Here’s another phrase that drives me up the wall, especially when it comes out of the mouth of a fellow health professional, “Well, she has to learn to do it eventually”. This phrase, and the attitude behind it, frustrates me so much because I feel that it drives many parents to expend much valuable time and energy trying to get their children to learn new skills at the earliest possible age. The sad part is that often if parents had simply given their children more time, waiting until their children are truly developmentally ready, (and also, often, waiting until they are ready…) then parenting could have been so much easier. Often, what can be achieved with months of consistent, structured and effortful parenting can also be achieved with weeks or even days of relaxed parenting in another six months… Parenting doesn’t have to be so stressful. Think about all of the adults in your life. Some of them toilet trained at eighteen months, some at two years, some not until they were three. Can you even tell the difference? Does any of that actually matter now? So to the “She has to learn to do it eventually” crowd I say this:
Yes, she does and you know what? You are absolutely spot on about the timeframe — eventually…
Apply it to your life:
Do you feel pressured to teach your child skills at the earliest possible age? Can you take the pressure off yourself and wait until your child is developmentally ready instead?
With much excitement and joy, I’d like to announce the ‘birth’ of my new book: Becoming Mum.
Becoming Mum is a truly unique self-help book. It is the first book written to support women, all women, through the psychological passage to motherhood, empowering them to become the kind of mother they wish to be.
Becoming Mum is grounded in the latest scientific literature on parenting and psychological health, drawing from mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Attachment Theory. Further, Becoming Mum is written in a flexible style that supports each woman’s individual circumstances. The practical strategies provided in the book can also easily be adapted to suit further challenges such as miscarriage, postnatal depression and preterm birth.
I first had the idea of writing Becoming Mum when I was trying to conceive myself. The psychological passage to motherhood is undoubtedly one of the biggest and most important transitions of a woman’s life. For many women it is a joyous adventure, but one that involves physical and emotional challenges and enormous personal adjustment. I wondered why a book to support women through the transition to motherhood did not already exist. The idea grew along with my pregnancy and I found myself writing an initial outline while heavily pregnant and impatiently awaiting the beginning of labour. Most of the content of Becoming Mum was literally written on a laptop propped up on my knees while my beloved first child slept across chest.
In reading Becoming Mum you’ll discover:
- your unique parenting values, and how to harness these to become a confident and happy mother
- how to use mindfulness and acceptance to create a loving bond with your baby and support your baby’s emotional development
- techniques for coping with criticism, unhelpful advice, distressing emotions and physical pain
- how to keep your romantic relationship healthy and your support network strong
- flexible, step by step strategies for facing major challenges that can be adapted to your personal circumstances
For more information visit the Becoming Mum website: www.becomingmum.com.au
There are no easy answers to many of the dilemmas that parents face and even if there were, they wouldn’t necessarily be right for your child. However, this doesn’t mean that you are lost and adrift with nothing to guide you either. Although there are no easy answers, there is flexible adaptation, a process of discovering what works. The key to resilience as a parent and to getting parenting right for your unique child is this: experimentation.
As a parent, you can adopt the scientific method, using careful observation to refine your ideas about your child and to discover what works. The scientific method for parents starts with observation. Pay attention to your child. Notice their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It is all useful data! When you find yourself stuck in a parenting dilemma, take the time to think the situation through in light of everything you know about your child. If there’s a behaviour you’d like to change, what’s keeping the behaviour going at the moment? If there’s something new you’d like your child to learn, what might motivate your child to learn that and do they seem ready? Use your knowledge of your child to form a theory about what is happening, and on the basis of that theory, form an idea about what approach you could take. Then, test out your idea. Actually try your new approach and continue to observe your child. Did it work? If so, great! If not, why not? Refine your theory about what is happening using this new data and form a new idea about what approach you could take. Then, test that. By applying the scientific method to your parenting, you can discover original solutions to your parenting dilemmas, solutions that fit with your values and work for your unique child.
Apply it to your life:
Do you apply the scientific method to your own parenting? Are you able to take a flexible approach of experimenting to find what works? Does it help?
We have a cultural obsession with the bliss of bonding that I think can be very unhelpful. We set new parents up to expect that their first months with their newborn baby will be euphoric. But not only that, we prime them to believe that the moments of rapture are the vital, essential moments in which the parent-child bond is forged. When new parents, instead, feel exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed, they can easily think that they’ve done something wrong and begin to question the power of their fledging love.
