What it Really Means to Be a Parent
By Amber Alexander
Before I had my daughter, I worked in the Early Childhood Development field. It’s a fancy way of saying that I got to work with a huge assortment of wonderful kids and their parents in all their self-proclaimed parenting style glory. I loved every minute of it because it meant that most of what I did all day long was play.
But along the way, I also picked up a lot of ideas of the kind of parent I was going to be when I had kids of my own.
For example: One cold and rainy morning, a child in my classroom was dropped off later than usual wearing a purple tutu, sandals with rainbow-stripe knee high socks and a leopard print t-shirt with her coat trailing through the mud behind her.
Now, while some people will cringe at the combo of rainbow/leopard print, I happen to think that it was quite the exquisite demonstration of personal style. But the part that stood out in my mind was the pouring rain and the fact that the parent hadn’t insisted on her wearing more weather appropriate clothing. I distinctly remember thinking, “my children WILL wear coats in the rain instead of t-shirts and sandals.”
Let’s fast-forward a few years to my own two year old. I am already a half an hour late for work and it took 10 minutes just to get her to put shoes on. Do I really want to pick a battle at this point over the coat? No. And come to find out, all it took was a few times of her refusing to wear her coat when it was raining for my daughter to realize why I wanted her to put one on in the first place.
Would I have let her stand in the rain for hours with no coat? Absolutely not. But walking from the house to the car and then from the car into school was enough. I don’t find joy in watching my child shiver, but who knew natural consequences could be so effective in one so young?
When I sit here and think about all of the times I said to myself “I will never ______ for/to my child” or “MY child will never…” I have to laugh. Likewise, when my childless friends make similar statements, it takes all I have to just smile and say “okay.” I mean really, the list is endless!
- “My child will not sleep in my bed on a regular basis! She will sleep in her own bed, in her own room.”
My 11 year old still crawls into bed with me on a regular basis and you know what? It’s one of the best parts of my day. A warm, sweet smelling bundle of love right there next to me as I begin or end my day is absolute perfection. And I still get the privacy and alone time that I thought I would miss out on if I let her co-sleep. She’s also incredibly independent and confident, despite being the world’s biggest snuggle-bear.
And here’s the thing: babies spend nine months cuddling inside of their birth moms, where did we ever get the idea that they would be comfortable sleeping alone as soon as they burst forth out of the womb?
- “My child will not be the 3 year old pulling up her mother’s shirt, pulling out a breast and latching on while vocally asking for milk.”
This is only half untrue. My daughter never pulled my shirt up in public, she somehow ended up with a lot more tact than I have ever had, but she did nurse for quite a while. Partially due to immune system challenges, but also for comfort. She was older than three when she self-weaned. And I don’t regret one bit of it.
While some people’s reaction made me slightly embarrassed or ashamed of this, I have to shake their ideas of “proper” off. Most other countries in the world besides my own nurse their children for an average of 5 years. And there is a long list of benefits from that. So I say: nurse on, sister-friends!
- “My child will never EVER use a pacifier.”
Ha! This one is particularly amusing to me because I remember silently pleading with my infant to take a pacifier to give my aching breasts a break. Babies like to suck on things, it’s a reflex. While it was adorable to watch baby-rage on display, my kiddo would get so ticked off when she went to nurse and milk actually CAME OUT. The nerve! She just wanted something to suck on and my boob wasn’t it! Unfortunately for both of us, her gag reflex was so sensitive that a pacifier was never an option. Neither were fingers or thumbs.
Can pacifiers become an unhealthy habit at some point in a child’s life? Yes. However, the suckling reflex in infants is normal and they don’t need (or in my child’s case, even WANT) to eat/drink as much milk as they would get if they nursed as much as they had the instinct to suck.
- “My child will not watch television. She will have educational toys and books to entertain her and I will be interacting with her instead of letting her watch TV.”
Here’s the thing about this particular item. As parents, we give ourselves this set of expectations of super-human proportions sometimes.
As a single parent working 40 hours a week and trying to be a perfect house-keeper while being the mom I wanted to be, I was surprised and confounded by how exhausted I was. Some mornings, watching The Wiggles for a half an hour so I could lay on the couch and cuddle and NOT be fully active and awake yet was so delicious that I decided it was okay to indulge from time to time in some screen time.
Lo and behold, that also didn’t lead to my child being raised by cartoon characters and grown men who wear primary colors and sing about fruit salad all day.
The list could go on and on. I am not airing my possible parenting flakiness or what other people would view as shortcomings just for laughs, but to drive home the point that parenting is a journey. It’s fluid and it’s constantly changing. It is really easy to think you know what it will be like before you have children. And that isn’t a bad thing!
It’s important to think about what you want in life, the kind of impact you’d like to have and the values you really want to teach and demonstrate to the people around you, including any possible children.
I just think that, as parents, we spend a lot of time getting down on ourselves when we aren’t the kind of parents we always thought we would be, or that we think other people want us to be. Let’s be honest, all the day-dreaming and planning in the world didn’t really prepare us for what parenting would REALLY be like. Or what parenting each unique child would ask of us.
With kids, as with many other things in life, the days can be long, but the years are short. Don’t spend them beating yourself up about letting little Bobby eat fruit snacks for breakfast every once in a while, or letting Susan watch High School Musical enough to be fully capable of singing the entire soundtrack to anyone at the grocery store who will listen. There are a lot of other things to put your mental energy towards that are a lot more enjoyable when it comes to our children. Like the smiles, the hugs, the sticky kisses and the joy.
As a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Amber Alexander follows her passion for vibrant wellness by supporting others in cultivating greater health and joy, specializing in family nutrition and individuals recently diagnosed with autoimmune diseases and/or food sensitivities.
When not working to make the world a healthier place one person at a time, she can be found on her yoga mat breathing deeply, in her kitchen cooking up nourishing deliciousness for her family and loved ones, or out dancing in the woods. She strives everyday to do at least one thing that infuses her whole being with radiance, joy and strength and believes that a hug can solve almost any quandary.
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