Last week I discussed the general lack of preparedness for motherhood by professional women. Motherhood is chock full of practical skills while the educated woman today is all about textbook theories. Today, I offer a handful of recurring themes that become visible with experience.
1. Normal is a range.
New, highly-educated moms often reflexively reach for books with milestone markers and growth charts. They go for things they can measure and data they can chart. But humans resist comparison to the average. Development, physical and mental, often occurs in spurts. This is why doctors look at multiple points or sharp trend shifts for problem indicators. Without knowledge of those multiple points, however, it is hard for moms not to fixate on the details.
In daily life this worry about details often comes up in diets. Babies and kids often eat food groups in streaks. They get their balance over a month, rarely over a day. It is not cause for concern if your child hardly eats more than avocados for a six month stretch. If everything else is plodding along in the range of normal, well then, your kid is simply into avocados. (Thank my nephew for that bit of insight. We were sure he would turn green at some point.)
2. The overall rhythm of motherhood is change.
The books tell us to set routines, and I am certainly all for routines. The routines, however, change as children grow. In fact, during the baby phase, it can seem that the routine changes just about the time you get it set.
This constant change applies to more than naps and feedings, too. Consider all of the vogue parenting styles. There is a stage in which they each work. The baby-wearing encouraged in attachment parenting makes great sense for young infants, while the heavy sleep training and scheduling of Baby Wise can lead to a failure to thrive early on. A few months later, this starts to reverse when the constant contact of fashionable attachment parenting can stifle mothers and children and significantly disrupt sleep.
Similarly, parents must hover over 18-month-old input-seeking missiles. But just because hovering kept a little one alive at 18 months does not mean one must hover over 5-year-olds. Not only is it next to impossible unless you never let them out of your sight, but children naturally seek independence. Personality pending, hovering past toddlerdom often stokes unpleasant rebellions, ones that intensify as the child gets older.
3. Children arrive with personalities.
As parents, we play around the edges. If children are shy, for instance, we can help them overcome shyness for certain circumstances—or we can lock them in it—but the shyness will always be there. In the same way, we cannot turn gregarious children into wallflowers, though we can teach them times they need to be still and quiet and how to do so.
We cannot, and should not attempt to, mold them to our will and specific expectations. Too often, however, modern parenting tries to do just that. The parenting styles favored today are at root about attempting to control children’s outcomes. We bend them to our specific expectations.
Even when we seem to completely cede control, we are actually imposing it. Consider how popular gender neutral theories simultaneously rely upon the male and female stereotypes they seek to disprove while encouraging boys to act like girls and girls to act like boys. After all, if boys can act like girls and girls can act like boys, then the stereotypes are really culturally created, right? It’s all one grand societal experiment in which we impose our beliefs upon them by denying biological facts. This is not healthy for children.
4. Raising kids is a process.
Kids won’t want to do things they’ve never been exposed to. These days moms tend to not introduce an idea, solid food, potty training, sleeping, chores, etc. until the baby shows she wants to do it. Then the parents get confused and frustrated when the little one doesn’t master something quickly because they are at the stage when they are supposed to check that milestone off. (See the bit about charts and graphs above.) Don’t hold off introducing new skills until checkbox time. Children need time to learn the motions and the habits.
5. Raising kids is a very long process.
Again, related to the desire for data mentioned above, without a long-term perspective borne of experience, we need to see success right now. We want to know we are on the right track and making proper progress. This drives everything from general over-parenting to earlier and earlier academic pressure. We might intuitively get that academic pressure in pre-school is overkill, but it is harder to resist when we are choosing pre-schools and all the other moms are raving about the Little School House reading program for 4-month-olds.
The best bit of advice I received from my motherhood mentors, and the one I whip out whenever I am asked to give one tidbit of advice, usually during a baby shower game, is this: worry more about who your child will be at 35 than tomorrow. Resist immediate measurement.
6. Fathers matter.
It has become very fashionable for women to assume that they must do every parent thing, all on their own, to prove that they are mom enough, that they are woman enough. (I’ve covered this previously and more than once.) And in pop culture and family law, dads are often treated as superfluous. Not only is this exhausting for mothers, but also it alienates children and fathers. Worse still, the risk profile for uninvolved fathers is terrible.
Even early on, kids are different when daddy is not at home. They are a little less settled—and that is just for business trips. In general, it is stability that matters, and the intact family is the gold standard of stability.