Yet, the idea of a purely blissful bond is utter nonsense. Think for a moment about what a parent bonding with their newborn baby actually means. It means growing a whole new heart, one that beats just for that child, in time with their moment by moment needs. It means a sudden and sharp new awareness of just how dangerous the world is and how vulnerable a newborn baby can be. It means being displaced from the centre of your own life and putting your child there instead. It means learning how to dance, moment by moment, in time with your baby and to let them lead. That doesn’t sound blissful. That sounds painful, disorientating and overwhelming. Of course, there are blissful bonding moments. Enjoy them. But there are also painful, disorientating and overwhelming bonding moments — moments of choking on your many new worries, of being swept away by the emotions thrumming through your new second heart, of loss at your own displacement from centre stage, of frustrated confusion in learning how to dance in time with a newborn. Those moments are just as much a part of developing a new bond as the moments of bliss. The painful, disorientating and overwhelming bonding moments are just as much an indication that you are, in fact, doing it right.
Apply it to your life:
Did you experience painful, disorientating and overwhelming bonding moments? Were these moments, too, part of developing a new bond?
The relationship between parent and child is unique for many reasons and one of those reasons is that the relationship fundamentally involves a power imbalance. The power dynamic between parent and child is, of course, natural and necessary. Yet, it is still incredible to ponder the sheer degree of power that parents have over their children and the degree to which children are powerless; powerless to decide the most basic aspects of their day to day lives. Again, this is natural and necessary. Parents must act as custodians for their children, carefully acting in the child’s own long-term best interests, until the child has sufficient knowledge and understanding of the world to make their own life decisions. Further, nature has built into the parent-child relationship a vital protective mechanism for the child; parental love so strong that most parents value their child’s life above their own.
Yet, power corrupts. Parents wisely and lovingly wield power in the name of their child’s long-term best interests so often that it is easy to begin also wielding power when doing so isn’t necessary at all. It is easy to become intrusive, denying our children choices that, really, there’s no reason they can’t have. It is easy to forget to listen to our child’s own perspective, to forget to take their present-moment needs into account and to mistakenly sacrifice their current priorities to the lofty goal of our own beliefs about their long-term best interests. So beware of your own corruption. Take your child’s perspective into account. Remember that ultimately, your child’s life decisions aren’t yours to make. You are only a temporary custodian of your child’s life.
Apply it to your life:
Are you a good custodian of your child’s life? Are you conscious of the corrupting influence of power and do you ensure that you instead have taken into account your child’s perspective?
It is easy, as a parent, to become dazzled and then disappointed by grand plans, to feel guilty about our supposed lack of achievements or depressed about long days in which nothing much seemed to happen. We live in a culture that celebrates the big, the grand, the fancy, the over the top, the larger than life. Yet, parenting is built of many small acts, tiny acts that are repeated so often that they dissolve and disappear into our daily routine, becoming the background of our lives, no longer considered or celebrated. Then, an old friend asks you what you’ve been doing lately and you struggle to think of anything, literally anything that you’ve achieved in the past month. The irony is, it is the small stuff that really matters. Loving, effective, kind parenting isn’t built from big, grand, fancy gestures. Oh, no. Loving, effective, kind parenting is built from many small loving, effective, kind acts, tiny things repeated over and over. So, let’s celebrate the small stuff – the nappy changes, the full tummies, the bedtime stories, the shared laughter, the midnight cuddles… I live a life of small stuff and that small stuff really matters.
Apply it to your life:
What small parenting acts did you perform today? How can you celebrate them?
Many of the biggest dilemmas parents face are about discipline; how to gradually and effectively shape our children’s behaviour both to make everyone’s life easier in the short-term and to ensure, in the long-term, that as an adult they are equipped with the kinds of skills and behaviours that will bring them success, health and happiness. Although discipline gets many parents tied into knots and every parent will certainly face challenging discipline moments, effective and gentle discipline can be summarised in three very simple steps.
