The gift of parenthood was bestowed upon me in the spring of 2013. As an avid reader, lifelong student of psychology and self-development junkie, I immersed myself in the latest research and literature on being the “best” mother possible. But as most parents know, nothing can truly prepare you for everything parenthood brings. I was about to embark upon a journey that ultimately led to the undoing of my self-development.
When my daughter was born, my world as I knew it was rocked. It went beyond the shock of sleep deprivation, social isolation, and coming to terms with a new identity. The further into parenting I got, the more I felt that all of my “weaknesses” were being exposed, including my apparent desire for control and lack of assertiveness. I felt like I was somehow not getting it, and was failing as a parent.
My daughter was not responding to my methods the way I had expected. It was like trying to cram a (noisy, colorful) square peg into a (serene, orderly) round hole. I dove into self-development even further. I needed to “fix” myself and address my issues one by one. I made it all about me: my shortcomings, my preferences, etc. But what I ultimately concluded in my quest for knowledge in effective parenting is that I needed less “me” in the equation.
In a personal interview, Gottman Level 2 trained psychologist Dr. Heather Rose-Carlson clarified to me that parenting is “not about you as a parent.” It’s about your child. It’s about who your child is and what their specific needs are. Only when you can understand and adapt to these needs can you be the most effective. Each child is a precious individual, and a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting will come up short.
I looked at my daughter’s behavior as being the “effect” and my parenting style as the “cause.” When I changed my perspective and let her unique traits and needs guide my course, things started to sync together. I made a point to study my daughter, not myself. I learned a lot. I learned this most of all; my daughter is not me! She is a unique individual. She is social. She is sensitive. She is loud and spirited!
I know who she is and what’s important to her, so forcing her to try to fit into my perfect (quieter) world was diminishing her spirit and robbing her of her true essence. Because we were all suffering from that, I had to learn how speak her language. Honing in on these things has helped me customize the right approach to parenting her. It’s also helped me let go of some of those unrealistic expectations I held about what my life was supposed to look like as a mother.
In 2015, we were blessed with a beautiful baby boy! Loving and learning the uniqueness of a new child has reinforced how different we all can be. I went into parenting more prepared this time around. Using Dr. Rose-Carlson’s “box of chocolates” metaphor, it was just up to me to figure out what “flavor” I would get with my son. It was not up to me to predetermine this or the most effective parenting tactics. As my son enters his toddler years now, my approach with him is quite different than with my daughter. They are two completely different people.
It would be easy for me to try to establish a standard set of parenting “rules” that apply to all of my children, as my natural desire to be in control would have me do. However, when I really look at my kids as individuals, it’s clear to me that this method would be setting all of us up for failure.
Don’t get me wrong, our home is not a “free-for-all” where the toddlers are in charge (though they’d love to think that is the case). I’ve just learned the art of translating my children’s different “languages” in order to be the most effective parent I can, and I’ve learned to honor my children’s gifts.
Self-development continues to be one of my passions, and I do feel that this will have a positive effect on my children. However, I have been given such a gift with this new perspective. In allowing myself to surrender control and be a student of my children as much as their teacher, I’ve learned the value of being a loving presence versus an authority. Allowing your children’s true colors to shine is a wonderful gift to them and to you, and it’s brought harmony to the chaos of toddlerdom.
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