Wisdom//

What I Learned About Being a Parent Before I Became One

It's easy to second guess yourself as a first-time parent. Here's how I've learned to trust my gut.

Osabee/ Shutterstock
Osabee/ Shutterstock

I’m not a parenting expert, but my husband and I started a family quite recently — and while we’ve learned a lot, there’s so much we’ve yet to find out. Our baby girl is now almost 11 months old, and she’s starting to show her seemingly well-developed personality. While many aspects of her character are still under construction, the one thing she seems to have mastered is the ability to say a very firm, “NO.” She will shake her head from side to side — and with a calm, yet unflinching expression — send her message across.

I majored in Developmental Psychology in college, and worked as a Behavior Therapist for children with special needs in Southern California before switching careers. I always wanted to become a parent someday, and I have juggled various thoughts on parenting from very early on. After learning from some of the most skilled psychologists in the country and training with professionals who worked with special needs children, I learned a few important lessons about raising children that have stuck with me to this day.

Here are a few reminders we all need as first-time parents:

Know that parenting is not “one size fits all.”

You may have heard this before, but it’s true: Each child is profoundly different. Their unique needs, growth trajectories, and stories will vary — and your parenting strategies will, too. This is something I need to keep reminding myself of as well. What your friend does when their toddler wakes up in the night might be different from how you would approach the situation — and that’s OK. There is no correct way to raise a child. Each parent has their own ways of teaching and interacting with their kids, so try to embrace and enjoy the journey as much as you can. Before you know it, they will grow up, make their own decisions, and leave for college in the blink of an eye. There will always be a part of you that will miss them terribly, but trusting them to transition into adulthood is one of the best decisions you can make for them, and for yourself. You’ll encourage them to be independent, and to learn from their life experiences — and they’ll use the lessons you instilled in them to make their own choices.

Let go of the little things.

This is an important one, and it doesn’t mean that you need to love your kids any less (we all know that’s not possible, anyway!) It just means that it’s important to let go of certain things as your kids grow up. Letting go of the little things will benefit your mental well-being, and will make you less stressed on a regular basis. Are the kids jumping on your favorite couch? Let go! Did they fall and get bruised while playing in the park? Don’t spend your evening discussing their wound all day. Believe it or not, kids are super resilient. Instead, let ig go! By choosing not to harp on the little wounds today, you’ll arm your kids with the tools to deal with the bigger obstacles down the road.

I like how Michelle Obama spoke about this in regard to her own parents in her book, Becoming. They were regular parents who never over praised her during an achievement or yelled at her when something went wrong. It reminds me of my own parents, who had a similar strategy when raising their daughters. My sister and I were reprimanded when we did something wrong, but then, everyone moved on. And if we repeated it, we’d have to clean up our mess on our way. This behavior is so crucial to raising children who will be adept in handling work pressures or life’s bigger problems when they come. Think of parenting as an airplane instead of a helicopter. Let your children grow on their own, and imagine you are the airplane that helps propel them forward — not the helicopter who hovers around them all day, honing in on everything small slip-up.

Be your child’s friend.

My sister and I grew up talking to our parents about our crushes in school, and opening up about details of our lives that children don’t often share with parents. I don’t recall asking for permission to stay out late, or spend an extra fifteen minutes on a phone call. All I remember is telling my mother that I’d like to do something, and if it made sense, she’d give me permission to do so on my own. In retrospect, I felt so comfortable opening up to my mom because she was always willing to listen, like a friend does. My dad was also the very definition of a “cool parent.” This is not to say that we weren’t reprimanded when required or that I never made any bad decisions — while my parents were our best friends, we were also expected to respect their decisions and understand the impact of any decisions we made. Treating your kids like adults makes them realize that that are accountable and responsible for their actions — and urges them to open up to you like a friend would.

Don’t give into every demand.

With the access to information we’re privy to today, we are able to give our children the world. From the latest gadgets, toys or travel experiences to different countries, nothing seems to be out of reach for the modern parents. However, it’s important to take a step back and recognize the privilege at play here.  When we were younger, we didn’t have ‘everything’. We grew up knowing that we had to work hard to achieve our goals. Today, it’s more important than ever to teach your kids the values of empathy and hard work. Those values are far superior than giving them the newest iPhone. Instead, limit your time on your phone when you’re around your kids, and spend time with them without the distractions of our devices. Studies show that the rate of depression is highest for college students who come from affluent households with access to everything they desire. Let’s give our children the best — not with material things, but with our time and attention.

Be OK with learning as you go.

We spend so much time trying to be the “perfect parent” to our children, but our kids understand more than you’d imagine. They pick up on what affects your energy — your stressors, your anxieties, and even your happiness triggers. The most important aspect of parenting is to build an atmosphere where your child understands that they are loved and respected for who they are. It’s important for parents to treat them as individuals who have their own opinions, feelings and make their own mistakes. And for the times when you’re not sure about what to do, I’d like to offer the best advice someone gave me: Just wing it. Most parents are simply figuring it out as they go.

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