I have not been a mother of our own children for too long; our daughters are ages six, three, and one. But I’ve had the opportunity to stand in as a parent for two nieces and my own younger sister. My nieces are working now and my sister is 27 and a registered nurse. It is because of my experience, I thought myself more than prepared for our own children. But no. Stock knowledge instantly went “poof!” as soon as the first one came along, which diminished as the next ones followed. Thankfully, we manage. We survive somehow, even when my husband is not around. Yes, I may have some help from my mother and mother-in-law, but I have programmed myself and my kids to a hands-on setting. So, how do we manage? How do we survive? Apart from a few obvious list of things, practices, and disciplines, there are a few things that add to how we endure – and they are quite unexpected. Some even funny. You may be familiar to some of them and may have not used them, this article hopes to remind you if not make you aware, it is about time to change up your game if parenthood is not working yet. Or if you are an expecting parent, how would you know you are ready?
I have prepared a checklist of characteristics I have gathered from research, from friends, and from myself. Check as you go along and see how (really) (yes really) prepared you are.
- Helicopter Capabilities. Sounds fascinatingly like a superhero characteristic. Well of course, parenthood is the beginning of your own mini versions of Marvel and DC adventures. If you can hover, like a helicopter (or a bee if you wish), then check this item. This is what, according to research, hands-on parents are otherwise called. Often, if not always hovering around their children, are what helicopter or hands-on parents do. These are parents who put their children’s lives before them: child-centered parenting. A very congruent concept with parental sacrifice. Interestingly, Social Psychological and Personality Science has recently published a study on the relevance on parental sacrifice (or helicopter-ing). The abstract of the study does not beat around the bush and is quite clear:
A controversial feature of modern parenting is ‘child-centrism,’ the tendency for parents to prioritize their children’s well-being above their own.
During the study, 136 parents who had at least one child below 18, were asked if their children’s lives mattered more than theirs. It turns out those that do, found it beneficial to themselves as well. A similar study on 322 parents in Netherlands discovered the very same result; “child-centric” parents were happier and found more meaning in parenthood than those who were not.
- iOs behavior: Multitasking. Beau Coffon, a father himself and a blogger at Lunchboxdad.com, shares that multi-tasking is not a parental advice. It is a parental survival. True that you have to honor pieces of yourself and your time to your children, but if you were planning to have a little more time for yourselves as individuals (or as husband and wife), this is your ticket. Thankfully, the society has become more receptive to our needs, and have provided means to assist us in our parenthood challenges. However, precautions are to be made with multi-tasking. Some parents admittedly multi-task even while driving. I wouldn’t agree on that, considering the risks you pose on yourself – and your child/children. There are a time and place for everything. The home is the best place to multi-task because it is a familiar setting and set-up. Also, as parents, it is important to explain to our children why we are multi-tasking and how it is done. For while we understand it as physical (and mental) exercise, our children of the iEverything generation, perceive multi-tasking differently. Larry D. Rosen writer of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Its Hold on Us, found that:
On average, 13- to 18-year-olds use more than six types of media simultaneously during out-of-school time.
Studies found that this kind of multi-tasking, where children are afraid to miss out on social media and the latest on technology, results in poor cognitive performance. Dividing their attention to several tasks makes it difficult for them to concentrate deeply on one thing. Parents are living examples for which children copy from, let us show them how it is done…properly.
- Child-like (and maybe a little childish). Speaking of leading by example, this one’s a no-brainer. This is something we won’t quite outgrow no matter how grown-up we act. Thankfully, it helps in parenting. When we step into parenthood, sometimes we think too seriously about family life – that we forget about the family and the life. When you think like a child (that you already are) you align yourself with your child/children. Play becomes a means of communication, which works magic and according to child psychology and parent counseling, it shatters walls and forms bonds with your kid/s. Lawrence Cohen, a Massachusetts-based psychologist, author of Playful Parenting, shares:
We need to spend more time joining children where they live, instead of all the time dragging them into our world, which is the world of schedules and chores and planned activities…Those things have to be done, but when they take over our family’s life, what gets shortchanged is play.
The internet is source to many blogs that can help you ease into being a playful parent if you are not one yet – or if you are planning to. But the more you can customize according to your child/children’s needs, it can be more natural to you and it will help you become even more creative because you will need it the most when they grow older. This is quite a challenge because a study in Texas Woman’s University has found that though there are parents who supported pretend play, there are those who avoided actively engaging in pretend play or reported that they would much rather prefer a dominant teaching role than a playmate.
- Google Books; Playful Parents: The Relationship Between Parental Level of Differentiation and A Parent’s Interactive Style
- Proquest; Playful Parents: The Relationship Between Parental Level of Differentiation and A Parent’s Interactive Style
- 360-degree Vision (Like a Goat). If you’d prefer something cuter then like a tarsier. An owl. Or a chameleon. These are some animals with a 360-degree field of vision. You will need it. In fact, you will need eyes at the back of your head like a parrot or rabbit. Where will you need it and when? Anywhere, all the time when you are with your child/children. At home, school – playground, and there is a study that popped up on this, contradictory to helicopter parenting. The research was designed to study parental supervision on playgrounds. A consequential conclusion, not initially part of the study, blames sedentary childhood to parents who hover too much. Parents efforts in protecting their children may cause even more injuries than when we let them on their own. So how far should we be cautious and will it help? One parent shares to allow the child fall once or twice while play before intervening. Having a superhuman, animalistic vision will help with this. You don’t need to hover or be too near, you just need to be there and be watchful.
