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Musings of a Parent

by Julie Fischer, MSE, Licensed Professional Counselor -

I have learned more about myself in the past 7 years than during any other time in my life. It is no coincidence that my oldest child is 7 years old. Becoming a parent has been one of the most educational and emotional transformations of my life. I have learned about myself "in my head" and uncovered more of myself "in my heart." My children have taught me more in their short lives than any other teacher I have ever had.

Becoming a parent is just that....becoming. It is a process, a role, a job, a whole host of emotions, an awesome responsibility. It is heartache, guilt, confusion, fear, uncertainty, helplessness, inadequacy, letting go's and grieving. It is also the joy of discovery, magical moments, the warmth of nurturing and sharing, remembering how to live in the moment, and unbridled, laugh-out-loud happiness. Parenting is the essence of real, pure unconditional love.

I don't think any parent can ever be prepared for the breadth and depth of emotions that are elicited by one tiny human being. As much as I read, as many masters-level courses as I took, I know I certainly never was completely prepared for this wild and wonderful world of parenting. Despite this, while I take a look back at my parenting journey, there are some lessons I have learned that may be helpful in your parenting journey as well.

  1. Self-care is no longer optional, but mandatory.
    This is especially true for the child's primary care-taker. Infants and children require an enormous amount of energy everyday. Unlike paid work, parenting allows for no sick days, no vacation days, no start time or more importantly, no ending time. A parent's work is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It has been for me, the most demanding "job" I have ever undertaken, bar none.

    Like most women, I too have been socialized into fitting the "all giving, all nurturing" role. The lesson I learned was this: At the times in your life you think you have the least amount of time to do so (i.e. you barely have time to eat, sleep or shower) that is the precise time you NEED to make the time to take care of yourself and nurture yourself. (For wonderful, exciting, outlandish and practical ways for you to practice self-care, I highly recommend "The Women's Comfort Book" by Jennifer Louden.)

  2. Enlist day to day support and utilize it as often as possible.
    I very much like and agree with the African Proverb "It takes a village to raise a child." Unfortunately, my experience is that the current age we live in, doesn't promote or support this concept. The places our parents sought support, in many cases are no longer options for the parents of today. My parents looked to neighbors, extended family and school-aged kids to help with their child's care. The neighborhoods of yesterday are all but gone; many of us live in neighborhoods where we don't even know our neighbors' names. Relatives, including grandparents, are often strewn out over various cities and states. The high-school-aged kids my parents relied on to baby-sit have traded in babysitting for minimum wage jobs in retail and service industries, while middle-school kids are so busy with sports, plays, music, and other activities, they rarely have any free time to baby-sit.

    The other big change since my parent's time is the number of families with two wage earners. And while Moms in the workforce is not a new or sudden change, society is still not set up to accommodate this important change. Husbands, employers, daycares and schools, all of which could be sources of support, many times instead create more stress for mothers and families. Some husbands may still expect women to do it all at home in addition to working outside the home and are reluctant to do their fair share as fathers and homeowners. And some women unfortunately agree to this arrangement, leading to the very unhealthy and damaging "superwoman" syndrome. Couples need to re-negotiate their roles at home and at work to create a healthy balance for the whole family.

    The work-world continues to plow ahead, seemingly ambivalent about the number of families juggling multiple careers and children. Very few employers offer flex-time or job-share opportunities, and frown upon paternity leave. And while maternity leave is an option for most mothers, very few families can afford to take as much leave as they would like because it is unpaid. Many employers simply have little or no regard for family life, requiring shift work, weekend work and "on-call" time. Though companies often pay lip service to the phrase "children are our future", most neglect to put their money where their mouth is.

    As for daycares, my experiences have not been good. Daycare centers are understaffed and overcrowded with care providers that are not nearly as knowledgeable as they need to be in regards to child development.

    The lesson I have learned is this - "You can have it all, you just need to decide what "all" is for you (as stated by Dr. Nancy Schneiderman, during an evening for women's health care.) I have learned that each family needs to define and assert their own values and priorities, and blaze their own trail in devising a system that works for them. Knowing that what worked for families of yesterday may not work for families of today, modern-day families have to be clear about what "all" is for them as individuals, as parents, as couples and as a family. I have learned that families need to be creative, assertive and flexible when gathering and enlisting support, because it is not as readily available or easily accessible as it once was. I have learned to graciously accept support from those who offer. I have learned to go with the flow more, and hang on for dear life to my sense of humor during often chaotic times.

  3. Find and utilize emotional support whenever needed.
    The lack of readily available support can result in a great deal of stress for parents. I have found it essential to get emotional support for myself in my role as a parent. Having children is a life-changing event that requires changes too numerous to detail. Balancing work and family, maintaining a healthy marriage or partnership, dealing with your own childhood issues that frequently surface when you become a parent, and learning how best to parent your individual child are potential hot-spots for conflict, stress and unhealthy behaviors.

    I have learned to request emotional support from trusted family members and friends. Create a social support network for yourself that includes other parents. Ask for their time and a listening, supportive ear to help you work through your problems. If this doesn't provide the lasting help you were seeking, consider enlisting the support of a professional counselor. Often, a third party can shed light on patterns, behaviors or issues that family and friends cannot always see. A counselor can be the key in providing the emotional support you need and deserve as a parent.

  4. Finally, never stop learning!!
    We are NOT born into this world knowing how to parent; it is NOT an innate skill. Nor are we required to take any classes on parenting during our formal education. In addition, every child and every parent is a unique human being with individual needs; every family has its own dynamics, history and legacies. Parenting is a journey, a process, a becoming...it is a privilege I am honored to learn more about every day.

I have found the following books helpful on my personal parenting journey, as well as professionally as I work with helping my clients to parent better. I highly recommend these books to any parent, grandparent, teacher or adult who cares about children:

Raising and disciplining children:
  1. Kids are Worth It! Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline, by Barbara Coloroso
  2. How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
  3. Siblings without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
  4. Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
  5. Transforming the Difficult Child, The Nurtured Heart Approach, by Howard Glasser, MA and Jennifer Easley, MA
Books for Mothers:
  1. The Mother Dance, How Children Change your Life, by Harriet Lerner, PhD
  2. The Sacrificial Mother, Escaping the Trap of Self-Denial, by Carol Rubenstein
  3. The Woman's Comfort Book, by Jennifer Louden
  4. The Pregnant Woman's Comfort Book, by Jennifer Louden
Books on Shared Parenting:
  1. The Second Shift, by Arlie Russell Hochschild
  2. Love, Honor & Negotiate, Building Partnerships that Last a Lifetime, by Betty Carter, M.S.W.
  3. Halving it All, How Equally Shared Parenting Works, by Francine M. Deutsch

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