- Feed the good stuff. What skills and behaviours do you want to strengthen in your child? Consider your short-term goals but also the kinds of skills and behaviours that you want your child to develop in the long-term; kindness, courage, resourcefulness, determination. What will the very first glimmers of kindness or determination look like? Be vigilant in looking for these small glimmers of the skills and behaviours that you want your child to develop. In fact, give your child the maximum opportunity to show these characteristics; make it easy for your child to be kind and considerate. Then, when you see the glimmers, feed them! Feed the good stuff with attention, praise and with ensuring that the behaviour actually works out for them.
- Don’t feed the bad stuff. What behaviours do you want to ensure are not strengthened in your child? Don’t feed them! When you catch your child about to do something that you don’t want them to be doing then prevent the behaviour from happening at all by diverting your child. If a behaviour that you do not want to strengthen has already happened then manipulate the situation to ensure that this behaviour doesn’t work out for your child. Whatever you do, don’t feed the behaviour with your attention. If possible, simply ignore the behaviour. If you have to respond in some way, perhaps by moving your child on to a different activity or by taking away an object at the centre of the problem, then do so in a calm, matter of fact manner. Explain what you are doing once with as little language as possible and ignore any protests. As soon as possible, give your child the opportunity to demonstrate some of the good stuff again.
- Accept what you cannot change. Good discipline begins by accepting your child for the unique individual that he or she is and by accepting the realities of their present developmental stage. No discipline technique can equip a toddler with the attention span, consideration for others, or independence of a school child. However, with good discipline, your toddler will be that school child in time. No discipline technique can change a naturally boisterous child into a quiet, restrained child or change an emotionally attuned and sensitive child into an easy going, unflappable child. However, with good discipline, the strengths of your child’s unique personality will become more obvious.
Apply it to your life:
Do you ever get stuck in challenging moments of discipline? Remember the three steps of easy discipline: Feed the good stuff, don’t feed the bad stuff, and accept what you cannot change.
Therapists (psychologists, counsellors, social workers) talk about falling into the trap of seeing a client as a problem to be solved. It is really very easy to fall into this trap and many therapists fall into it for all the right reasons and with all the best intentions. But it definitely is a trap. When stuck in this trap the problems of the client loom large; the client’s strengths, values, dreams and hopes (all the unique, messy and beautiful stuff that makes this person a person) fade into the background. The therapist feels acutely responsible for solving their client’s problems, and finds him or herself doing all the work of therapy, perhaps even feeling a rising sense of panic as easy solutions aren’t immediately found. This is not to say that good therapy doesn’t include active problem-solving. It does. But the problem-solving feels very different. It is creative, flexible and genuine, a shared and collaborative process between two imperfect individuals, with the therapist maintaining full awareness of their client’s strengths, values, dreams and hopes and full understanding of their client as a unique individual. Instead of a sense of urgency to find easy solutions, there is a feeling of playfulness and experimentation, in the midst of acknowledging how difficult life can be. There is an understanding that together, therapist and client will explore and discover what works for the client.
I’ve come to understand that parents can fall into exactly the same trap with their children. Just like therapists, parents fall into this trap for all the right reasons and with all the best intentions. But it is still a trap. Have you ever found that your parenting problems loom large while your child’s strengths, values, dreams and hopes (all that unique messy and beautiful stuff that makes your child a unique person) fade into the background? Have you ever felt that you are solely responsible for fixing, now, today, each and every flaw your child may have? Have you found yourself caught in a rising sense of panic as easy solutions aren’t immediately found? The next time you find yourself caught in this trap, I urge you to follow in the footsteps of therapists across the globe who step back from this trap regularly in the service of good therapy. I urge you to remember this: your child is not a problem to be solved. Your child is a person to be loved. Start there.
Apply it to your life:
Have you ever found yourself caught in the trap of seeing your child as a problem to be solved? Can step back from this trap and, instead, reconnect with your child as a person to be loved? If problem-solving feels creative, flexible and playful, if there is a sense of experimenting to find what works together, then you know you are doing it right.
Many people today are yearning for a greater sense of purpose in their lives and for a ‘spiritual’ path— a way to day by day become wiser, kinder, more patient and more compassionate. For some, this thirst is for a wholly secular spiritual path— a foundation of meaning divorced from religion. For others, this thirst sits comfortably alongside their religious faith. If you feel this yearning, then you need look no further for a sense of purpose than your own child and you will find no better a spiritual path than parenting. Consider:
- In becoming a parent, we find ourselves no longer living at the centre of our own lives. This dramatic change often creates spiritual growth in and of itself but it is also something we can deliberately return to and develop further as a life-long spiritual practice. Truly putting your child at the centre of your life simultaneously destroys both selfishness and false martyrdom. Many a parent has found that their selfish desires are quickly put into proper perspective by their child’s needs. Yet, in becoming a parent, we may also discover that our genuine needs have never been more important. After all, we ourselves are vital to our child’s long-term wellbeing.
