I was once advised to brand myself as a "parenting expert". As a school counselor for 29 years and after having raised 2 children; I even wrote a book on parenting. However, trying on that title out felt like putting on an itchy sweater; I couldn't wait to get it off.
The term "expert" implies mastery in a subject area. It implies having answers to many questions on the topic at hand. I do not claim to have either. In fact, on many occasions, I actually feel clueless. I simply try to do better than yesterday and to adjust to the many changes that take place with as much grace as possible.
Just when as parents feel we have a handle on one phase, events change which starts our learning process all over again. In addition, each child is different and experiences phases in their own unique way. There are huge learning curves as we travel this road as a family and some of them are really tough. Many require hefty doses of acceptance and honesty. And all of the experiences are preparing us for only one thing - to accept that our children are separate beings with their own lives to live. We may not like some of the choices they make or the outcomes, yet as they grow, we have less to say. The problem is that although that is true, our children's well being doesn't matter any less to us at age thirty than it did at age three.
Parenting is complicated and confusing. While it is also wonderful, it certainly takes the notion of self-growth to a new level. I am still trying to navigate this journey, however I have gained some insights that, perhaps, can make the ride smoother.
*Our children are not a reflection of us. They are separate beings with distinct personalities, talents and desires. We have to let them be as they are and discover who they want to become, for their sake and for ours.
*Parents desperately need to practice self-care starting when children are young in whatever way is meaningful. Putting ourselves last all the time shows the world, and our children, we are not that important. Our children respect our need for happiness and fulfillment when we demonstrate it is a priority for us. We will be better parents by taking care of ourselves.
*Our children's happiness and success may have less to do with us than we think. Consider that we place too much importance on everything we do and as a result, place too much responsibility on our shoulders. After all, siblings vary dramatically in how they approach life coming from the same set of genetics and environment.
*We have relationships and roles other than "parent" that need our care and attention. Develop your other connections and keep them strong. They matter and enrich your life in a way being a parent does not.
*You are not expected to be perfect. You will make mistakes and errors in judgment. You will lose your temper. You will regret certain actions or words. You may question your ability to be a good parent. There is much asked of us in this role. Learn from your mistakes however do not confuse a bad parenting moment with being a bad parent. Explore new methods and avenues; get help when you need it. Most of all forgive yourself and your child and move on to make new choices with this knowledge.
At times, you will wish your child were different. It doesn't make you wrong or bad. We have this image of who our child should be, even before they are born. As the reality of who they actually are conflicts with this image, we feel disappointment in the disparity. Acceptance goes hand in hand with the role of parent. See the beauty in who your child is and embrace who they are working to become.
At times, you will wish you were different. You will look around and see parents doing it better. You will see what you interpret as harmonious families and children who are always well adjusted and successful. What you see is an illusion. Everyone has their own set of struggles and many of them are private. Do not assume that others are consistently joyful and that life is always easy for them. All of the parents I have talked with over the years have struggled in one way or another, large or small, intermittently or consistently. It is part of the package.
The role of parent is unlike any other one that we will ever have. Careers come and go; relationships do as well. However, once a parent, you are always a parent. This role offers both parent and child infinite opportunities to learn and to grow. It offers joyful, gratifying and fulfilling experiences along the way. Just do not expect, at any point, to consider that you may become an expert!