Raising children is part challenge and part opportunity. You have the opportunity to create a whole new person, with the challenge of making sure this little person grows up to contribute meaningfully to society.
The truth is, you never fully appreciate the significance of this until you become a parent. Being a mom has definitely made me less of a diva, and the skills you learn while parenting will improve your social skills in most situations. I did not have a very good childhood and learned very little from my parents other than what not to do. While this made me a stronger person, it was like clawing my way up a cliff with no safety harness. I’m still growing up, but now I’m doing alongside my two sons.
Having children in my 20s was the furthest thing from my mind. I was too busy planning my own future and having my nails done, because clawing your way up a rockface will wreck your manicure.
I fainted when I learned of my pregnancy with my first child. I was devastated, as this was not part of the plan. “There must be some mistake,” I thought. “Isn’t there someone more qualified – I didn’t even apply for the job”. Little did I know life has a way of throwing you a curve ball to put things into perspective.
“I strongly advise you to listen to what your kids have to say. They really do give the best feedback. Nothing is more reassuring than seeing the evidence of your hard work as a parent.”
There is no manual of parenting advice for raising kids, but some people have a bit of a “template” to work with through the example of their parents. I was starting from scratch and I was way over my head – or so I thought. I knew I wanted my kids to be travelling up that mountain in a securely fitted car seat, learning along the way and enjoying the journey. This was my opportunity to improve on my early experiences, but I never anticipated how much I would learn along the way.
Not a day goes by that I don’t learn something from my children. I’m more patient, compassionate, forgiving and accountable for my own actions than ever before. I’m so conscious of how my actions affect those around me and I’ve instinctively applied the same approach I take with my kids to all other humans.
To a child, nothing is impossible, especially to a toddler. I found that I approach a lot more things with a “why not” attitude as opposed to “you can’t do that”. Spontaneity makes parenting much more fun and I now take myself less seriously (and I’m more fun in general). I frequently sing instructions to my kids; we sometimes have breakfast for dinner, dress up in silly costumes or I’ll let them paint eyebrows on the dog. No harm done, so why not? My son once wanted to wear his flippers as shoes to playschool. My first reaction was to say no, but I thought twice.
Me: “Honey, you know if you wear your flippers, people will stare and some might laugh at you. You will battle to walk and you may not be able to play on the jungle gym. It’s not very practical. Are you sure you want to wear them to school?”
Three-year-old: “Yup, I don’t mind, mom.”
Me: “Ok honey, wear your flippers and I’ll pack an extra pair of shoes in your backpack just in case.”
We then proceeded to walk very, very slowly across the road, him in his bright blue flippers and me in my red stilettos – ignoring the irate glares of less patient parents. Which brings me to my next point. Enhanced patience – with some empathy on the side. I’m nowhere near perfect in this regard. Anyone who has lived with a toddler knows patience is a limited resource and we run out of it quite frequently. What I can say, however, is that the stock levels are managed better. I realised, to my surprise, was how much more patient I am with other people. When a car stalls in traffic, I will smile sympathetically rather than hoot aggressively. I’ve even been known to let a taxi cut in front of me at rush hour.
I’ve learned to be a better listener, too. Little children really can’t articulate themselves very well and often those tantrums are caused by the frustration of not being understood. I’ve also realised that even though adults can speak more eloquently, loads of people struggle with being misunderstood. Communicating with a toddler has taught me how to not only listen, but understand what people are trying to say. Once you get a good grip on the psyche of a kid, you’ll be surprised at how well you decipher passive aggressive communication. It’s just grownups letting their inner child take the stage.
I’ve learned to live in the moment, while keeping the bigger picture in mind. Every day I teach something and learn something. I see the silver lining and often miss the cloud. I have meaningful, frivolous and downright ridiculous conversations with my kids daily. I’m less judgemental of other people and shrug off unwarranted criticism. I’m less critical of myself and others, and I don’t judge as much. I still have my own views but accept that, just like me, they are doing the best they can with what they have.
If you ever doubt that you are doing an excellent job as a mother, I strongly advise you to listen to what your kids have to say. They really do give the best feedback. Nothing is more reassuring than seeing the evidence of your hard work as a parent. When your three-year-old hold the door for a lady, or when they write “mom” as an adjective for wonderful; when you see them being kind and compassionate to a smaller child or an animal – that’s the stuff that makes being a parent kind of awesome.