This is one resolution worth keeping!
The holiday season is a time for resolutions. I’d like to suggest one for you to consider: I will enjoy the experience of parenting more. This is a mantra to invoke in the carpool line, holiday traveling with kids and during a toddler’s tantrum.
In my work with families I am often surprised (and dismayed) by the pressure parents put on themselves to be perfect. In most cases this perfectionism is a bi-product of passion for their child. But the cost of this “passion” is diminished pleasure. If this energy could be reallocated to something more important (such as, I don’t know, 101 ways to have fun with mud) the parent-child world would be happier.
When I talk with a parent who is caught up in the morass of perfectionism (a friend calls them “militant moms”), I suggest she reflect on the experience of children worldwide and throughout history. Think about it, children manage to survive with skinned knees and no antibacterial gel.
What history and culture teach us is that, by and large, children are resilient. So children may benefit from some space to get messy, explore or explode. It is OK for them to cry out loud in public and be bratty. It’s what they do—worldwide! If other adults in the airplane or mall fail to recognize this, they are simply not informed in the ways of childhood. So ignore their glares, and go to your happy place.
To help your resolution stick, here’s a short list of what babies and toddlers do not need:
- Toys. They need interesting objects to explore; these can be recycled from your kitchen cupboard (pots, spoons, empty cartons). Think “experiences” rather than “toys” and remember, less is more.
- A hovering parent. It’s OK for a child to learn from his mistakes, have a toy usurped from another child, be called a poo-poo head by a sibling. Use these occasions to teach, not preach.
- A perfectly balanced diet every day. Enough said.
- Constant displays of affection and praise. A child will soon learn that he will not win the Nobel Prize for using the potty. Be real and specific when offering praise. Match rather than exceed his excitement. Respect his space if he is not cuddly.
- Perfection. If children needed a stress-free environment to thrive, we simply would cease to exist as the human race. Stress and imperfection are facts of life. And while too much stress is hazardous to a child’s development, parents who help their child cope by modeling coping and providing support are teaching important lessons.
Here’s what children require to thrive emotionally:
- Acceptance. Parents who accept the child the way she is (including the spirited ones) and accept herself as a work in progress. Parenting is a process of trial and error!
- Availability. A parent who is 100 percent emotionally available at predictable times every day (but not all day long).
- Consistency. With routines and limits.
- Reasonable stimulation.
- Balance. Parents who manage their stress and make their own needs a priority sometimes
- Love and joy.
Let’s refrain from judging ourselves or other parents harshly. The reality is, parents have a lot of latitude for imperfection if they give their child what matters. And the experience of parenting and childhood is enhanced when there is happiness and acceptance even in a perfectly imperfect world.