There is no degree in parenting. But there's this.
I loved my mother so much I wanted to grow up and be just like her. I can close my eyes and I still see my five-year-old rosy cheeks and pigtails in the mirror. The answer to the age-old whaddya wanna be when ya grow up question was suddenly clear as day.
I looked right into my own hazel eyes and announced the epiphany out loud. “I’m going to be a mom!” My voice echoed off the old olive-green tiles. I whispered it again for good measure. And then I went into my backyard and twirled in the sun, happy and fulfilled, secure in my future career. I wonder how many other children had a similar adorably innocent moment.
Unlike other life-altering career decisions, like my own foray into classroom teaching, there is no degree to obtain in parenting. There are no certifications to pile up. No professional development hours to accrue and turn in. No one hires you or fires you. No one gives you a to-do list or evaluates your performance.
You can read about the right way to discipline children and even study child development before you give birth to or adopt one. These formal studies can certainly get you philosophically centered and ready to face challenges head on, but in the end, as new parents, we are all more or less on the same playing field. Newbies mucking about together, hoping for the best.
Parenting well takes constant introspection and empathy - for when we learn to see the world through the eyes of our children, we start to understand why they behave the way they do. And then we can modify our reactions to meet their deepest needs.
If we are trying our best to parent with compassion, with respect, with loving guidance, with gentle encouragement, with supportive limits, and with a good deal of humility, I truly believe we are all on the right path.
Even so grounded, many parents have come to me over the years and asked me for specific strategies to try when their toddlers and young preschoolers are throwing tantrums, refusing to cooperate, throwing toys, hitting, or biting, among other behavioral difficulties.
I’m happy to share the wisdom I’ve learned along the way - from reading books, chatting with my mama friends, and by watching my husband work his own parenting magic - but it is impossible disregard information about the development of the child in lieu of a specific method. They are both essential to solving a problem.
In my new book, Toddler Discipline for Every Age and Stage, you’ll find practical strategies for overcoming common issues faced by parents of 1-4 year olds right alongside insight into your child’s developmental stage. It was a genuine thrill to write and brought back so many memories of my own children when they were little!
You are the perfect parent for your own child - just as you are. You know that, right? I hope you do.
I know you might not always feel like one. Most of us struggle with periods of self-doubt and even cry about it in the bathroom or get unreasonably cranky. Recently, I re-watched the animated film Tangled again and was struck by how much I identified with the evil witch (“mother”) when she fell back into her chair in exasperation after yelling and said in regret, “Great. Now I’m the bad guy!” Oh, how many times have I been that bad guy, goaded into losing control of my own emotions!
All of the fretting, the exhaustion, and for some of you (myself included) even the yelling…this is life handing you an opportunity for learning. Every good story has an internal struggle. It wouldn’t be a story without one!
But with dedication to learning and the willingness to embrace the ups and the downs, your child will respect how hard you tried and may even look in the mirror and decide to one day take the journey, too.