I think when you become a parent for the first time, and maybe even before you become one, there are certain lies you tell yourself. You don’t realize that they are lies, of course, until after you’ve been in charge of another human being for a certain amount of time.
As we add to our families, ideals that we had adopted and lived by successfully as the parent to one child can also shift innocently into lies. One of the biggest lies I’ve ever told myself about parenting was that I would figure out how to parent, who I was a s a parent, and the rest would fall into place. I’m here to tell you that hasn’t been the case…
Little Lies We Believe:
“The kids had a late night, so they’ll surely sleep in.” Um, no. No, they probably will not. In fact, from my experience, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll feel their hot breath on the back of your neck and a not-so-gentle finger poke on the forehead approximately four hours earlier than normal…
“They will eat when they are hungry.” Unless that means that they are literally hungry 24/7 – NO. No, they will eat all-the-live-long day, and it will make you look at them in total wonder – those sweet, tiny, little bodies… Where does it go?! They can eat twice their body weight, while you can’t quite figure out how a handful of blueberries, a cup of cold coffee, and eight slivers of bread crust has caused you to gain six pounds since breakfast. It’s truly a parenting phenomenon.
“I’ll nap when they nap.” You sweet dear… They don’t nap. But when they do, I have two syllables for you… Netflix. Naps are no longer, mama. My deepest sympathies.
All of these lies are biggies, but the one that I think has been the biggest for me, and took the longest to realize, is this one:
“Two, three, four, ten kids…it won’t matter, I’ll be the same parent to each child. Consistency is key.”
And that, my friends, is by far the biggest lie that I told myself for about four years, or until our third child was born.
Third Time’s the Charm:
I don’t know about you, but when our first daughter was born, it was like a little dream come true. She was more than I could’ve ever imagined her to be. An adorable, perfect little human, full of joy and wide-eyed, she ate up every little piece of life, and we ate up every little piece of her. We were our very own versions of ideal parents.
From early on, she was on a glorious schedule and loved it. She didn’t fuss or cry through the night. If she did anything deemed “naughty,” like feed the dog table scraps, we’d simply look at her, and she’d burst into apologetic tears. She knew baby sign language and was fully potty trained by 20 months. She was speaking in complete sentences before two, and her idea of playing was sitting nearby, surrounded by books and puzzles. With her impeccable manners and permanent smile, she was a dream. We thought we had surely nailed this parenting thing.
When our second daughter came along, our happy little boat barely rocked. She, being far more independent than we realized at the time, was another “easy” baby. She did her own thing most of the day, happily cruising the house, playing with me, her big sister, and our pets. She was using utensils to eat independently and climbing stairs by 9 months, also potty trained by 20 months, and rarely got into any trouble. I vividly remember her getting ahold of her big sister’s yogurt cup and the shock I felt as I walked into the living room to find her (and our ivory carpet) covered in a muted shade of pink.
Little did I know, I’d see far worse than that in the next few years to come. Oh, how naive we were, thinking that we had parenting figured out. We were naturals in our own eyes, our perfect little family speaking for itself. I mean, “the proof is in the pudding,” right?! Then came our third little blondie, and with her came the great awakening.
It’s Not Me, It’s You:
I’ll call this chapter of our parental journey the, “It’s Not Me, It’s You” section. Our third princess is one of the joys of my life. I wouldn’t change her for anything or anyone in the world, but let’s just say that she has motivated me to read every single article on strong-willed children that I can get my hands on. Even our pediatrician has given us books from her personal library. All of my parenting success has been deduced to luck and sincere effort.
I realize now that daughters one and two were just “those types of kids” – the easier ones. For the past year, after many new-to-me and interesting experiences, I spent countless nights trying to figure out how to “fix” things. Maybe it’s this or that… Perhaps I need to consult this specialist or that clinic… I bet if I just read these four books, I’ll have it all worked out by next month… Nope, nope, nope, and nope again.
Goodbye, Lie – Embracing the Truth:
If there is one amazing thing that this sweet child has taught me it is that I can’t parent her the same way that I parent her sisters. Her quirks, her emotions, her needs…they are just that – hers. I can’t force my parenting preferences on her any more than I can stop the rain or clean a poo-covered wall with telekinesis. (Ask my dear friend, Betsy, and she’ll tell you. Poo parties in our house are thrown randomly, without warning, and sometimes start in a bottom dresser drawer during a playdate…)
I had fought this lie for so long – that I could somehow remain unmoved and things would magically iron out. I didn’t want to change my style, my methods, or my expectations. For a few years, my parenting style was working. I wanted to stay who I was and expect what I was used to expecting… Once the fourth daughter came along, I really did feel like an old dog, but I finally admitted that I needed to learn new tricks. (You might remember me as that mom of all girls.)
Thankfully, I’ve come to terms with the truth – parenting isn’t cookie-cutter-simple. How I teach them to tie a shoe can be routine. What I sing to them each night can remain consistent. But many other things, such as how I potty train or deal with a meltdown… Techniques used to instruct each kiddo to get dressed, clean up their mess, or even get in the car… Most of these aspects of parenting, I am learning, are pretty much child-specific, and those specifications keep changing as our children age and grow.
I often say that raising children is a lot like playing chess. Sometimes it’s just luck, other times is raw talent, but most of the time it’s about patience, strategy, and developing the ability to think quickly enough to change course at the drop of a hat. Over time, we realize just how different our children really are from one another. As they grow, we grow. As they change, we must change, too. While we may parent them each uniquely, we love them all enormously. That’s the truth, and that’s what really matters.