27 February 2017

The myth of immutable parenting

We parent each of our children differently. And by 'we', I mean me. And you. And her. And him.

That doesn't mean we don't love each and every one of our children with the same fervour and/or the same gut twisting intensity. Love is a very different thing to parenting.
Source: Calvin and Hobbes
I love both my children so viscerally and totally, I sometimes want to shout out to the world how freaking awesome they are. Which I sometimes do. And I absolutely tell my girls I love them all the time.

My husband and I are in perfect agreement on this - making sure our children know how loved they are is essential. It is the priority in every situation.

We aim to make sure that they never think that our love is conditional on their behaviour, their achievements or their actions.

Our love is essentially guaranteed.

Source: Calvin and Hobbes

Our parenting - not so much. I mean we are doing our best to be really great parents for both of them.

But that doesn't mean we parent them both in exactly the same way. And anybody that says they have raised each of their children exactly the same is kidding themselves.

We're not the same person week to week, month to month, year to year. How can we be raising our children the same when we ourselves are constantly evolving?  If you're a two parent household that's two parents evolving as individuals and trying to keep their shit together as parents too. If you're a two household family you've upped the ante again.

And more importantly, the children themselves are constantly evolving.  They change their minds, their preferences, their behaviour, their clothes, their favourite colour, their sleeping patterns. Sometimes all within an hour.

It's hard yakka sometimes.

My parents have six children. They had their first when they were 24 years old and their last 14 years later. That's 14 years of life experience. That's living in different states. In different countries. Surrounded by different people. And that's before you factor in the distinctly different personalities of six different children. All awesome, but all very, very different.

You think of the person you were 14 years ago. I bet part of you is thinking you feel exactly the same but the sensible part of your brain is pointing out that the world is a very different place. You have more life experience. You're probably a lot more sure about some things, and a little less sure on others.  You will have different work colleagues. Different friends. Perhaps a different partner. More children. Maybe less children. More money. Less money.

There are so many variables to the people that we are on a daily basis, let along a yearly basis. And parenting is all about making the best of the resources at your disposal. And that's not just financial. That's emotional. Mental. Spiritual. That's about education. That's about exposure. That's about experience.

We only have two children. Born a mere 19 months apart. All the things we believed about how we would parent and all that we held to be both sacred and obvious were blown apart with the arrival of our first. Our approach to our second was vastly different. One wasn't right and the other was wrong. They were just different because we were. And we were more tired.

We have two gorgeous children who have lots in common, but are very different personalities. What works for one doesn't work for the other. How they process information is different. Their world views are different. They do emotion differently. They do friendship differently.

If they were identical twins we would still be parenting them differently because looking alike doesn't mean you've got identical personalities.

In fact, even if you only have one child you will parent them differently over the years. You will adapt your approach to reflect their preferences along with the changes the years bring to your own beliefs, values and knowledge.

Most of us get better at parenting as we go along. Just like we get better at anything we do regularly. Our own personal interests widen to include an encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs, or Shopkins characters.  We find ourselves laboriously explaining why telling the truth is offensive sometimes but at the same time the children are to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

We utter cliches. So many, many, many cliches.

Source: Calvin and Hobbes
But we're not just parents. We're people first and foremost. We spend time at work. Building our knowledge base. We join groups. We have friends. We watch movies. We read the news. Our politicians change. The economy changes. Our interests change. Our self knowledge deepens. Accidents happen. People die. We experience sorrow. We experience joy. We become stronger. More confident. More accepting of ourselves. Less accepting of some things. We set different boundaries for ourselves. We get both fiercer and softer.

We change.

The person I was at 17 would not have thought the person I am at 42 possible. The person I was at 28 did not know her own worth. If I had given birth to my daughters at either of those ages I would have been parenting from a much different place to what I am now.

We need to stop buying into this myth of parenting being an immutable beast - a fixed methodology that we apply consistently over the years to each of our children to ensure they all turn out okay.

It doesn't work like that.

Parenting is a highly idiosyncratic endeavour with ever changing opportunities and challenges.

That is why it is both terrifying and wondrous.

But mostly terrifying.

You're welcome.

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