Children are poised to enter many stages with unique needs and challenges every step of the way. How will you prepare for the most important job of your life?
In my article last week, I talked about “How Being a Front End ‘Preparer’ Parent Keeps you From Being a Back End ‘Repairer’ Parent.”
This week, I want to spend more time on the front end preparing side of things, but with a little twist.
I don’t think anyone has ever asked me, “How did you prepare to be a parent?” That might actually seem like an odd question or one you never thought you’d be asked.
But in my interactions with hundreds of parents, I’ve actually asked people that question. The answers to it have varied from: “I’ve read a long list of parenting books and articles,” all the way to: “Prepare? What do you mean, how did I prepare?”
It doesn’t take a child psychologist to realize the way people prepare to be parents varies tremendously. Some people prepare to be parents by reading parenting books; they begin to watch others and how they parent and may even talk to their own parents in anticipation of having a child.
But many people who are about to have children really do not give very much thought to how to prepare to be a parent. There’s very little effort expended to think about the incredible number of changes ahead and the preparation that needs to happen. Many parents are totally shocked to learn their child is going to go through so many stages with unique needs and challenges in every stage.
They find themselves caught off guard, and their lack of preparation leaves them frustrated and desperate.
Here are some examples drawn from years of my conversations with parents in various stages of parenting.
I believe that laughing at ourselves and not taking ourselves so seriously is one of the healthiest things that we can do.
In that spirit, allow yourself to laugh at the more humorous parenting prep advice questions to follow (which hopefully will lead to deeper realizations of real parenting concerns), sprinkled in with some very real experiences!
- There’s preparation for what you need to know and be able to do during the infant stage.
Parents should think about: Just how many days can I actually go without sleep and still keep my job? Will my social reputation be irreversibly harmed if I continuously show up to work with stinky, dried infant formula on my shoulder? Why is it that some people can’t change a dirty diaper without retching? And, finally, is it morally wrong to tell the officer that you were speeding because it was a life-and-death emergency? (Of course, you know the reason you were speeding is because it was midnight and you were on your way to Walmart to buy a new binky (pacifier) when the baby woke up again and you couldn’t find the old one.)
2. There’s preparation for and knowledge that is needed for how to be the parent of a toddler that is learning to walk and talk and beginning to do small things for themselves.
Parents should think about: Do I move everything off the coffee table so he can’t reach it, or continue saying, “No, don’t touch!” to no avail. Is finding part of a cockroach in your toddler’s mouth sufficient reason for an ER visit? Do you have to tell your in-laws the truth when they ask you why the toddler’s new favorite phrase is “damn it”? And, finally, is there any scientific evidence that an English pea lodged up the nose is really harmful if not removed? (I can’t afford another visit to the ER this month!)
3. There is preparation to be a parent during the kids’ preschool ages when they are starting to learn more academically related things and how the world works around them. This time period also includes preparation for how to get them ready to begin a more structured formal educational process as they enter into school.
Parents should ask themselves: Will my four-year-old appear odd at Pre-K with her binky in her mouth? How can I help all the other Pre-K parents not to feel jealous when I have to reveal to them that my child is obviously the smartest most advanced child in the class? And, finally, if my three-year-old can read all the fast-food restaurant signs in town, but still doesn’t know his colors, is that a problem?
4. There is preparation to be the parent of a child that is of elementary school age. This period of time brings many new challenges to becoming part of an organized, structured system of formal education, as well as the social pressures of friendships, and encountering and maneuvering through new and different responsibilities during childhood.
Parents should ask themselves: Is it really socially unacceptable or frowned upon to present my child’s kindergarten teacher with a box of disposable diapers as a part of his school supplies? How can I help my child’s first grade teacher understand that it’s normal for a child to smear his peanut butter and jelly sandwich all over both the lunchroom table and his best friend, Joey? And, finally, what’s the best strategy for maintaining your self-esteem when you realize you no longer understand your fifth grader’s math homework?
Silly or Thought Provoking?
Those might seem like silly questions, but hopefully, they can at least get us thinking about some things we may want to do as parents to prepare ourselves for the baby through elementary school stages.
The most important thing to remember is to be intentional!
We gain so much by “preparing on the front end” instead of trying to “repair on the back end!”
Next week, I’m going to focus on the middle school and teenager stages and some questions and strategies to keep you sane!
Remember, laughter is the best medicine, and it’s so much cheaper than a prescription!
Photo credit: Getty Images