Wriggling off the Hook

Friday, April 07, 2006

Long before I was a parent, I was an Early Childhood Professional. Some may know this profession as “child care”, or “daycare” – but I stuck with term Early Childhood Professional. After all, I had racked up quite a series of student loans to get that Bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont, and by golly, I was going to work it.

I taught almost all ages at various points in my career. My calling, however, lie with Infants and Toddlers. I kept coming back to this age group. I loved them. I was fabulous with them.

Now, working with a group of 8 to 12 children ages 6 weeks through 18 months could be challenging. I won’t lie. I have been shit and vomited upon in the most clever and unique ways. I have cleaned things from children’s orifices and plucked beans from ears and nostrils. I have administered Ipecac and then held the bucket as the toddler puked her everlasting guts up. I even once rode shotgun to the ER with a bleeding toddler on my lap; from the head wound he acquired after climbing up something unclimbable and dislodging something immoveable.

I watched other people become parents.

While it isn’t widely known, there are actual developmental stages of parenting. Each parent moves through the stages, with each child. If you have a 4 year old and a newborn? Two stages, at the same time. Of course, as we know about children, each parent goes through their development differently.

But here is the secret that I am going to share with you. Closer…..Come here, I want to whisper it to you…

99.99% of the parents were doing fine. Really.

I watched hundreds of couples parent. With almost no exceptions, they were doing fine. Yes, I know what they worried about. I know that they worried that I was judging them, and sometimes I was, for I did not know their pain. I know that they worried that their child would never walk, or never give up the binky, or never eat solid foods, or never win the Nobel peace prize. I watched them compare and contrast their child with the others in the room. I watched them try to bait me into telling them that their child was more or less advanced than someone else’s child. I watched their joy at new teeth, and their exhaustion and pain with teething. The joy of a child becoming a walker, with the pain of the child becoming a walker! The joy of the acquisition of language, then the pain of the incessant “no.”

I watched them develop from insecure parents who weren’t sure about how much their child should eat, to confident parents wrangling toddlers from classroom to car. I watched the cycle start again when they feared their child would never learn to use the toilet, to the confident 4 year old displaying the rudimentary lines of a name.

Of course, as soon as I became a parent, I forgot all of this knowledge. I worried, I obsessed, I fretted. I second-guessed myself constantly. Everything that had worked for other people’s babies didn’t work for my own child. My husband looked at me as the expert. My staff at the child care looked at me as the expert. I was the deer in the headlights. I was the empress with no clothes. I was screwed.

Here, come closer again. I want to make sure you hear this………

Everything is Fine. Your child is who they are. You can not change or modify their basic personality. Nothing you do – sort of serious abusive actions- will damage them. They will succeed at some things and fail at others of their own accord.

No product will make your baby smarter. That is all a load of bullshit. The only thing that affects children is experiences. We are the sum of our experiences. It is how our brains form. Good child care is not damaging your child. They are increasing their experience base. We are social creatures. Children crave other children. Even when they cry and cling to you, they start playing about 5 minutes later. I assure you. Its like the jump that you know you need to take, but are scared to do it. Sometimes the Mama bird has to give the baby bird a nudge.

Parents who are happy are better parents. If that means working, then work. If that means staying home, then stay home. If that means doing part time child care and part time home, then do that. None of the children that I cared for – some now in their mid teens- have stood up, pointed at their parents and yelled “If only you’d not put me in child care – I’d be an Olympic gymnast/best selling author today!.”

People who make parents feel guilty for their choices are self-absorbed assholes. Usually politicians. Or they are trying to sell you a product. Or very insecure other women…who want to have some perverse “motherhood smack down” with you. You know, the Uber-Moms.

Guilt and insecurity are big business. We have swallowed the entire hook, and it is no wonder that it is ripping our guts out.

Now. Stop right here. I want you to think about your happiest childhood moment. Were you outside, playing with friends? Were you alone watching ants or picking dandelions? Or was it learning French with your mother at “Speaking French the Parisian Mommy way” three times a week? No? How about “Baby Physics and Me” classes?

Yeah, I thought so. Me too.

From Ellen Galinsky’s 6 stages of Parenthood:

(Galinsky, 1987)

1 - The Image-Making Stage

During pregnancy, parents "form and re-form images" of the upcoming birth and the changes they anticipate. This is a period of preparation.

2 - The Nurturing Stage

Parents compare image and actual experience during the time from baby's birth to toddler's first use of the word "no" (about age 18 to 24 months). This is a period of attachment and also of questioning. Parents may question their priorities and also how they spend their time.

3 - The Authority Stage

When the child is between 2 years and 4 - 5 years, parents decide "what kind of authority to be." This is a period of developing and setting rules, as well as enforcing them.

4 - The Interpretive Stage

Stretching from the child's preschool years to her approach to adolescence, this stage has the task of interpretation. In this period, parents interpret their own self-concepts as well as their children's. Parents also are concerned with interpreting the world to their children.

5 - The Interdependent Stage

During the child's teen years, families re-visit some of the issues of the Authority Stage, but find new solutions to them as parents form "a new relationship with their almost-adult child."

6 - The Departure Stage

When children leave home, parents evaluate not just their offspring's leave-taking but also the whole of their parenting experience.

19 Baleful Regards:

Andrea said...

