God-given blessing, life-changing experience, source of stress. It’s fair to say that most people have described parenting in this range of ways at one time or another. No need to feel guilty about it. No, parenting is not always the bliss-filled state of emotion you feel when you welcome a newborn or newly adopted child. Besides, some of that irrational exuberance and emotional rollercoaster could be from your new-parent lack of sleep with little ones!
Not giving any medical or professional advice here. But just parent-to-parent, here’s what you need to know about parenting today:
Parenting really is the hardest job in the world. This is irregardless of whether you’re a full-time office executive, work-from-home mompreneur or stay-at-home homeschooling parent. The immense responsibility involved is less about the way you allocate your time and more about how you ensure your child has the care and nurturing her or she needs. No judgments here if you choose full-time childcare or downshift your career to stay home. What matters is that you’ve been attentive to the best care you can provide given your circumstances.
Breastfeeding really is best. Again, no judgments about you. But ideally every mother with a newborn should be getting and seeking support to breastfeed, which provides a baby’s ideal nutrition. This is per not only generation after generation of mothers, but the American Academy of Pediatrics, the US Surgeon General and numerous groups like Holistic Moms Network and more. The Affordable Care Act took steps to support working mothers in being able to breastfeed their babies in the first year.
The early years really are critical. Lifestyle choices you make and environmental exposures even while baby is in the womb are being increasingly recognized as important. If you’re struggling with the shame of a smoking or drug abuse habit, please seek confidential professional help for the sake of yourself and your baby. You can find details about risks to baby you might not have realized, from things like common beauty care, household cleaner and lawn products at Breast Cancer Fund and Healthy Child Healthy World. The concept of early intervention in helping identify special needs can be useful in getting children extra resources like medical therapies while helping parents feel like they’re not alone.
Every child really does have special, individualized needs. Let’s not make light of the immense challenges some families face with pediatric cancers or other life-changing diagnoses. As a society, we owe the utmost in support to these families. Yet, one of our innate parenting instincts is to be attune to whatever our child’s individual needs are, even if they seem relatively minor. As a concerned parent, you are rightly your child’s best advocate in making sure they grow up healthy and happy. Don’t be afraid to pull resources from the AAP or a trusted nonprofit and ask your pediatrician questions about rarely discussed topics like environmental health. In this day of limited medical and educational resources, speak up to be sure your child is given the opportunity for applicable screenings, especially if you suspect a problem. You might find that one of your children is gifted in some areas, while challenged in others; your next child may be totally different.
Old-fashioned reading really works. Please, for the love of God, put down the electronics, stop handing your phone to the baby or toddler, even if you are playing cutesy kid games on it. Read from a book every day to your baby, your toddler, your school-aged kid, then let them start reading to you. Educators consistently tell us our children should be spending at least 20 minutes a day with books. Even more time with books could lead to a rich foundation for lifelong learning. Community libraries can provide all the books you need at no expense.
You are not alone. Check with local churches, schools, and community centers for free or low-cost support groups. Some might offer you a chance for structured play with babies and other parents. Others might offer low-cost childcare, even customized for special-needs children, to give you a break. If you feel so stressed as a parent that you can’t handle things, please reach out locally for help. Or call a trusted hotline in your area. PBS Parents shares some resources here for parents with troubled teens and concerns about depression and other mental illness.
Parenting is not a perfect science. You will mess up. We all do. You will try to provide all the right care, home cooking and attention to little people who sometimes repay you with indignation, as in “You expect me to eat those vegetables? Who do you think you are?” and if they’re young enough, they’ll even throw the food on the floor and laugh about it! Older children may one day declare that the adorable clothes you lovingly provided for them are not “cool” enough and refuse to wear anything but skinny jeans and t-shirts. You’ll shake it off and love them anyway, because that’s what parents do.
Modern calls for ensuring that parents, especially mothers, don’t lose themselves entirely in the mothering role are certainly valid. In short, as long as the kids are safe, live a little! I’ve already shared with you why I won’t be competing for Supermom.
What do you need to know about parenting? All of the above, and more — and most importantly that you are probably exactly the parent your child needs.
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