Today is my sons 7th birthday. Apparently, having a 7 year old that means that I have been a parent for 7 years. How is that even possible? You’d think that in seven years I may have had time to get a little more organized about this parenting thing, know how to do things a bit better, understand him a little more, and have shown some parenting improvement overall. Not so much.
I assumed that my training and education would have prepared me for being a parent. I had a successful career helping children and families. I went to tons of trainings in child development, sat with (and learned from) amazing child psychologists and therapists on a daily basis, and spent tons of time in the presence of children. Based solely on the numbers I should have been prepared. But I wasn’t.
For starters, the expectations were high. I thought I knew everything which sucked because when I didn’t know a damn thing I felt like I couldn’t ask for help. Then I was too tired, too depressed, too overwhelmed, and too nervous to implement a single parenting strategy. If I had somehow mustered up enough energy to try to implement something, I was conflicted on which approach to take. Am I an attachment parent, an authoritative parent, a natural parent, an unnatural parent (wait which one was that again)? Sigh.
To make things worse, it appeared as though I was the only one. When I saw other mothers I thought we would give each other a secret handshake or a giant hug to validate the unspoken truth that none of us have a freaking clue. But no one else seemed to want in on that. Everyone appeared to be confident about their decisions.
Now let’s factor in the fact that I am human and I have struggles, uncertainties, and I make a lot of mistakes. Being human and taking care of humans is the hardest thing I have ever done. It sometimes feels like a lose/lose situation. If I take care of myself then I feel guilty for neglecting the kids but if I take care of the kids I feel resentful for not taking care of myself.
For example, for the past 7 years my son has awoken before the sun. So every single morning of my life I woke up to his hot breath in my face asking me for breakfast. My whole body would immediately start sweating thinking about how I meant to get up before him to pee, drink coffee, and have a minute before the demands started.
I need my morning. Like I really really need my morning because when I don’t wake up in my own way things feel out of control. I get snappy with everyone and that’s not the way I want to start the day. It took a long time for me to figure out that I must wake up before him in order to take care of myself.
That’s about as far as I have come. I know it’s not the answer to all of my parenting problems but it feels like a huge victory. That simple win has taught me that I can (and must) do both. I can take care of the children and take care of myself.
Am I saying that in 7 years of parenting the only thing I have learned is that I need to wake up earlier? I’m sure there are other things. They are all very small and equally significant in improving our overall happiness.
But here’s the thing, today I have a 7 year old and I have never once in my life had any experience in parenting a 7 year old. Sure, there will be some carry over. Like I know he only eats tan and crunchy food. But, truthfully, I still don’t know the difference between tired and hungry (and I am sometimes shocked to discover which one).
I will have to learn how to do this year very much in the same way that I learned how to do years 1-6. Trial and error, plenty of mistakes, setting the bar lower, giving up control, and celebrating our small wins. Based on my experience thus far, I am assuming this is how it goes.
With the hangovers gone and chemicals no longer driving my decision making I have hope that this is going to be a good year. Parenting alcohol free means things are a lot less intense, less dramatic, and overall less stressful. I don’t have that edge I used to have and we are all better off when I take care of myself.
I still don’t feel like a seasoned pro at parenting but I do feel like I'm getting a lot better at life in general. So, I will approach year 7 with love and give it my best. When I make mistakes I will apologize and try again. I think he expects that. Growth takes effort. Some days will be amazing and others will feel totally impossible. With each day that passes I will have the opportunity to reflect and then start again. What’s that parenting style called?