This hits a nerve, I can tell you. I am CONSTANTLY second guessing myself when it comes to my 2 year old Gabe, because he's very feisty and his favorite word is "NO!" coupled with an incredibly dirty look I call the Battering Ram Look. He lowers his chin to his chest, glares at me from under the hood of his eyes, and furrows his brow. He reminds me of a bull stamping the ground ready to charge, and it is SASSY. My husband for the most part defers to me for solutions and teaching Gabe the lessons we want him to learn, and Hubby backs me up with discipline, but I'm the leader here, and I've never been a leader in my life. And now I'm supposed to help shape this person and help them fulfill their potential? Wow. What's scary is we're considering a second child now, also. It's interesting to see the stages of parenting because all I've ever read about are the stages of childhood. Great post! And perfect timing, especially for my little Sir Feisty.

The Gradual Gardener said...

This is a wonderful post! Seriously, you should try to get it published in one of those parenting magazines.

The really sad part for me is to realize I'm already at stage five, and six is going to be really, really hard.

Bobita said...

This is probably the best post I have read...EVER!

I have to say...I love your blog. I have said it before and I will say it again. LOVE. IT!

I'll stop short of proposing marriage and just say...Thank you for this post!

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with proposing marriage? I've done it here before and I'll probably do it again. Right after I forward this to every woman I know who is pregnant or crying in her breastpump because it's all just so overwhelming...

Dawn, you should teach a class for new parents called: Dispelling Myths and Getting Real.

mamatulip said...

I fucking love this post, Dawn. LOVE it. You're right. Kids will be kids. Your kids are gonna be who they're gonna be. And us, as parents? We're doing a damn good job.

Lisa said...

Yeay YOU. Yes, a happy mommy is a great mommy and if working makes mommy happy (or staying home) then she should follow her heart.

There have been times I felt guilty for NOT working... Wondering if my child was too dependant upon me and not getting enough social time with other kiddos. I don't understand why people make judgements on mothers as to whether they work or don't. (I have noticed that upon hearing i'm a stay-at-home mom, psome eople immediately mentally deduct about 80 points from my IQ and then talk to me accordingly. (And the fact that I'm blonde didn't help matters. heehee.)

IzzyMom said...

"Motherhood Smackdown"

I friggin' love it.

I don't know my official stage but with baby #2 I worry so much less. I feel much more confident that I'm a good parent despite all my numerous shortcomings. I just don't feel the need, at this point anyway, to obsess in any way or manner over him or myself as a parent. I'm sure that will change as I discover more uncharted territory with both of them. For now, though, I'm feeling a-okay.

And I totally agree about personalities. Your kids are who they are. Love them. Accept them. Bend for them and do your damnedest to not compare them. I know that last one from my own experiences with my mother who never stopped comparing me. It's one of the things I most remember.

Anonymous said...

I love it when you write about the early childhood education stuff, Dawn. I am just waiting for the day when you're famous with the big bestselling book and advice column or whatever, and I can point to the TV and say, "That's my girl!" Because you convey useful info in an interesting and meaningful way.

I can relate to what you said about parenting stages, and how you can be in two (or more) simultaneously. It's funny how some of the knowledge you glean with the first child helps with the second, but in other aspects when the kids are very different from one another, it is like starting over.

The only bad thing I am seeing from your post is that now I guess Mimi and I will have to drop that Remedial Calculus for Mom and Kid class. Darn, and I love those differential equations... but it's back to the sandbox for us. ;-)

Julie Marsh said...


As much as I merely roll my eyes at women who say, "Oh, how can you POSSIBLY send your BABY to (gasp) DAY CARE? You're letting someone ELSE raise YOUR child!" you can see that their self-righteous attitude does begin to grate on me just a tiny bit and I feel the need to physically smack the shit out of them.

You did the same thing here, but much more effectively than a bitchslap from me ever could.

MrsFortune said...

"People who make parents feel guilty for their choices are self-absorbed assholes." Sing it sistah. either that or they are marketing geniuses.

Table4Five said...

"Parents who are happy are better parents. If that means working, then work. If that means staying home, then stay home. If that means doing part time child care and part time home, then do that."

With these three sentences, you have effectively answered the entire "Mommy Wars" question. If every Mother would just repeat these three sentences over and over to themselves and everyone they know, maybe we could stop debating and just get on with the business of raising children. Thank you, Dawn. Really.

Anonymous said...

I needed to read this today. thanks.

Trabinski said...

I love you. :) There, I just came right out and said it. Yes, I love your blog - I read it as often as I can. But you are the one that sensed (okay heard the screaming!) the discomfort and guilt that many moms feel - and I soo have been dealing with this over the past week(s).

I am a HUGE advocate of daycare. My kids have always gone for a day or two a week - even as I am a stay at home mom. Yeah, I've totally felt guilty for it from other moms' comments and from the large bill at the end of every month without an income to support it.

Yet wanting to get back to a career has left me allowing myself to run into that guilt corner. So, thanks Dawn - you lifted the veil of parenting truth - we're doing okay!

I'll just say it once more to end: I love you!! :)

Kristi said...

Yes, children grow in spite of us, not because of us. Very nice post.

Jaelithe said...

Wait-- there's a departure phase?

Anonymous said...

As a veteran of all phases, I just have to say, you rock. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

I don't have kids yet, but reading your post, I instinctively know that you're right on. Judging from the commenters who do have kids, I can see you are.

I know that a certain amount of second guessing and self doubt come with the baby a new parent brings home. I hope that when the time comes, I will be able to remember this zenlike advice.

Feral Mom said...

Cheers! Hooray! I love this post. You are the knife that cuts through the bullshit of motherhood. Speaking of knives, though, I have to wonder what Vlad thinks about the "Mommy Wars." Perhaps in his next post, he'll enlighten us.

Anonymous said...

I found you today via Motherhood Uncensored. I loved this partly because it's what I want to hear but mostly because deep down I believe it, but the barrage of images and questions new parents throw at themselves and others is endless.. Thanks! Ill be back for more pearls of wisdom.

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