Parenting 101: Keeping your Sanity in the Early Years of Parenthood
Posted on May 16 2017
The first few years of parenting are such a rollercoaster. How many times have you heard someone say, “If only kids came with an instruction manual!” Wouldn’t THAT be great? Most parents know from the beginning that there will be ups and downs, but that doesn’t mean we start out equipped for coping with the peaks and valleys of raising children. On the days when you wonder how you will make it through, I offer the following as a first line of defense for keeping your sanity when you feel like you are going to go crazy. It may not be comprehensive, but here is a three-step survival guide. Without further ado, I present… Parenting 101.
Step One: Recognize why the “down days” happen. Your child is growing.
As new parents, there are so many new things to learn each and every day. Safety and well-being are constantly on your mind and you are not always going to get everything just right. Then… there are the tantrums. Oh, the tantrums. It can be stressful, trying to figure out what is causing them, and why your brilliant solution for their meltdowns will work one day and be a catalyst for disaster the next. But I’ve learned that there is a reason for the variety of responses you might get from your efforts to help avert disasters. From day one, your little one is going through exposure after exposure of so many new stimuli… all simultaneously. For the most part, they are wired to start processing enormous amounts of new information very quickly. Voices, the feeding process, lights, and smells – it’s a lot! As he or she grows into a toddler, your child will still have the ability to absorb a great deal all at once.
They will astound you with amazing feats of dexterity and logic for such a small person. That being said, be aware that there is a process for their learning curve. This ability to learn so much so fast is often what actually brings on the waterworks (or explosions), and it goes in phases. Great advice for new parents might include documenting the start of a “stubborn streak” as soon as you notice it. From start to finish, it’s generally a cycle that spans a few months before starting all over again – and it will begin to make sense after you have seen it in action a few times.
Your child’s learning curve/skill-mastering cycle goes something like this
- “I am approaching a new milestone. My general demeanor is a little different. I’m fussier, and it seems like I am digressing in skills I had previously mastered. So frustrating! But, it’s because I am focusing immense levels of my energy and attention on something new, and it doesn’t leave much bandwidth for other things.”
- “The new milestone is coming along! I am beginning to gain confidence in my new skills, and it consumes most of my energy (and yours, mum). Pretty soon, I will have almost complete command of my new abilities, and the ups and downs will begin to level out.”
- “I seem like myself again. Those digressions are no longer a problem because my new abilities are now just another part of my amazing little personality and don’t require so much concentration. Get ready for a period of “normal” (whatever that means) as I enjoy taking pride in my new skills and enjoying other endeavors again.”
- “Uh, oh… another milestone approaching! Get ready to start all over, Mum!”
This may seem like a really intimidating process to go through over and over. And, you’re right – it can be. Which leads to our next Parenting 101 survival step…
Step two: Recognize that the learning curve is going both ways.
My advice to new mothers in the midst of the toddler storm is this: take their ups and downs (and yours) in stride. Recognize that each time you see the cycle happen, it will be easier for you to identify what is happening and you will actually be able to facilitate the process of their growth by monitoring your own attitude and maintaining your optimism. Meltdowns can be kept to a minimum because you will be able to keep your cool when they lose it. Pretty soon, you will find you have found a rhythm for coaching them toward their milestones with optimism and grace because you can acknowledge what is happening. Your child isn’t becoming stubborn or “strong-willed.” He or she is maturing.
And the same is happening for you! You may even notice the same sort of emotional cycle taking place in your maturing process. “Blue days” are going to come and you may not feel like yourself at times. Your child experiences milestones – so do you! Some of them will take incredible amounts of trial-and-error, which can also contribute to the ups and downs of parenthood.
- Coming to grips with your new identity. Yes, you are still you – but as you incorporate the things you learn as a parent into your perspective on life, you may find you still “mourn” for the relative simplicity that existed pre-parenthood.
- Finding balance. This takes so much intentionality – especially if you do outside work, from home or otherwise. But even if you only focus your efforts on the monumental full-time job of parenting, balance is a must for administering adequate self-care along with the care you give your children and other responsibilities.
- Starting to think intergenerationally. When you talk to your children about parenting techniques that will help them with their own children… that’s when you may begin to see how parenting works full-circle. And don’t think this kind of sharing has to wait until your kids are older! Even in their toddler years, determine to take advantage of teaching moments that help them see the impact they have on the world around them, now and in the future.
These are only a few examples of how a parent may notice their perspective on life shifting and maturing. The goal for this Parenting 101 guide is to provide some perspective to help new parents expand their frame of reference, to help them understand what is happening during the turbulent phases of infancy and toddlerhood. The next step involves passing this knowledge on to your children to help them develop empathy for others as a result of their own learning curve.
Step three: Endeavor to help them expand their own frame of reference.
It’s a beautiful thing to watch an older sibling cheering on a younger brother or sister and coaching them toward a new milestone. The concept of sharing wisdom revolves around the idea of one person’s learning curve be made easier by the experience of another. And this is what it’s all about; legacy. As parents, this is what we do! It’s so easy to get lost in the minutia of check-ups, potty-breaks, Elmo’s World, and whether or not your child likes crunchy peanut butter today. But the focus should be helping them understand how special they are and how much they have to offer the world.
To recap, surviving the first few years of parenthood gracefully is definitely a learned art. Keep their maturing cycle in mind and document their journey of conquering their milestones. Notice your own milestones and celebrate them! And finally, make the most of those moments of calm that come after the storm by reminding them how much they have to offer the world with their new skills. They will never know the full extent of their impact, just as you will never know the full extent of yours. Here’s to you, new parents!
What are your favorite tips for coaching your child toward a new milestone? We would love to hear about it. Leave a comment below!