“Babies thrive on schedules, you should get him/her on a schedule.”
“You should wait to introduce solids until 6 months, not 4.”
“Wearing your baby is better than giving them space.”
“You should co-sleep, it helps bond with your child better.”
“You should potty train early/later, it will be easier/faster then.”
As first time parents, we’ve all hear the “you shoulds.” What worked miraculously for a friend, collegue, family member, or the stranger in the coffee shop seems to make that person think it’s what every parent should try, because it just worked so well that all babies must respond the same way.
Then comes the argument that all babies are different. (which is true) What worked for someone may not work for another. Also true. Parents of multiple children can tell you that right away.
A new parent quickly gets annoyed with all the unsolicited advice given, it is quickly learned to just smile, nod and move about your day. ( I learned early on, that if I was asked by a stranger if Erin was my first, and I said, “no she’s my second”, I got a response of “ok. she’s knows what she’s doing.” and then they gave no advice. I used this when I didn’t want that advice they were about to give. )
As our kids get older, the “you should’s” of what to do with your baby seem to be given less, but the looks you receive from the public eye become more. I’m not talking about the “cute baby look” or the “darling toddler with the strawberry sunglasses” look. Not the look of admiration. I’m talking about the look of disgust, shame, disappointment, negativity.
I’m talking about the moment when your child decides to act a certain way in public. The assumption in that look: if your child is behaving poorly, you must not be a good parent.
But is that really the case? This was the topic of discussion as my new friend, D, and I sat down over a bowl of quickly made pasta during our last minute play date. A few minutes before, a baby and toddler were playing on the floor, said toddler decided to take away a toy from baby. The toddler (yes, it was Erin) was warned before and this time, was the time for time out.
I’m thankful my friend didn’t have a negative perspective of how I parented Erin at that moment. I mean, I put my child in time out….during a play date! And that’s just it. I was being a parent.
It seems that in our society, we define a parent as “someone who has control over their child.” But I have to disagree. A parent is a verb. It’s the way that we respond to our child’s behavior. No one has complete control over a child. We can’t make them poop, pee, eat, or sleep on cue. We aren’t the ones that make them choose to run down the aisle at the grocery store without asking. We aren’t the ones that make them decide to take a toy away from the baby and not share. We don’t make them decide to push, hit or bite another being (or animal in some cases). We TEACH them how to behave appropriately. THAT is being a parent.
I’m someone who thrives when I’m in control. When sales are well, Erin is happy, healthy and behaving well, and when my husband helps out without asking, I feel in complete control. But, when something happens that I had no control over (lately it’s been a string of potty accidents), I feel like I have to gain control back….to feel again…in control. But I can’t control Erin’s accidents. I can’t control that she took that toy away. But I CAN control how I respond to it.
I think my husband will be the first to say that he gets the brunt of orders when Erin is completely out of control. Why? because I know I can’t control the action Erin took.
Jesus teaches us that God is the one in complete control. We are to seek Him for help in areas we feel out of control. When the newborn is crying at 2 months old and you’ve tried everything you possibly can to make them stop, as a mom, we find ourselves at that moment when we’ve lost control. What do we do? We make a choice. Hopefully we make the choice to put the child down and walk away for a little bit. (sadly, some parents don’t) We must collect ourselves, then go back and try to help/teach our child to sleep. God also teaches us Grace. We can teach that to our kids too. Do I always respond to Erin’s (and Ping’s) actions in the way I should. No. I’m human. But, I do go back and apologize…Yes, even to my child.
I have a few friends that had a second baby about 2 months ago. They share intimate details of their struggles with me. I listen, read, and respond. I see their stress, their bags under their eyes, their stress over their newborn already being over tired. I was there. We all were there with our kids. Obsessing over their sleep. Did you babies sleep? Eventually. Did they eat? Eventually. Did they use the potty? Eventually.
My point is, we couldn’t completely control it. We TAUGHT it. That is being a parent. We TEACH our kids that it’s dangerous to run into the street/parking lot. We TEACH our kids to share. We TEACH our kids to have polite manners. That is being a parent…..teaching….not controlling.
So the next time you see a parent with a child that seems to behave in a way that is disturbing, remember, that child’s action is NOT a reflection of the parent. It’s how that parent RESPONDS to their child in that moment that show’s you who the parent is. The negative look, is not very helpful, rather, it’s condemning. Kids have choices too….and as parents, we can’t always control them, but we can control how we respond to them.