- Chicken! Yet another animal we can borrow parental characteristics from. This is something I heard from my mother and I never fully understood what she meant when she said a mother should sleep like a chicken – until I saw a chicken myself. Chicken, like other animals, consider sleep = danger. If they fall into a deep sleep, they welcome predators and threats. The same is very true with parenting. I am not saying, you should not sleep. You should. You must. But when you do and when you have a small child, or if you sense impending danger, or you feel cautious, you should have a quick switch from asleep to alert. There are a lot of ways to get back the necessary sleep you need. By all means, hibernate when the time comes. So if you aren’t a parent yet, you better expect for a sleep cycle that is no longer yours.
- Understanding Children’s Sleep Habits
- Parents Guide On Sleep for Babies
- Creating Healthy Sleep Habits
- Fit as a fiddle. Or if you need any more animal references, “healthy as a horse” will do. It must. Because once you become a parent, you no longer have the luxury to sleep in something as simple as a headache or as mouthful as diverticulitis. Children have the tendency to pick the most inconvenient time to get sick, too: when you are busy. During at which time, you cannot (must not) catch a similar or worse virus, yourself. Most of our time as parents is consumed by taking care of sick child/children. But there is a huge probability that you will get sick if you do not have preventive measures. There are ways to keep the contagion at bay. Importantly, we must be healthier not only because we don’t want to get sick, but because our children see us as role models. Doctor Leonard H. Epstein, an expert on childhood obesity at the University of Buffalo shares:
Parents are very important in terms of arranging an environment and setting a model for healthy or unhealthy behavior…And kids learn a huge amount about eating and physical activity from watching and imitating their parents.
- Academy Award Winner. Our children, when they feel that we have given them enough slack, will act out, anytime, anywhere. In fact, some parents are not only afraid of many menial troubles (kids getting hurt, getting sick, getting lost, etc…), they are also afraid of their children. They are afraid their children will throw a tantrum, especially in public, making them look bad. It makes them feel their parenting skills and efforts are not enough. Our children can actually train us to give in to their outbursts. They can sense the signals of our surrender. When they are infants, maternally-transmitted emotions, like fear, are easily learned. The university of Michigan reports:
Babies could learn what to be afraid of within only the first few days of life by smelling when their mother gets scared.
In short, it is up to us, to deny ourselves of those; surrender, fear, even anger. To do this, we must internalize, like good actors do, a different character. If they are to act out on us, then we can act out on them. Not to make it worse but to neutralize a possible “drama scene” that is about to go ‘action’! This means, no matter how much smoke is steaming out of your nostrils, you have to evoke your inner Stepford Wife voice. Also, you will need to really brush up in your voice acting because you will voice quite a few plush animals, robots, forks, peas, and more!
- Spelling Bee-record holder. This is something parents, as well as other grown-ups, need to be really good at, especially if they have no choice but to speak of grown-up stuff in the presence of a child or children. Granting that the child/children will not outwit you at spelling. Sadly, there is no research or article that will back me up on this, but my family has tried and tested it. My mother is the quickest to pick up and one of the best at it. If you know sign language or morse, go ahead. Because there are just times when you need to tell another grown up in a limited space (say a car) something very important. Like, you just passed by an awesome sale on some D-I-S-N-E-Y character P-I-L-L-O-W-S and they look very reasonable Christmas G-I-F-T-S for the G-I-R-L-S. Plus, as your child grows, they will appreciate how well you spell and will find spelling quite interesting.
- Champion weight-lifter. It is natural for mothers to carry their children when they are infants, in fact, there is an advocacy for “child wearing”. But when you carry big six or seven-year-olds who can walk as well as do other locomotor movements, some people find it weird. But there are parents like me who still do it. We believe that our embrace, our body, is our child’s natural refuge. Now while that may also need a lot of muscle for the heart, you will need a lot of muscle elsewhere when you need to multitask, need to do the grocery with the kids, and most importantly, during a crisis. Flood, fire, other emergencies, will not only need you to be able to pick one, two, or three up, but it will also need you to do it fast. You know how weight-lifters do it, right? You pretty much get the idea.
- Bi-polar. Not the disease, but a faculty with which you can allow yourself to become a firm parent in one minute and a good playmate in another. In other words, you cannot hold yourself and your children down to a bad energy after there was a conflict. Conflict happens when your child speaks like a child and you respond like an adult. Besides, when everything is said and done, your child or children won’t remember what they did. You need to let go and move on. This is also a part of communication and there are effective ways of moving on from a squabble or altogether avoiding it.
- Jack-of-all-trades. Although no article or study will defend me on this, but I think it is clear that once you are a parent, you need to have an expandable set of skills. I am not only talking about baby bathing, diaper changing, or feeding. That is the easy part. I am talking about being an artist, crafter, math teacher, English teacher, historian, writer, editor, carpenter, electrician, plumber, nurse, hairdresser, tailor, preacher, dictionary, Wikipedia, and as the kids grow up, the need increases.
If you ask me…
My example; my one-year-old is straddled safely on one hip, secured by one hand, my mouth is talking nonstop with instructions so my six-year-old can get it, the other hand is fixing breakfast for my three-year-old and my feet is randomly picking up toys the kids are dropping on the floor, once in a while my mouth stops talking so I can use my lips to point at directions when someone needs it, my ears are peeled back for warning or helpful sounds, and my mind is already running through my mental checklist for the day and if I can manage, tomorrow. Not to mention, I am once in a while possessed by Elmo and Cookie Monster, because the younger ones easily respond to them.
How many items have your checked? If you have checked six out of 12, you are getting there. If you score five and below, get some practice. Parenthood is no picnic but it is surely one great adventure! Enjoy every moment of it.