Tiger, Stage or Helicopter moms set aside , who wouldn’t aspire to be a perfect parent raising a perfect child? Of course, you aspire to be the “best” parent. On the practical level, the daily work of identifying and providing for your child’s needs is a big job, and it does not carry sick and vacation benefits. When you said ‘yes’ to being a mom you may not have been thinking about the lifetime commitment to which you subscribed. Don’t let that scare you off. Lifetime commitment means plenty of time to grow and develop in the role. I’m here to tell you, following the same rules that guide human growth in any new stage of development, your best will be all that your child needs in a parent.
Parenting involves ideas to think about, choices to make, and things to do. The time and energy consuming musts:
-Feeding so she will grow healthy and strong, -Clothing so he will be warm and dry, -Sheltering so he will be protected from that which is hostile in the world, -Giving attention and affection so he will know he is deserving of your love, -Challenging, coaching, and expecting so she grows into all her capabilities, -Taking her into your arms and heart when she is afraid or hurt.
As far as your child is concerned, nobody does it better. She prefers the way you do it, even when she’s not sure she likes what you are doing. Not one of us is perfect, no style is the best, and each of us is capable of communicating well with our kids. Here, in order of importance, is what your child feels:
#3. When you give him food he likes to eat, he experiences a gift. He thinks, “She loves me, she gave me what she knows I like.” There are the other times when you don’t feed him what he wants; then he may fuss, and once he can talk he might say he hates the food and maybe even you. Disregard the “hate you”; he just didn’t get what he wanted.
#2. When you buy her things and you show her your own pleasure in giving, she adds your pleasure to her own. She thinks you gave her something, so you must love her (kid’s logic).
And now for #1. Your child feels your physical presence as the most meaningful testament of your love. Especially true when in stress, he feels and is quite helpless. Injured, sick, lonely, and scared, he can’t judge relative seriousness and doesn’t any idea of how long it will last. Your presence takes the anxiety away.
Research that is more than a century old has proven that not getting attention and affection over a long period of time can make a child sicker than a communicable disease, and finding the root of that illness can be lengthy and expensive. But keep in mind; short term feelings are not harmful. In fact, developmentally speaking, they build resilience. Chicken soup and hugs are easy ways to reassure. If you make them appear, they become miracle drugs. Don’t worry about providing too many miracles. You will not raise a hypochondriac or a professional victim unless the ONLY time you pay attention to your child is when he is hurting or injured.
So keep in mind; short term negative feelings are seldom harmful. In fact, developmentally speaking, they build resilience. Your child will not be damaged if you are not physically present every time he is ill or injured. There are times when compassionate surrogates can and should take care of business. Your child should be told that you will be with him as soon as possible and in the meantime; the adult who is there will take care of his immediate need and stay with him until you are at his side.
The most fruitful form of developing trust comes as your child’s own psychological space begins to include and contain you. Your presence is in his mind whether he is with or away from you. Noted pediatrician and psychiatrist D. W. Winicott says that the healthy child will feel his mother’s presence, even in her absence; and her absence even when she’s present. The quality of your presence, the way he perceives you “being there for him” deepens his level of trust in your relationship. His faith in you relieves some of your anxiety.
Don’t worry about what others think. Being your best will consume the very energy and passion that best serves your child. Be cautious about over functioning (my version of super parent) and squashing the joyful energy joy you really want to share with your child. At times, something has to give way. Though it can be devilishly hard to do, be willing to let certain things go undone:
-your child doesn’t get to go to every dogfight, -your home doesn’t sparkle and shine, -you don’t read the nightly story, -he didn’t get a bath today, -she isn’t potty-trained until five years old, -her socks are not clean, and you didn’t take her to the park.
None of these is what it’s all about. If you are concerned about the quality of your parenting, try erring on the side of righteousness. Here’s a way to submit your way to a proven test:
Common sense. Will your way of doing it make things better or worse? Consult your most admired model; what do you think he or she would do? Do you agree? If not, don’t do it. Wait for your own wisdom and intuition to guide your choice. Fairness. Are you taking away, denying, or impinging on rights of others, including your own?
Yours is a passionate commitment, a most powerful and intimate relationship, and an exciting opportunity to influence the life of a new love. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Know that any job this important requires self-study and outside stimulation. As your parenting becomes a way of thinking and being, you will develop your own authority and confidence. That is your best; all that your child needs in a parent.
Thelma Farley is a nationally-acclaimed child and adolescent development specialist, who at various times in her career has served as consultant to Federal, State and Local schools. Farley is the primary author of Every Person Influences Children (EPIC): a nation-wide self-esteem program for children, parents and teachers. In 1983 she co-founded Beacon Day School and during her tenure as Director has provided teacher training on creating developmentally-responsive curriculum to East Bay public schools. Thelma’s expertise in child and adolescent development makes her a sought-after speaker on parenting issues. Her book, Parenting Developmentally: Living the Passion, Power and Perks, is in a second printing. www.thelmatalk.com