Job and Love It
I was never the kind of woman who was good with babies. Oh, I could admire them just fine. I just didn’t have the first clue about caring for them.
When I was a new mom, my friend came over and tossed around my baby in total comfort. She held Ethan one way, then casually flipped him to rest on her forearm, then cradled him close and then held him out. She gave him back to me with a breezy smile, and I robotically put my hands under his armpits and pulled him cautiously toward me. To me, he seemed like a piece of china that might break. My friend treated him like a football.
I remember being intimidated by my friend’s skill and finesse. And she didn’t even have any children! How was I going to be a good mom? I couldn’t even hold my baby confidently.
In the beginning, the parenting journey can feel overwhelming. Looking back at those early years, I now recognize a few fundamentals that have helped me find my bearings whenever I’ve felt lost.
Accept no substitutes
When Ethan was about 6 weeks old, he was crying upstairs in his crib. I had several parenting books open on the kitchen table. I flipped pages frantically. What was wrong? Was he hungry? Wet? Too cold? I tentatively walked up the stairs. By the time I reached his bedroom door, he was really screaming. I reached for my son and asked, “How are you doing, little one?”
To my surprise, he stopped crying. His shaking ceased. He blinked and closed his eyes. I waited a few moments, and then quietly left the room. Apparently, he just needed to know I was around.
There is simply no substitute for your presence in your child’s life. No one can know and nurture him like you can. Even when you feel woefully inadequate, there’s no one better equipped to parent your child. God gave your children to you. And He built them to be in relationship with you.
When you intentionally parent every day, making an effort to continuously connect with your child, your child will grow and thrive. In his book The Power of the Other, Dr. Henry Cloud discusses the power of physical and emotional connection between parents and children. Studies show that children without such relationships don’t learn as well, don’t grow as well and are never as healthy as those with attentive parents. “The invisible attributes of relationship, the connection between people, have real, tangible and measurable power,” Cloud writes. And this isn’t just true with babies. Children and people of all ages, according to Cloud, “succeed at a much greater rate if they are connected to a strong human support system.”
So just keep showing up. Don’t get stuck comparing yourself to other parents. Don’t allow technology to be a substitute parent. The latest and greatest educational app can’t come close to the value of your instruction and guidance. Let your words and actions communicate, every day, to your child, “I am for you. You are important to me. I see you.”
Value humility over self-esteem
Do your family a favor and avoid buying your child cute T-shirts that sport messages like “I Am My Favorite Princess” or “There’s No Awesome Without Me.” What’s wrong with these messages? Haven’t psychologists continually told us to bolster a child’s self-esteem?
With the rise of the self-esteem movement, kids haven’t become more emotionally healthy. A 2015 study at Ohio State University found that parental overvaluation — teaching a child that he is more awesome than classmates and friends — was the largest predictor of a child’s narcissism over time. Perhaps more interesting is that this overvaluation didn’t lead to better self-esteem, just a bigger ego.
Dr. Leonard Sax is a family physician and psychologist who sees more than 90,000 families a year. In his book The Collapse of Parenting, Dr. Sax says the first job of parents should be to teach their child humility. “Humility simply means being as interested in other people as you are in yourself,” he writes. “It means that when you meet new people, you try to learn something about them before going off on a spiel about how incredible your current project is. … The opposite of humility is inflated self-esteem.”
You don’t want your child to grow up to be a puffed up 30-year-old who’s resentful because no one recognizes how awesome she is. You want a 30-year-old who’s open to correction, grateful for what she has and ready to contribute.
You know what kind of T-shirt I’d like to buy for my 7-year-old? One that reads, “Nice to Meet You.”
Never stop learning
When I was potty training Ethan, I charted every wet Pull-Up and successful trip to the bathroom. I read books and asked other moms for advice. For weeks, I lived potty training with the passion and precision of a toilet ninja.
With preschoolers, we tend to be very intentional about educating ourselves as parents. What food is best? When should my son know his ABCs? But after our children begin school, I think we often drift away from being students of our children.
I am convinced that if we will take the time to study our children and learn about the next stage of development, it will make our parenting journey smoother and happier. Gobble up advice from friends and experts about what’s going to be happening with your child in the next few years.