parenting volume I could get my hands on while researching my book. Passion drove me to understand developing minds and promote respect and kindness toward all children.< In short: I had plans. (My husband likes to remind me often of the Woody Allen quote: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”) When reality crashed into my plans, it wasn’t pretty. I had planned to breastfeed on demand. While I did succeed in doing this, it was at huge nipple-shield-lactation consultant-breast pumping costs. I’d planned to co-sleep. Joshua was a fitful sleeper who (once weaned from his “straw,” the nipple-shield) refused to nurse anywhere but the rocking chair. (What’s the point of co-sleeping if you cannot nurse in bed, I ask you?) I’d planned to nurse for at least as long as the World Health Organization recommends (two years). But my sweet son went on an extended nursing strike at ten months that coincided with the death of my mother-in-law and well, I just couldn’t hack the amount of pumping required.
Plans, let me introduce you to this window here.
NOTHING can prepare you for parenthood. Nothing.
Confession: most of my book, written largely for parents, was completed before I became one. I finished final edits when Joshua was a toddler and while I certainly questioned the feasibility of some of my own advice (When did remaining calm get so darn hard?), I left the bar high, and will now spend the rest of my life trying to live up to my own standards. Luckily, I was kind and also realistic in knowing that kids (especially our own!) will trigger us—though I couldn’t have dreamed how often or intensely. My own advice: If you mess up, apologize—it’s the right thing to do, and also great modeling. I can do that. And have. Many times.
My quest for better parenting continues and I am lucky to have discovered Hand in Hand Parenting , The Consciously Parenting Project, Aware Parenting, and more. My ideals grow even higher. But I become more firm in my convictions as a parent when brain research confirms how human minds actually wire as a result of our interactions with them. What we say and do does matter. A lot. Connection and the ability to relate are at the crux of our experience as humans. And, how we were wired as children impacts how we respond (and react!) to our children’s emotions and behavior. Dr. Dan Siegel says, “The most important thing a parent can do is understand themselves.” Too bad I blew my lifetime budget for therapy back in my twenties. I guess I’ll have to depend on my friends to help see me through.
“Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint.” I wrote that. Before I gave birth. Little did I know. Labor was a marathon. Parenting is The Iron Man—a triathlon with grueling lows and endorphin highs—for the rest of your life. We will laugh our heads off. We will cry our eyes out. We will seethe with anger. Fret with worry. Exclaim in joy. Drown in sorrow. Burst with pride. We will shake our heads in wonder, and also in frustration. Stamina will be required.