My biggest regret as a parent
My daughter turned 10 just before Christmas, which felt like a huge milestone. A whole decade of parenting! If you’re old enough to document your life on Facebook, you’ll have memories that come up every day (I know, the cool kids are all over on TikTok and Instagram these days, you are probably too young to use Facebook). However, as those memories have come up, one thing has struck me as I review my daughter’s life as a baby, a toddler, a preschooler, with the benefit of hindsight…
I expected way too much from her
Looking back, I can see why. She was intense, precocious and she met a lot of milestones early. I have a video of her standing at the side of the sofa desperately trying to get to our cat. She said “ca, ca” over and over again. She was eight months old, people! By the age of 2 she could recognize the entire alphabet. And believe it or not, I didn’t teach her. She taught herself to read and write before she started school. And so, I expected so much more from her. I expected a level of maturity and independence that she wasn’t capable of.
Some examples of things I complained about:
- Taking a very long time to fully potty train
- Expecting her to fall asleep on her own
- Not having the self-control to wait until I finish a task
The funny thing is that second time around, my son took even longer to achieve those things. And yet, I’ve become a bit more patient, a bit more understanding. They just didn’t seem like the massive problems they were the first time around.
You have no idea how sad I feel, looking back. I put her under so much pressure. I got so frustrated trying to get her to act in a way she wasn’t capable of. Yep, she’s smart. But smart doesn’t mean that a child has the emotional capacity to cope under pressure, or in a new situation, or when her sensory system is overwhelmed.
We value independence, don’t we?
As a society, we value independence in our children. We are an individualistic culture. Our main aim as parents is to create independent children, and the sooner the better, right? We also put a lot of stock in our children being “advanced”. If they meet their milestones early we take this as a sign that we are good parents – we’re providing a lot of stimulation and investing in their development. But what if developmental is linear – children should do A, then B, then C. What if jumping from A to C isn’t ideal? There are certain aspects of development that I’ve learned over the last few years that mean that if I could go back and change things, I would.
What I would do differently
We can’t force independence
Independence grows from a base of security. And guess what? We are that base of security that our children need. That security is a firm foundation and children HAVE to move through the stages of attachment in order to reach maturity and independence. I’ve done a lot of study through the Neufeld Institute over the last couple of years and I highly recommend that you have a look at some of the free resources Dr Gordon Neufeld has. I just love his approach to child development as it’s firmly rooted in attachment. Looking back, I’d have focused more on attachment rather than pushing her towards something she wasn’t capable of.
Faster doesn’t mean better
As I mentioned before, we place value on our children being advanced and meeting early milestones. However, our children are hardwired to develop. It sounds almost crazy to say it, but if you don’t spend your day trying to get your child to sit, or stand, or talk, do you know what eventually happens? They learn to sit on their own, to pull themselves up, and they talk when they are ready. My second barely said two words until he was 2 years old. As a five year old he now follows me around all day and Never. Stops. Talking. I almost miss the toddler days where he’d sit and play silently on his own!
Let them develop motor skills on their own
I love the RIE approach: we shouldn’t “help” our children improve their mobility. So for example, they’d recommend not propping a child up to sit. Let them lie on their back or tummy until they can roll, and work out how to sit on their own. If you think about the pathways in the brain that have to form for those skills to establish, if you do it for them, they don’t have the opportunity to really work out how to move from lying, to kneeling, to turning over and sitting. When we give them that opportunity, their brain lays down those steps one at a time and as a result, the neurons actually develop much stronger pathways.
Don’t start solids too soon
This is another example where we think sooner is better. Starting solids early because you think your child is “advanced” and “ready” – hmmmm… it’s really unlikely that any child is ready to start solids before 6 months, give or take a week. There are many benefits to waiting till six months, and to be honest, no benefits to starting sooner. At six months, they have the ability to control what goes into their mouth a bit better, and you don’t need to start with purees – mashed, soft food and finger foods is fine (a lot less prep for you!)
Don’t push independent sleep
Often as a sleep consultant I see parents that want to move their babies into their own room, or stop feeding to sleep. Sure, I can help you do this if your baby is capable of it, but often if what a baby needs is connection and comfort, meeting that need in the moment (and working on everything else around sleep) is actually is a much easier option. As kiddies get older, it becomes easier for them to adapt to those changes we ask of them.
I’d accommodate her sensitive nature
Sensitive kids get more overwhelmed, and they will be much older before they can start to regulate themselves. This is often a double whammy for these poor kids. They may be very capable of expressing themselves verbally so we THINK that they are able to process an event logically or maturely. When actually, the opposite is true. It’s going to take them longer.
Give it a try yourself
I’ve been a lot more laid back, second time around. I’ve not pushed the milestones, or expected too much from my second child. He still got there in the end with all his milestones. In fact the only thing that has ever really concerned me slightly was his speech, but he’s certainly caught up in the last year! I’m obviously not saying that you ignore a real issue where there is a developmental delay or a child is very obviously lagging behind with their milestones. However, pushing a child beyond what they are capable of is of no value either.
The biggest advantage to trusting that your child WILL develop?
Well, it takes a lot of pressure off you. I’m not suggesting that you neglect your child and leave them unstimulated all day. But just give them the opportunities to try out these skills themselves. Don’t help them too much. They’ll get there in the end.
Work on the attachment you have with your child. Engage in activities with your child, but sit back and let them work things out themselves. Remind yourself that slower is sometimes better. Our children are hardwired to develop and grow up. And it’ll happen much quicker than you expect.
Interested in working with me?
I offer consultations with a strong attachment-focus. Whether it sleep, breastfeeding, weaning, or just dealing with toddler tantrums, I can help!