My readers know I am a pediatrician, mother, stepmother and grandmother. I acknowledge that I have learned a lot about parenting over the years. But I well remember how I felt during my own parenting days: the struggles to do the right thing, the confusion about what the right thing was, the dumb parenting mistakes I made.
My grown daughter, now a physician and mother herself, asked me jokingly “How come you’re now a parenting expert? If I were grading you, I’d only give you a C-plus!” I silently thanked the gods I passed and answered, “I’m trying to help others learn from my parenting mistakes.”
I cringe remembering some of the parenting “errors” I made. Most of them were made out of ignorance. I was already a board-certified pediatrician when my children came along. But I was woefully ignorant about many important aspects of child development and behavior and just about all of the techniques of successful parenting. Pediatricians in those days were trained in disease, not development; belly-aches, not behavior.
Not only was I ignorant about kids, I was also pretty ignorant about myself. And those giving me advice — the children’s pediatrician, for example — told me what to do for my children but never told me what to do for myself as a parent.
Like many other mothers I thought my job was to pay attention to my children’s needs. Nobody ever told me it was OK to pay attention to my own needs!
The bad news is that even a board-certified pediatrician may not know much about parenting. The good news is that parenting skills can be taught — and learned. A parent doesn’t need an advanced degree to learn the essentials. All you need is willingness to acknowledge that skills are needed in parenting — as in everything else we want to do well — and the willingness to learn these skills.
I try to help parents understand children and, almost as important, understand themselves. If I had known some of what I now know and if I had been taught what I am now teaching, I bet I could have raised my parenting grade to a solid B!
What would I do differently?
If I had it to do all over again:
1) I would learn about child behavior and development .
Parents don’t have to commit to memory at what age a baby can do what because you can always look it up. But you do need to understand the relationship of the child’s abilities to the developmental stage of the child.
If I were parenting today I would use the knowledge of child development to relax. When you understand that the child will grow out of a stage, perspective is possible!
2) I would look within, and learn to recognize what it feels like to be at the end of my rope.
I now know there are two direct pathways to the end of one’s rope. One is fatigue; the other, anger. I use the slogan, “Before you explode or drop, stop!” to help parents realize that it isn’t only children who need a time-out.
3) I would take time to think.
Too often I spoke or acted hastily. I assigned a punishment that was too strict or I let a child off too easily because I engaged my mouth before my brain.
Where is it written that a child needs an immediate answer to all questions? Some requests require deliberation or consultation. I would create a repertoire of temporizing comments like, “Hmm, I’ll let you know later.” or “Let me think about that.”
4) I would concentrate on enjoying parenting.
I spent too much time worrying about my clumsy ineptitudes and my parenting “errors.” I brooded over what I did wrong yesterday and how my children were going to turn out tomorrow.
Now I know that children are resilient and I understand the importance of enjoying today not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow.
5) I would slow down the pace of family life.
Simplify your life. Eliminate non-essential tasks. Enjoy the outdoors together. Turn your home into a temple of peace and quiet rather than a hectic, noisy carnival.
6) Finally I would perfect the art of thinking like a child, but acting like a grownup.
I would have empathy for how small children feel when surrounded by bigger people constantly trying to make them do something or stop doing something. But I would try to act like a grown-up imparting to the child I love, warmly yet without hesitation or apology, the greater knowledge and experience I possess.
In other words, I would be comfortable in my role as parent-in-charge.