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:
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.