Whatever Works Parenting
29th February 2016
When I was pregnant with Baby Number One, I met a couple at a social event who had their own Baby Number One – just weeks old. I remember asking them what advice they would give me on parenting – since they were light years (read: 21 days) ahead of me in terms of experience.
I think back on that moment and cringe. For several reasons.
a) what a ridiculous thing to ask!
b) what made me think that these people would be experts? I didn’t even know them! Would I be asking randoms for advice throughout my child’s life?
c) why wasn’t I already thinking of myself as a mother and a parent? My own baby was due any day – why did I believe that it was simply the act of giving birth that would make me a mother/ parent?
Strangely – perhaps because they were sleep deprived and didn’t know what they were saying – those first-time-parents gave me the best advice ever… words that I’ve come back to again and again since having kids of my own.
So imagine this – there’s me, jolly and weighty with my 8 1/2 month belly preceding my entry into every room and there’s them, a nervous pair of parents, hovering near a pram anxiously peeking inside it every few moments. I wander over and say something innane like: “Congratulations!” gesturing to the pram “Any advice you’d give before this one comes out?” gesturing to my belly. At that moment their baby wakes (probably as a result of my loud voice because at that time I was blissfully ignorant of things that may or may not wake a sleeping newborn). The mother starts dismantling the top half of her outfit (probably trying to avoid two large wet patches on the front of her shirt). The father starts dragging the baby out of the pram (dragging probably isn’t the right word, but you’ve got to imagine his inexperienced man-hands wrangling this soft, seemingly boneless baby and all the cheesecloth and bunny rugs and blankety stuff that was coming out with it – it was like he was unravelling a mummy). The father sort of passes/ rolls/fumbles the baby over to the mother who somehow gets the baby to the boob (I probably should have paid more attention to how she did this – the wisdom of hindsight). Then the father turns to me and says (now here’s the amazing advice, insert drumroll here):
“You run your own race.”
I nodded, stood there trying to feel all natural and not-awkward as I watched her feed the baby.
It wasn’t until later that those words came back to me and I realised their weight, their value and their insight.
There are many ways to be a parent and in this age of labelling and consumerism it’s almost like you can adopt a particular style or brand of parenting. A quick google search reveals a heaps of different ‘styles’: helicopter parenting, hothouse parenting, tiger mothers, free-range parenting, dolphin parenting, assertive parenting, passive parenting… It surprises me that we need to label something that’s supposedly intuitive. If I asked my Mum and Dad what kind of parent they were (are?), they’d ask me if it was a trick question.
It would be an interesting thing to examine when this notion of following a mode of parenting became a ‘thing’ in our society. I suppose it coincided with the advent of the internet, our access to information and the fall of ‘smacking’ as a means of disciplining our kids. I’m guessing that the model of parenting our own parents used sort of lost some currency and we needed to adopt a new way forward.
It’s also a guess, but I think that perhaps our access to information and desire for security also lead us to become ‘safety vigilantes’ always wanting to know where our kids are and with whom and doing what. I think we’ve become a more suspicious culture, more wary and more alert and more protective of our kids.
And I get all that.
I want my kids to be safe. I want to parent them well. I don’t want them to blame me too much when they’re on the psychologists lounge thirty years from now.
But I run my own race.
I don’t subscribe to any one method of parenting. I go day by day, sometimes minute by minute, making decisions that are usually okay and sometimes not great. I try my best all the time, but I don’t always get it right. There are times when I was passive and I should have been more helicopter. There are times when I’ve been the tiger when I should have been the dolphin. And there are times when I was laying on the lounge when I should have been cooking something nutritious.
It’s often lamented that babies don’t arrive with an instruction manual, but I’m pretty sure it happens that way for a reason. We’re meant to get to know our kids, to discover -through some very bizarre trial and error experiences – what works for them, what works for ourselves and what works for our families. And the truth of that is that what works for my kids may not work for yours and, if I’m honest, it doesn’t always work for mine!
I remember once giving my kid a dummy and saying to another mother “Please don’t judge me.” She shrugged, grinned and said “Whatever Works”. We’ve been great mates ever since. (And our kids are still best mates too.)
I think parents are out there doing the best they can. (Of course there are some exceptions, but I’m not talking about those ones; they’re part of a broader problem within society). I doubt many parents set out to become ‘a helicopter’ or ‘a tiger’ and many of us are shifting gears from one mode of parenting to another throughout the day, depending on the situation.
What I’m struggling to say is… I think… it’s okay to be making it up as you go along. It’s okay to do ‘whatever works’ for your kids (as long as you’re not doing anything crazy ridiculous harmful). It’s okay to be running your own race. It doesn’t matter if you’re packing white bread while the other kids have brown. It doesn’t matter if you let them play the iPad for wayyyyyyyy longer than they should have. It doesn’t matter that they’ve probably gone to school with yesterday’s water in their drink bottle. It doesn’t matter if you forgot to put sunscreen on them today. Or that you shouted at them just before they got on the bus. Or that you let them skip brushing their teeth last night. Or that they sleep in your bed. Or that you don’t sit down and play Barbies with them. Or that you threw away their half-chewed on lollypop and then lied about it.
As long as you love them as much as you can.
As long as you’re doing your best.
As long as it’s working for you.
Run your own race.