by Meghan Fitzgerald
Every one of our journeys is our own, but I‘ve yet to meet a parent who’d argue that the first months of parenthood aren’t challenging. Some of it, you just have to move through—sleep deprivation, feeding woes, loss of routine, and just getting to know your brand new human while getting to know yourself again on the other side of the one-way door to parenthood.
For me, there was also a nagging combination between the feeling I’d just landed the most important job of my life and the sense that I was nowhere near competent at said job. My only two initial 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.
Both the volume and the inconsistency of the information messed with my sleep-deprived mind. I always have a notebook handy, and the notebook I filled four months into parenting is littered with quotes from these various sources that left me confused about nearly every topic. I seemed especially concerned with how to stop infant gas (have any of us really figured that out?) and how to help my new baby develop and learn. And, I was an educator, so I ought to have lots to bring to the learning part, right? Turns out, I just felt overwhelmed by the responsibility.
In one notebook entry, I copied a quote from one study, “What happens during the first months and years of life matters a lot...because it sets either a sturdy or fragile stage for what follows." Then, I wrote beside it, “Note to self: better figure out how to optimize the first months + years of life!”
Thankfully, this past 8 years, I’ve gotten the chance to trade the self-help books for inspiring research and thought leadership about play, how the brain develops, and how children of all ages, right from the start, can and truly should drive their own development.
I’ve learned from so many colleagues and mentors about the changes they have seen in parents when they’ve started to recognize that everything we need is right here. Children come ready to learn and we are truly ready to teach. We all need inspiration, support and community to help us unleash and trust it.
To celebrate this, I want to share a handful of what I call antidote quotes—snippets of wisdom that help to balance the potentially toxic pressure to provide the very perfect first months and years of our children’s lives. May these and others you’ve found help set us all on a path to make what is often called this “critical period” of development more present, more enjoyable and more enriching for our kids and for us:
“Trust children” —John Holt
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 everything becomes more productive when we do.
“Parents don't make mistakes because they don't care, but because they care so deeply.”—T. Berry Brazelton
This quote inspires both much needed self-compassion as well as compassion for other parents. We all watch people parent in ways that make us cringe, but we nearly always come from a place of love—and that is a place at which we can connect and support one another.
“The job of the baby is to learn.” —Elizabeth Spelke
Remembering to see baby as an active learner helps us see our job as supporter of that learning, and remember her 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.
"Genetically, infants are wired to learn and their parents are wired to help them.” —Ann Lewin-Benham
We are, literally, designed to do this, parents, let’s trust ourselves and our instincts too!
“Follow baby’s lead. Babies naturally orient towards novel objects and events...When interacting with infants, notice what they pay attention to, and engage them around their interests.” —Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University
Babies are driven to learn and have the capacity to discover and drive their own learning opportunities. What a load off! [Note: It’s also pretty sweet that this quote is written 19 years later by the same authors of the fear-inducing quote I found in my notebook. I was looking for a way to optimize...let kiddos lead!]
What a liberating and important shift we make when we move from “teach them” to “let them learn!”
“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, Resources for Infant Educators
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.”—Rachel Carson
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 “antidote quote” with us, and thank you for reading this and being part of this sustaining community!