For years, I have been aware that, despite all of my clinical training, I just never could really truly understand the experience of parents until I became one. So, while I provide evidence-based recommendations to parents, I was also looking forward to the day I could say “I understand how difficult this is” and really, truly understand it from my own experience. Well, just over 3 months into parenthood, I wanted to share some of the lessons I have learned from my own parenting journey. I will try to write them as I discover them and imagine this is an endless journey.
First of all, “parenting journey” was a very intentional use of language. My baby is changing every day. The tricks that worked yesterday for soothing her or getting her to sleep do not necessarily work today. It is not her fault and it is not my fault. She is not a “bad baby” and we are not “bad parents.” She is just growing and developing and we need to be aware of it and go along on the journey with her. There are many moments that I feel hopeless and helpless after trying to get my crying baby to sleep using the exact techniques that worked yesterday and that are only inciting her more! However, after getting some space from that moment (and a little nap for myself), I have been able to approach my parenting with more self-compassion and to remind myself that this is actually normal. It is only “bad” or “wrong” if I don’t pay attention to her cues and grow and change with her. Otherwise, she is going along her journey of development and I am just left behind.
How does this relate to my own clients and their parents? Parents, remember you are on a developmental journey with your children and adolescents. If some technique was effective with parenting your child in the past but it not anymore, maybe it is because your child is developing and you need to go back to brainstorm an updated solution. Often, it is not a completely new solution, just a tweaked version of the prior one. Brainstorm with your partner, if there is one. I have had to leave my ego at the door and accept that some days my husband found a better solution than me (even though he has had zero experience with children!) Some days I found a better solution and he follows my steps. Remember, no matter who solves the problem, everyone wins here if the updated solution is more effective! If you are parenting with a partner, remember that you are on the journey together and it is ok for one of you to find the next path that works. What is not effective is if you resist taking those steps because you did not find it or because it was not the prior path. So, parents, I am on this journey with you finally. It is hard and scary and I try to take moments and pat myself on the back when I find something that works, for the moment at least. When is feels like I am in the middle of a “failing technique,” I am just letting myself take slow, deep breaths and hoping that sense of calm and comfort transmits to my baby.