1. Worry less about what your kids know, rather, focus on how they learn.
We’ve all been there…you are at the playground and the child next to yours on the swing looks to be about the same age. The next thing you know, that genius child starts rattling off her ABC’s and is counting up to 20. You nonchalantly ask the mom how old she is and remark that she is so cute. Not only are your suspicions comfirmed and they are the same age, but she is a month YOUNGER. The self-doubt and regret sets in. Your internal dialogue goes something like this, “why did I stop with the sign language when she turned one…should I read an extra book at bedtime…that’s it, we are going to Target (I practically live there anyway) and picking up Frozen-themed flash cards with exciting numbers and letters on them”. I’m hoping to encourage you to pay less attention to WHAT your child knows, and rather focus on HOW your child responds to the world around them. Do they think critically and ask questions? Do they accept what they are told or do they challenge the rationale? In the end, most typically developing children will identify letters and numbers at some point even if it is on a more delayed schedule than their peers. It is the ability to thoughtfully question what is presented to them and explore their environment with an inquisitive mind that will serve them well throughout their life. Milestones most definitely serve as excellent guidelines, however, they don’t tell us the whole story when talking about the bounds of a child’s mind. Ditch the handbook; encourage your kids to ask questions, to ‘get their hands dirty’, and to think independently.
2. Hold and feed your baby whenever you want.
I know…for whatever reason, this strangely contradicts what we have decided is ‘normal’ in our (American) society. We are told that holding a baby too much can make them dependent, make them want to be held all of the time…I’m sorry but we are talking about an 8 lb, precious little cluster of skin, bones and adorable baby fat that depends ENTIRELY on it’s parents for survival…if he/she wants to be held or fed, I think we can give in on this one. Touch is the single most important thing to babies, and we don’t have to deny it. In my experience, and from what I have read, it is in fact this response to their needs that gives them the confidence to exert their feelings, and provides them with comfort in knowing that they can trust their parents. Now, I’m not suggesting that you should never put your baby down, if that works for your family then fantastic (I am admittedly slightly jealous because mine literally wanted to be held ALL THE TIME), but, my point is, that we should never feel ‘bad’ for holding or feeding a baby if that is what they want.
As moms, there is immense pressure to do everything ‘right’, which usually translates to ‘by the book’. While I appreciate research and often fall back on it when I’m ready to pull my hair out, I’m suggesting that we ditch the handbook. By that I mean, do what feels right for you as a parent. You know your child best. Evaluate their needs and react accordingly…without the pressure to be perfect. If a tactic works for you but isn’t widely accepted, that doesn’t make it wrong.
3. “Children don’t need us to shape them, they need us to respond to who they are.” – Naomi Aldort
This has been my biggest parenting struggle thus far. Before you became a parent, like me, I’m assuming you had a general idea of what you would and wouldn’t do. When that adorable bundle of joy became an independent toddler full of opinions and feelings, the version of you who created those ‘parenting ideals’ 5 years prior is rolling their eyes at you as you pick your battles. I think many of us experience this when it comes to discipline. For us, while we use time-outs for certain actions, they are often ineffective. I know all of the ‘rules’ of time-outs (I’ve seen super nanny once or twice) but I just don’t feel that they are the right choice for my very sensitive and highly emotional son. I have chosen to use a calm-down corner in our house, which helps my son learn to manage his emotions, teaches him appropriate behavior, and doesn’t isolate him from the family in the process. I don’t view this as a lack of discipline, but rather what works best for our family. For others, my methods may be unconventional and might not work for many children. But while I may not be an expert in the field, I am an expert at parenting my littles. I know them inside and out and can predict emotions and outbursts long before they feel them coming on. Trust your instincts and go with your gut. Ditch the handbook, parent the child you have grown to know and love, and understand better than anyone else ever possibly could.
These pieces of advice are not meant to judge others who parent differently than I; rather it’s meant to shed some light on the fact that parenting is not black and white, nor is it static. It is an ever-changing process, one that demands constant care and attention to detail. In the end, a large dose of love and concern will carry you a long way. Refer to the handbook, lean on it heavily, but don’t let it dictate your life. Trust yourself and your immense love and understanding of the tiny human you have created. And enjoy every minute of it.