- Our own children are uniquely posed to be perfect spiritual teachers — helping us to develop greater wisdom, patience, compassion and kindness. On the one hand, it is easier show these qualities towards our own children than towards anyone else. Yet, our children challenge us in demonstrating these qualities far more than anyone else, too! This combination of assistance and challenge is an ideal environment for learning.
- The overwhelming majority of people will become parents. Every single person who has ever lived had parents. Parenting, or some degree of care and attention from an adult, is necessary for a human baby to blossom into a fully-grown person. The very stuff that makes us human—language, morality, self-understanding—requires parenting to develop. In becoming a parent you have begun to contribute to an interconnected web of humanity, stretching far back into the distant past and far into the unknown future.
- The wisdom, patience, kindness and compassion that we find, here and now, for our children will be carried deep in their hearts their whole lives. It will be passed onto their children, and to their children’s children, having unknowable effects far into the distant future. Your small acts of parental love repeated day by day may grow into a grand legacy.
Apply it to your life:
Do you find a sense of purpose in your role as a parent? Is parenting a spiritual path for you — helping you to become wiser, kinder, more patient and more compassionate?
Feeding a toddler can be anxiety-provoking, frustrating, stressful and messy! Many a well-meaning parent has become trapped in feelings of guilt or anxiety about what or how much their child eats. Fortunately, feeding our fussy toddlers doesn’t have to be so difficult. Here’s how to feed a healthy toddler in five easy steps:
- Accept that toddlers are naturally fussy eaters. This is much easier to do, I think, when you understand why toddlers are so picky. Fussiness about food is practically a universal stage, appearing at about one just as children become mobile, and settling by about four. It is likely that this fussy stage is protective. Even with a small and picky toddler appetite, many parents find that they have to be vigilant in ensuring their toddler doesn’t swallow something potentially dangerous. Imagine how difficult that would be if toddlers were adventurous with cuisine!
- Understand what your responsibilities are. Many parents become unstuck in feeding their toddler because they take full responsibility for their child’s diet. In fact, your child needs to learn how to regulate their own food intake — to eat when hungry and to stop when full — a simple but important life-long skill! So, it is your child’s responsibility to decide when to eat, how much to eat and exactly what to eat off their plate. Your responsibility, as the parent, is to prepare and serve.
- Serve a variety of healthy, normal food regularly. If you have a healthy diet yourself, then by far the easiest way to do this is to simply offer your child a portion of the same food that you yourself are eating. Remember, whether or not they eat the food is their decision, not yours. Your job is to offer.
- Notice opportunities to boost your child’s nutrition. Notice what foods your child prefers and take this into account, deliberately offering preferred nutritious foods. You can also experiment with preparing toddler-friendly, healthy foods such as fruit smoothies, fruit or vegetable muffins, porridge, vegetable frittatas, natural yogurt, or meals with vegetables unrecognisably cooked into the sauce, e.g. spaghetti bolognase or mild chicken curry. Of course, your unique child may not be tempted by any of these suggestions. If you are stuck for ideas there are plenty of toddler-friendly recipes on the internet. Don’t make this difficult for yourself, though! A relaxed, trial and error approach is needed to find what your toddler enjoys. If you are breastfeeding, then continuing to breastfeed into the toddler years is another easy way to boost your child’s nutrition.
- Be patient. The food fussiness stage can last years, so you need to be patient. Keep offering all of those normal, healthy foods and remember that the day will come when your child actually eats them! If you are still concerned that your child’s nutritional needs are not being met then it is best to seek medical advice from your child’s doctor. Remember, a medical doctor is better equipped to judge if your child is malnourished (vitamin deficiencies can be tested for!). If there is reason for concern then a qualified paediatric dietician can give expert assistance in fine-tuning your toddler’s diet.
Apply it to your life:
Try out these five steps with your toddler. Remember, your job is to prepare and serve healthy food. It is your toddler’s responsibility to decide when, how much, and what exactly to eat off their plate.