Anyone who knows me well has probably heard me joke about sending my kid to boarding school after he turns 8 years old. If you haven’t heard me say this, let me give a little context.
Raising this little person hasn’t been that hard, yet. Yes, sleepless nights are torture (and never easy to get used to), no breastfeeding did not come naturally for us, no I don’t always get him to eat all the colors of the rainbow with well-balanced meals, and now as we enter full-fledged toddlerhood, I have to be the meanie-butt that won’t let him run wild in the parking lot.
But the day to day growing a human being hasn’t been that hard, yet.
I can sing “Wheels On The Bus” until he’s tired of hearing the song. I am happy to change activities every 5 minutes to keep up with this active toddler. I’ve figured out just how many “last bites” he’ll eat when he knows watermelon is coming up next. It’s exhausting, but I’m excited to wake up and do it again tomorrow! And when cleaning out my closets recently, I realized why this hasn’t felt hard yet.
Before having my little guy I spent years learning everything possible about all aspects of early childhood education.
Hours and hours working with kids in classroom settings, small groups, teaching gymnastics/dance/music classes, babysitting one-on-one, etc. taught me how to not only manage large groups of children at the same time but also how to make learning fun.One of my biggest fears starting out teaching was worrying that I wasn’t prepared enough to have the honor of teaching these amazing kids. What if I didn’t know enough? What if I wasn’t doing something the best way possible? I really felt that I couldn’t live with the knowledge that I unintentionally did not give a young child the best possible start in their education while they were in my care.
So I kept reading and reading and reading. Most of this reading came while I got a Bachelors and Masters in Early Childhood Education. This photo is the result of cleaning out those closets I mentioned earlier. (And of course, I found another box of books right after I packed this giant pile up so imagine a few more into this picture.)
Here’s my biggest takeaway from this weekend’s cleanup: I am not finding parenting super hard (yet) because I’ve been preparing for it since undergrad! Little did I know that all of this reading, research, and working with young children before getting pregnant was actually preparing me for being a parent in addition to being a teacher. If you look closely, only the far left column of books are related to pregnancy/birth/breastfeeding; that was definitely a topic I needed to learn more about after that peeing-on-a-stick test.
What this weekend’s cleanup got me thinking about more and more was why parenting is so hard at the beginning for so many people.
While I was focusing all of my efforts learning everything possible about child development from birth-age 8, you guys were becoming experts in medicine, tax law, data analysis, science, advocacy, getting an MBA, car mechanics, dog grooming, etc. All of your expertise are things I rely on every day. If I was only given about 9 months to learn everything you have in your lifetime, I would have no clue what to do if put in your shoes at work tomorrow! Thinking about raising a child over the age of 8 is what scares me. I have no idea how the psychology of a middle schooler works. How do you keep your big kid safe in a work of evolving technological dangers? Will he really smell bad for years? (You see the appeal of boarding school, right?)So when it comes time to have a baby, we spend A LOT of time reading books most people recommend, Googling until way too late at night, and creating the perfect Pinterest-inspired nursery. Maybe we do a little reading into postpartum healing and what to expect the first few weeks/months. You may have heard the phrase, “It will come naturally, you’ll know what to do” or “Just read a parenting book.”
And then reality hits. Relatives go back home, significant others go back to work, and friends without kids don’t quite get what you’re doing all day. You’re responsible for growing this tiny human being into the most amazing vision that you have of your child.
But how? How do I find developmentally appropriate toys for an infant? How can I get a toddler to clean up toys or eat meals without needing a professional negotiator? How do I teach empathy to a 3-year old so they are kinder with friends? What the heck do I do with my constantly “I’m bored” 5-year old that is both stimulating and fun for both of us?It’s hard. It’s hard for a lot of reasons. We don’t have a lot of time to really learn and synthesize all of the information out there. And there’s so much information out there, so much so that it’s hard to figure out what is good info to follow and what is just cute graphics. We don’t have a lot of time to really dig deep into what skills kids are developing and really focus on how to grow those skills.Some people feel it’s a rush or competition to have the smartest kid who has accomplished lots of goals ahead of their peers. There’s a ton of pressure early on to have kids meeting benchmarks that were not even designed for their age groups. This puts pressure on parents to feel like they need to do more. It’s hard to ask for help, especially about parenting concerns because it feels like admitting failure.
I don’t have a great big answer down here at the end, but I do have a great big hug for all of you amazing parents. If you haven’t heard this yet today, YOU’RE AWESOME!
Find ways to support yourself as a parent. Join a local new parent or meet-up group. Share researching a topic with a friend (I’ll look up new meal ideas for the toddler, you look up ways to encourage sharing among toddlers). Answer honestly when someone says, “How’s it going? What I can do to help? Do you need anything?” And breathe! Some days you are a good parent for keeping yourself and the baby alive. (Ignore everything else that didn’t get done and just remember you did the most important thing today.)
Just know we’re all struggling in our own way, whether or not it shows on social media is another story.
We are all experts in our own ways and with our own passions so ask for help.
And remember, even those of us who felt like parenting wasn’t super hard in the beginning, we are always thinking about a boarding school in the future. Just kidding… kinda : )
Looking for some ideas for future reading? Here are some of the books I felt made a huge impact on my own learning that I’d love to recommend to you.