Before my daughter was born, I had a lot of ideas about what parenting would be like. I pretty distinctly remember saying of parenting at one point during my pregnancy, “It’s not that hard.” I pride myself generally on being right in everything, but boy howdy was I wrong in that instance. So, so wrong.
After Isla was born, the most overwhelming feeling I had was not love and adoration for my daughter (although there was plenty of that) but anxiety. The absolute conviction that I was doing everything wrong and was without a doubt going to screw up my daughter beyond repair. Part of this could probably be explained away by excruciating sleep deprivation and too much Dr. Sears, but most of it was the sudden realization I had no idea what I was doing. Kids are that hard. It is difficult, nigh on impossible, to figure out the perfect parent input to get the desired child output, even with newborns who basically only have 3 needs: eat, sleep, diaper change.
Every child has their own special needs and wants and motivators and inhibitors. No two are alike, and what works for one very likely will not work for another. It seemed like every time I hit a wall with Isla–how do I get her to sleep? how do I get her to eat? how do I get her to stop throwing her food on the floor? how do I get her to stop hitting? how do I get her to cooperate in the morning when we need to get out the door?–I would consult the internet for solutions. And I would find as many solutions as there are parents and children in the world, almost none of which would work for my unique little weirdo. Either I’d already tried the other parents’ strategies and they hadn’t worked to comically awful results, or I hadn’t even bothered trying them because I knew exactly how things would go down. In flames.
Parenting for me has largely boiled down to one thing: do whatever works.
I’ve set some parameters for what I do and don’t want to do as a mom. I don’t like to spank. I don’t like to yell. I don’t like to tell my daughter she is being “bad” or “good.” I try to praise the behavior I want to see and discourage the behaviors I don’t. I try to set a good example. I apologize when I make mistakes. Above all, I want her to know how much she is loved. I want to be her safety, her trust, her home.
Those are just basic guidelines and goals, though. They don’t provide step-by-step instructions on how to get my daughter out the door every morning by 7:45 or how to get her to try new foods so she eats something that isn’t brown or white and smothered in cheese for a change or what to do when she pretends she can’t hear me or when she hits me in a fit of rage. There is no Mommy How-To Guide you can read to figure out how to get your kid to do what you want them to every single time. There are a lot of books and articles and experts who purport to have just such a thing which you can pay to read, but honestly, they’re mostly bunk.
Even when you get it right one time, you can try to repeat exactly what you did again later, and it won’t work. I keep a running list in my head of all the things we’ve done before in similar situations and how they worked out. When we hit a snag, I start with the stuff that works most reliably and move down to the absolute hail mary’s. Creativity is paramount. If an imaginary tiny wall-E sitting on the bathroom counter is what’s going to motivate Isla to get dressed and brush her teeth in the morning, then by golly, we will create an elaborate tiny wall-E game to get through the entire morning routine. (That one works pretty well, y’all. Way more reliably than negotiation, bribery, or threats.)
And sometimes…sometimes the answer is just to adjust your expectations. Sometimes some things just aren’t going to happen, and that’s okay. Hold the line on the important stuff (health and safety issues are non-negotiable) but everything else, you can pretty much throw up your hands after a certain point and say, “I give up. You do you, kid.”
Over the last 3 years, I’ve read so many things about different parenting philosophies. Attachment parents. Free range parents. Gentle parents. Tiger parents. I feel like most of the time I’m a Just-Getting-Through Parent. A Whatever-It-Takes Parent. A Trying-My-Best Parent. A Sometimes-I-Fail Parent.
It’s tough to talk about the really challenging stuff about being a mom to an almost-3-year-old, largely because the challenges change daily, the solutions change with them, and more often than not, the results are kind of ambiguous. Yeah, I got her to brush her teeth, but at what cost? I’m being a little dramatic, but also, I’m kind of not. You never really know if you’re doing exactly the right thing for your kid. I mean, you can kind of gauge how you’re doing by how they’re doing. How are they interacting with others? Do they mostly seem to be doing what they should be doing? Are they healthy? Are they happy? But really, how do you know if you’re not creating problems for them somewhere down the line, if the one thing you screw up today isn’t going to be the thing that lands them in therapy at 24, if you’re not doing something that will cause them to lock you up in a home and never see you again when you’re 80? You don’t. Nobody does.
The only real thing I can say about my philosophy as a mom is that I do my best: to keep her safe, to keep her sheltered, to guide her down the right path, to make sure she knows she’s loved. A lot of times, this means tuning out the noise of what the parenting media marketing machine tells me I should or shouldn’t be doing. Tuning out my anxieties about how everyone else thinks I’m doing as a mother and focusing on my relationship with my daughter instead. It means looking at her as her own unique, quirky person and figuring out what she needs, which may not look how everyone else thinks it should.
It’s the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I think I’m doing a pretty good job. Maybe. Probably. I’m a trying-my-hardest-and-maybe-probably-doing-alright parent. And I think that’s the most any of us can hope to be.