I have lost count of the number of times that I have heard myself sounding like my mother, as I try to be a parent to my now four-year-old. I have bought parenting books, and spent a lot of time going down parenting rabbit holes online as I try to navigate behaviours, and understand the world through her little eyes.
Being a parent is a non-stop cycle of trial and error, feeling judged by yourself, by others, by society. Is there a correct way to do it?
Four years in and I have no idea how I am getting on. As I write this column, I am surrounded by dolls, books and colouring pads. Everything is pink. Despite my best efforts to introduce a multi-coloured palette, pink always seems to win out.
How we parent is something we judge ourselves on, and we can also be judgmental about others and their choices, albeit that we judge inwardly and maintain a dignified silence on what we really think.
Apparently, most parents in this part of the world are positive parents – someone who is responsive to their child, who is nurturing and taps into the emotional side of a child’s feelings. A positive parent manages to do all of this and still maintain boundaries. It’s not about letting the children do what they like.
That said, there is a parenting style referred to as permissive parenting, where letting the children do as they please is exactly what happens. The idea is to be more like a friend than a parent. I can’t get my head around that one at all.
Most Generation X women grew up being told to ‘be a good girl’ in certain contexts. I I have caught and stopped myself so many times asking my daughter to do the same.
I had to ask myself ‘what do you mean, exactly?’ The answer was that I didn’t know, so I have stopped doing it.
Instead of employing the default parenting that was passed on to me, I found by reading books, talking to friends, reading up online, that I have begun a process where I am re-parenting myself.
I am learning and evolving as a parent every day. I expect that will continue. I am currently picking up a lot of tips from teachers. Watching how they interact with small children and deal with their emotions has been a game changer for me.
So has managing sleep. When I had my daughter, one of my closest friends told me that a good night’s sleep is promised to no parent. I hear her words ring true any night or early morning as I struggle to get a little girl back to sleep. Without sleep, she is a little demon. Aren’t we all?
We manage our own emotions and understand those of others so much better when we aren’t exhausted. I think that managing the exhaustion is a very important part of being a parent – particularly if a spontaneous tantrum has to be dealt with.
A few months ago, I overheard my youngest niece telling my daughter that she too used to cry a lot, but that stopped when she was four. It was hilarious listening to them chatting away like two old women.
Last week, as we walked away from the play park du jour, we passed a wee boy with his parents who was screaming loudly and having a full on tantrum. My daughter piped up, asking: "Why is that wee boy crying, Mummy?"
Isn’t that the million dollar question? I tried to hurry her away because I could feel the parents cringe at the thought of an audience. I tried to communicate that I felt their pain. Been there, many, many times and I know that I have not dealt well with every tricky episode of my parenting life so far, but every day brings more experience and more confidence.
That very day I had challenged myself not to be a helicopter parent in the playground, and let her climb and take risks without jumping and worrying that she might hurt herself. Taking risks, within reason, is a good thing for them.
I doubt that I will ever feel that I have completely got the hang of being a parent and step-parent. All any of us can do is what feels right and check our privilege at having this experience in life.