Wriggling off the Hook

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

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.

14 Baleful Regards:

Unknown said...

You? Are fantastic! I wish all parents could hear this.

My kids are 17 and 23. Last week I was interviewed about mothers and work by a local paper. I told the reporter that I wish mothers would stop being so hard on themselves, particularly about things that don't matter in the long run.

When kids are 18, you cannot tell by looking at them which ones used a pacifier or which ones were bottle fed.

Perhaps if people felt less pressure about making the "right" choices, it would be easier to enjoy parenting and to support others in their parenting journey.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU for this. I love it. I want you to come live with me when I start parenting.

Mitzi Green said...

"Baby Physics and Me."

that is hilarious.

i can just visualize me and bob at that class and it's sooooo not pretty.

speaking as one who has been Mom Under the Microscope for the past 2+ years (thanks, family court system), i think all the judging and criticism has (eventually) made me all the more confident in my own ability. i just wish it hadn't ripped me to shreds first.

Bethany said...

Thanks Dawn. You always make me remember that I am doing the right thing for my family. You remind me not to listen to the people who try to make me second guess myself.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

So much truth here. Thank you.

Lisa said...

WOw. This was great. I didn't know parents even go through stages. Facinating.

Ruth Dynamite said...

Seriously - WOW! This was awesome. Thanks for sharing the "secrets" you've picked up along the way.

2amsomewhere said...

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.

Amen to that one.

When I find myself faced with parental neuroses, I step back and ask myself the following question: "In all the hours that I've spent in counseling and dealing with my own family of origin issues, did (present conundrum) ever get mentioned? Could it have, if given enough time and insurance?"

It really puts things into perspective for me because what I really wanted from my parents, that they did not give, was their love, attention, and wisdom, along with a chance to play with kids my age. I didn't need more things.

My wife has a huge issue with trying to resolve her childhood disappointments and deprivations through our kids' experiences.

A good example is in Halloween costumes. Our older daughter wanted to dress up as a particular form of cartoon character, and there are multiple varieties of costumes.

She initially found one at a kids' consignment store. It was cute, and our daughter loved it as she tried it on. My wife expressed disappointment that it wasn't the more deluxe model she had been looking at.

I asked why this seemed to be so important, given that our daughter was happy with what she had. She countered that throughout her childhood, her parents always dressed her as a hobo because they couldn't afford costumes for their kids.

For her, it's not enough our child is happy. She is still trying to exorcise her personal demons. Personally, I don't think it's fair that our kids have to bear that burden.

Add enough of those instances over the months, and that's a big part of why we've had trouble living with in our means.

(stepping back from soapbox)

Thanks for posting this. I'm saving it for future reference.


Anonymous said...

You know I love you, babe. And this just gives me one more reason. You should seriously write a book.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a family of eight (in ten years). My mother was so busy and yet every day she set time aside to read to us (this required many trips to the local library to choose books). My mother reading to us is probably one of my fondest memories. I stayed at home with my two children when they were young. Had you been nearby and available to watch them I might have gone back to work, love your humor and attitude about children. Having our own children is such a humbling experience. Now that my children are teens there are more conflicts in our home. We love to remind them that the decisions that we make will probably give them something to talk about when they are in the psychiatrist chair when they are in their 30's.
RM in MA

Anonymous said...

Alright WTF gives here Dawn? I'm pretty sure I just saw an ad for a LIFETIME MOVIE???!?!? on your sidebar? WTF? I'm trippin'.

Anonymous said...

I happened to stop by your blog for the first time today through Breed 'Em and Weep. THANKS for this post. Really, really thank you. Your thoughts helped soothe my aching mama nerves on a particularly heavy- hearted/PMSy/WTF-am-I-doing- hauling-my-16-month-old-daughter-to- "school" kinda day.

Gratefully yours,

Jaelithe said...

Dawn, can I print this off and bring it with me to my son's Kindermusik class, post it in hospitals and baby stores, pass it out to random people on the street, etc.?

Cuz, dang, we all forget this . . .

SuperP. said...

Thank-you for this post. Sincerely.

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