What I've Learned About Parenting (so far)

As a relatively "new" mom (not quite four years into the game) I feel like I've learned major lessons at every stage of development my son has hit.  Picking up tips here, what-not-to-dos there and dodging the occasional unsolicited advice when needed, I've slowly found a few key concepts that really make sense and have genuinely helped me feel like a more successful parent.

1. A person can run on surprisingly few hours of sleep for an extended period of time.
Having a child who did not sleep through the night until he was at least nine months old definitely tried my patience and endurance, but surprisingly, I somehow survived on what totaled about 3-6 hours of sleep nightly for that length of time and managed to function at work too. 

Turns out there's a LOT you can do, that you might not have thought you could, when a little person counts on you to do it.  (Cleaning up throw up from the back seat of your car, continuing to breastfeed and pump after going back to work, finding ways to provide on a tight budget)

2. "Start as you wish to go on"
This little piece of wisdom, said by the late, great Baby Whisperer herself, Tracey Hogg, helped me immensely when making decisions about what I should allow vs. what I shouldn't.  Basically, the thought is that you don't do something once, if you don't want it to happen again.  With young children, you're setting up boundaries and precedences and exceptions are not a concept well understood in their little minds.  Though there were times I wanted to let certain things slide because it would have been easier ("sure, you can have candy even though you didn't finish your dinner, just this one time" avoids a fit in the moment, but is the gateway to future post-dinner debating). 

3. Embrace your inner perfectionist (then bid her farewell)
It didn't take me long to realize if I held tightly to my vision of having play dates in an immaculately clean house with perfectly planned and organized craft projects and bite-sized snacks arranged on platters that we would NEVER have a play date in real life.  Time is precious.  You can spend all of your time making everything just right, or you can enjoy spending intentional quality time with your child now.  These days, if the downstairs is clean clean enough, throw the laundry upstairs, shut the door and break out the playdough because childhood is too short for photo-shoot friendly play.  If it works out that way, so be it, but your child is going to remember what you did together, not how well polished your kitchen table was.

“Cleaning and scrubbing can wait for tomorrow,
For babies grow up, I’ve learned, to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust, go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep.”
-Author Unknown

4. Don't waste your energy comparing your child to other children
All you will do is freak yourself out, create unrealistic expectations or encourage other moms to continue telling their fake stories of their "amazing sweet child who slept through the night starting from day four".  Each child is different.  My son sat up early, pinched food and self fed early, talked early, but walked and crawled late.  Development is a process.  If you have genuine concerns, talk to your pediatrician.  Otherwise, breathe, sit back and let your child grow and develop at their own pace.  It's not a race.

5. Set your child up for success
In college, I took a parenting class within my major's concentration and it turned out to be one of my favorite classes and one in which I actually retained what I learned and put it to use.  One of the books we read, Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) explained the importance of preparing a child for success by setting reasonable and clear expectations and manipulating the environment when possible to promote adhering to those expectations.  For example, when you arrive at a grocery store, you don't just tell your child to behave while you're shopping, you say "While we're in the store, I would like you to stay right next to me, ask if you would like for us to get something before you put it in the cart and use your inside voice."  Or, on a trip to a doctor's office, "We may have to wait awhile for our turn.  I would like for you to play quietly while we wait and I brought you a coloring book, crayons and your Leapster to play with while we wait."  With a little forethought, we can help our children behave in a variety of circumstances. 

6. Accept that mistakes are a part of parenting, acknowledge them, learn as you go.
My mentor in my education career taught be about "failing forward".  If you fail, then continue to do what you did when you failed, you're just failing repeatedly.  But when you sit back, analyze what caused the fail, and look for a new solution, success becomes possible and you "fail forward".  This skill is every bit as necessary in parenting as it is in other parts of life.  We ALL have "bad mommy days".  Days where the T.V. is on for a bit too long, the kids leave the house with their hair a mess or your read someone the riot act not because their behavior was that bad, but because you've had a rotten day and you lost your cool.  The key is in how you move forward.  So the next day is project and park day, you set the alarm for five minutes earlier or you apologize to your child for being a meanie, explain you'd had a bad day and you're sorry you took it out on them and give lots of hugs.  If you're looking to join the league of perfect parents, you'll quickly realize there's not one to join.

My own mom told me "Parenting is the toughest/best/toughest job you'll ever have, but there's no better job you could have."  Each day I learn from the mistakes of the previous day and hope my child knows how much I love him and want to be the kind of parent he needs to grow up healthy, happy, strong, confident and respectful.  The things I've learned so far have proven invaluable, though I look forward to the lessons of tomorrow and my favorite "little" (he'd call me out and tell me he's a "big man") teacher.

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