Every one of our journeys is our own, but I‘ve yet to meet a parent who’d argue that parenthood isn't challenging.
For me, in the early days, there was a nagging feeling I’d just landed the most important job of my life and that I was nowhere near competent at said job. My only two strategies were to worry and to read, and I just kept doing both—inhaling parenting advice books, wisdom from my new BFF, Google, and the salacious, real-time chatter on my local Yahoo! Group. As the kids have grown, I've traded nagging for worries that I am missing something, striving to be all of the things a parent needs to be today—a load that recent studies show has never been harder and more emotionally draining to parents than it is today.
Thankfully, this past 12 years, I’ve also come across inspiring research and learned—from colleagues, friends, scientists and mentors. If I had to identify what qualities the most helpful and inspirational bits of wisdom all share it's that they were communicating in one way or another that parents and kids already have the ingredients we need to thrive—by design, we are just what our kids need. We all need support and grace to live into it.
It must be acknowledged that we each parent in special situations with unique needs, challenges and varying levels of support and privilege. But, allowing space for that variation, children, right from the start, are designed to drive their own development. With love and the safe space to explore, try and learn from both successes and failures, kids learn and grow. And, so much of what kids learn they get just from watching us do what grown ups do. Kids come ready to learn, and, whether we realize it or not, we are ready to teach. We all need inspiration, support and community to help us unleash and trust in this.
To celebrate this, I want to share these snippets of wisdom that have helped to balance the potentially toxic pressure to make the first years of our children’s lives perfect. May these help you take a deep breath and maybe even make this “critical period” of development a bit more peaceful, more present, more enjoyable and ultimately even more enriching for our kids and for us:
"We need to model genuine humanity if we want to raise genuine humans."
I love this saying—and it always helps me to remember that I need to model the full range of emotions and a balanced set of strengths and imperfections if I am going to help each of my children learn and grow into real humans. This one has helped me go back with kids to moments in my parenting that are not my proudest. I've even had conversations with them in which I name what I did, why I think I did it, but how I could have done better. These moments then become gifts to kids—real life examples of how to learn and move through teachable moments. They can also prepare kids to be more compassionate towards themselves and other people.
As long as love, forgiveness and honesty are strong and steady in our homes, and we can show kids how to repair and learn from the mistakes we make, being our fully flawed selves is being the best teachers we can be.
Like John Holt, if I only had two words left to write, I’d choose these. It’s not easy to trust our little ones, especially when we love so fiercely and want so very much for them, but I daresay nearly everything becomes easier and more productive when we do.
"Parents don't make mistakes because they don't care, but because they care so deeply."
This quote inspires both much needed self-compassion as well as compassion for other parents. We all observe parenting moments—both our own and other peoples'—that make us cringe, but most of the time, parents act from a place of love—and that is a place at which we can connect and support one another.
"It's not about the weather. It's the climate that counts."
I first heard this from one of my best friend's moms, a career early education teacher and mom of three like me. She was easing my worries as I was struggling hard to adjust when my second was born. This simple statement helped me shift from evaluating each interaction with my kids to focusing on the bigger picture—a climate I was creating in which love, cuddles, forgiveness, and joy genuinely permeated, even though, from time to time, my kids get tired and cranky, and I get overwhelmed and frustrated right along with them.
“The job of the baby is to learn.”
Remembering to see babies—and all kids—as active learners helps us see our job as supporter of that learning, and remember them as the central agent in the process.
“By crawling, a child learns to stand."
—West African Proverb
We are often pulled forward to the next or biggest milestone, but each step and each bit of work along the way is just as important to helping young children grow into who they will become. Give them time to work on each step, and worry not about whether or not they'll make it three rungs up the ladder.
"Genetically, infants (and kids) are wired to learn and their parents are wired to help them.”
We are, literally, designed to do this, parents. Let’s trust ourselves and our instincts too!
“We can’t make children learn, but we can let them learn.”
What a liberating and important shift we make when we move from “teach them” to “let them learn!” We are here to enable and support a natural process that our kids are designed to engage in. We do not need to do the lifting or get everything right.
“Allowing your baby (or child) to be his authentic self requires letting go of preconceived ideas, stepping back to observe and truly see him in the moment, and not assuming he will respond the way he did yesterday. When you come to your baby (or child) with wonder and curiosity, he will often surprise you, and your understanding of him will deepen.”
—Deborah Carlisle Solomon, REI
This chance to lead with curiosity and wonder can be truly game changing. And, when we parent in this way, we learn more about our kids, and we model how to learn about the world!
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder...he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”
I wish every parent has the chance to read Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder and pull from it whatever inspiration that speaks to them. If I could only choose one tool to use in teaching children, it would be wonder, without a doubt.
Comment to share your favorite quote with us, and thank you for reading this and being part of this sustaining community! Want more? Check out this post about a 1-minute daily habit that can improve any parent's experience.