By Halina Newberry-Grant
Being a parent is hard work.Seriously. I expected to be constantly tired when I started having kids, but I was not prepared to be in a constant state of doubt and worry, battling my own imagination, trying to keep thoughts of the worst thing that can possibly happen at any given moment from dominating my waking hours, and sucking hours of precious sleep from my nights. I’ve only been a parent for a year, but in that time I have learned how it feels to care more deeply about the outcome of the work I do than anything I’ve ever cared about before.
I care more about the outcome of our sleep-training trials and errors than I ever cared about my hang-over naps.
I care more about her milestone developments – clapping, crawling, pulling up – than I ever cared about my career advancements.
I care more about the shape of her little head than I ever cared about the shape of my body.
And this caring is not borne of wanting to keep up with the Jones’ or the Kardashians. It’s truly about wanting my Little Miss to succeed in this world. Especially since this world is sometimes terrible.
How can I emotionally let go of the outcome of my work and her development enough to allow it to happen in her way, her time, and still prepare her for the world of competitive, bullying, knee-jerk reactionary dreck that threatens at every click of the mouse?
I am learning a lot about other parents and how we interact and relate to each other – in person, and online. We might turn to each other for advice or support, but often our best intentions are thwarted by ugly behavior – the errant comment on an online message board, negligence on a playground, or violence and aggression at an Easter egg hunt.
Here are three ways I have observed that we behave that make the world we live in as parents more horrible than it needs to be:
1. Judging Each Other
We’ve all felt judged by other parents. We also spend a lot of time harshly judging ourselves. We all experience the agonizing (daily) thought “I’m doing it wrong!” We panic that we read the wrong book about discipline. We worry that we’ve chosen the wrong pediatrician. We wonder just what effect that non-organic, surely pesticide ridden apple we fed our toddler will have down the line. We are all filled with the self doubt and insecurity that seems to be at the core of parenting.
But likely we’ve all also had the thought “You’re doing it wrong!” when watching another parent.
We know that child would be healthier if her mom had breast-fed longer.
We know their baby should not have started on solid foods at four months.
Their child would behave better if they didn’t let her watch so much TV.
Some of us go a step further, and tell other parents precisely what they’re doing wrong, perhaps with the intention of helping them. We think “well, I have experience in this situation, and it will fix their problem if they do what I did.” Even though we offer our suggestions in the spirit of support, we don’t remember that we are actually not an expert at anything – not even our own parenting (ask any parent of a tantrum-throwing toddler or a teen-ager.) We forget that every baby and child is completely and beautifully unique – so no book, methodology or piece of advice is the absolute end-all, final last word on anything.
An antidote to this way of thinking is a great mantra that I use when I feel that “expert, know it all” voice forming an opinion bubble in my head:
That’s None Of My Business.
Watching another parent let her baby drink fruit punch out of a bottle? That’s none of my business.
Seeing parents with their toddler on a train at 2 o’clock in the morning? That’s none of my business.
A friend posts a picture of her newborn sleeping unswaddled? That’s none of my business.
Of course there are times when we can jump in to save the life of a child (the kid left alone in a car, or the kid who is about to fall off the jungle gym.) The bottom line is unless someone asks specifically for our advice, we’re all better off keeping it to ourselves and minding our own business. This means a lot more listening, which is the best kind of support I can imagine.
2. Distracted Parenting
It has been documented somewhere by someone in an article or headline that I read, that most people are watching TV with their smartphones in their hands, multitasking on Twitter and Facebook while watching Game Of Thrones.
A Personal anecdote: in my baby’s first couple months of life, my days were spent with her sleeping on me or near me. I was in a no-sleep daze, and in between my own naps I watched TV. A lot. A lot of TV. I would go through the queue on my DVR until I was caught up on all my favorite shows, then I would watch every single show on HGTV, because, you know, houses.
I’ve always been a TV junky. It’s been a problem. But once my baby was more awake and aware, I wondered just how much was too much for her little developing brain. I knew I needed to do some research when I found her watching The Godfather with me, and laughing at the gunfire, loving what she was watching.
I read Dr. Jenn Berman’s “Superbaby.” (I highly recommend the book, particularly if you are curious about your child’s creative development. And bad news: there’s no such thing as “good programming” for your baby.) We have become a “no TV until 3” household as a result. This means that unless my baby is sleeping, the TV is off. This was a huge shock to my system.
But what I quickly noticed was how much more engaged I was with her. I found myself playing more creatively with her, engaging more, catching more smiles and reading her moods and needs better and more quickly, thus allowing me to catch a melt down before it happens, and to really enjoy her and our time together a lot more.
We’re all guilty of reading our emails on our smartphones while our little ones play on the playground, or reading this article while nursing. I try to apply a “time and place” rule to when I disengage from her to allow myself the distraction of email, screen time and social media. This way I’m doing what I’m doing while I’m doing it.
It’s very difficult to be the attentive parent I want to be when I’m tuned out or only partially tuned in. I don’t do this (or anything!) perfectly, but by remaining aware of my tendencies to tune out, I am at the very least enjoying my days and my daughter more thoroughly. And no one else’s child needs to suffer on the playground because I’m not paying attention.
3. My Kid’s Better Than Your Kid
In her speech at the Variety Power Of Women Luncheon, Amy Poehler famously said the following:
“Close your eyes and picture your children…or think about the things that made you feel happy, and warm and protected…realize that there are so many children in the world who have nothing. They have no one who lights up when they walk into the room…and they have no clothes and safety and food. They have nothing. And so who are we to be in this room and to be living this life without helping them?”
These powerful and moving words serve to remind me that while my kid is incredibly special to me, that does not make them any more special in the world at large. I must remember that every child is special, and mine is just a member of the world community.
Maybe If I remember this, it will:
1. Take the pressure off me to feel the need to prove my kid deserves more than your kid.
2. Remind me that your kid is equal to my kid and both of our kids are equal to the kid in foster care because his mother suffers from addiction and can’t get ahead of her disease.
3. Send a mighty message to my kid; we’re all in this together. Your gifts and talents contribute to the world in the same meaningful way that every other person’s do. Remember that you are lucky to have an opportunity to develop those gifts, while some children don’t have clean drinking water.
You might notice that these small changes aren’t necessarily parent-specific. They can also be classified under “how to be a better person.” But when you become a parent, your world perforce becomes smaller, orbiting around your offspring, sharing a micro-solar system with other parents. As much as we are committed to giving the best of everything to our children, we should be equally committed to being the best versions of ourselves in the world – that is our job. That is our business.