Recently, I started reading this book called ‘The Gardener and The Carpenter’ by Alison Gopnik, and she opened my eyes to a different paradigm of parenting.
Somehow, deep inside, I knew there was something amiss with how we approach parenting nowadays – as parents, we are always so concerned, so competitive, so full of guilt – as we constantly try to make our kids smart, independent, empathetic, responsible and successful.
I had started to wonder – are we taking this responsibility of bringing up a child, more seriously than we should. It seemed as if the job was much easier for our parents. Are we really helping our kids by being overly concerned about them and their future? That’s when I struck gold with these words by Alison Gopnik. I quote –
“To Parent – is not actually a verb, not a form of work, and it isn’t and shouldn’t be directed toward the goal of sculpting a child into a particular kind of adult. Instead, to be a parent—to care for a child—is to be part of a profound and unique human relationship, to engage in a particular kind of love. Love doesn’t have goals or benchmarks or blueprints, but it does have a purpose. The purpose is not to change the people we love, but to give them what they need to thrive. Love’s purpose is not to shape our beloved’s destiny, but to help them shape their own. It isn’t to show them the way, but to help them find a path for themselves, even if the path they take isn’t one we would choose ourselves, or even one we would choose for them.”
In simpler words, she says – “Our job as parents is not to make a particular kind of child. Instead, our job is to provide a protected space of love, safety, and stability in which children of many unpredictable kinds can flourish.”Alison Gopnik
When I read this last line – I couldn’t help but wonder, isn’t that what mothers do when we are pregnant with a little life within us? – Provide a protected space of Love, Safety and Stability, where the little one can peacefully flourish, the way it is meant to be.
And this little thought snowballed into 11 Parenting Lessons that, I believe, God is giving us through ‘pregnancy’ – because, you know, the internet wasn’t there a million years ago – and God knew these innocent parents would need some lessons!!
As you read through these lessons, I’d urge you to think – are we making our Parenting Journey tougher and more complicated than what it was meant to be?
- Replicate the Oath of Pregnancy
The moment any mother realizes that she’s pregnant – she secretly whispers a little oath to the life within her – “I promise to take care of you, keep you safe and provide for you in the best way that I can.” As Alison Gopnik points out, that’s mainly what is expected of you even when the baby is out – to provide a safe space to flourish. Never does a mother proclaim – “Baby, now that I have you, I will make sure you come out as the most successful, confident, empathetic baby ever!”
- Replicate the Prayer of Pregnancy
All through those 9 months of pregnancy, every mother has just one prayer – “God, boy or girl, I don’t care much – just let the baby be healthy and perfectly fine.” Beyond the grades, degrees, medals and fancy jobs that you wish your kids will have as they grow, isn’t their physical, mental and emotional health most precious to you!? Let’s not forget that, when we knowingly or unknowingly put the burden of our expectations on our kids.
- Resist the urge to micromanage, there’s very little you can do about the final outcome anyway.
During my pregnancy, I used to wonder, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a transparent belly, so we could monitor the baby every moment.” When I finally had my little daughter, I realised what a boon it was to NOT have to monitor your baby every moment. But of course, other than infancy and toddlerhood, where we might want to be more careful than sorry – it is best to slowly release our clutches and resist the urge to micromanage – should I send him for dance or for chess or for both? Should he be doing Commerce or Arts? Because ….
- Most kids turn out perfectly fine, all the time.
There are millions of sperms and eggs fertilizing perfectly, dividing and multiplying the way they should to form the head, the fingers, the toes, the heart and the nose – to ultimately deliver a perfectly fine baby at the end of 9 months. Despite the jitters and anxiousness that every pregnant mother experiences, we know, that does not help the final outcome in any way. So, let’s keep unnecessary worries out of parenting too. Just like in pregnancy, periodic checks with necessary corrective measures is usually enough. So, choose your battles, worry only about the choices and decisions that are truly meaningful – that’s a mantra to live by.
- Every journey is unique and so is every child.
While I was in labour (which eventually lasted for 36 hours), each time my gynaec would come to check, I would ask, “When will this end?”, and she would say with a straight face – “I can’t really say, every pregnancy is unique.” While at that point in time, I could have smashed her nose – now, I realise how true that is about parenting as well. The sooner you acknowledge that you are on a UNIQUE journey with your UNIQUE children, the easier it will be for you to get out of the trap of unnecessary comparison & competition, and give yourself a whole lot of peace.
- The bond you share with your child matters most – ABOVE ALL
You haven’t seen this little being yet, but you ‘know’ her. The moment you laid your eyes on your little baby for the very 1st time, you felt as if you’ve known her for aeons. That’s the BOND you share with your child. While infancy & intimacy go hand in hand – as years progress – the distance between us and our child gradually & sadly increases – physically as well as emotionally. As parents, while we are busy trying to do the best we can for our kids, trying to MAKE them the best – let’s not forget – when all is said and done, what you will cherish is not the accomplishments, but the memories and the relationship you share with your beloved child. Let this end goal govern all your parenting decisions.
- There are a million things happening to that little life on a daily basis.
During my pregnancy, I had subscribed for weekly updates on what the baby looks like and its developments. What a joy it was to know about those tiny little fingers and toes developing, just like it was so enjoyable as my little one achieved those milestones every month during the 1st year. If we think deeply though, for all of these visible changes to happen – there has to a million things that are going on inside their little bodies and brains. And it continues for several years after birth till they reach adulthood. Being aware of this fact, will help us have a little more empathy and patience in dealing with our kids through their tantrums, tempers and rebellion.
- Your well-being matters a LOT
Every pregnant mother knows that her baby’s health depends a lot on her own health. Not just the physical health, but mothers are also extra careful about their thoughts, actions and emotions during those 9 months. However, as years go by, mothers slowly forget that their physical, mental and emotional well-being still has an impact on their child. If you’ve slept only for 4 hours, haven’t had your lunch, and now your toddler is screaming his lungs out for a candy – most likely, you will end up hitting your child and then feel sorry about it. Self-love and self-care will not only help you be nicer to your kids when they need you most, but it will also set a good example for them when they are in the same position. Just like you’d ask for help if you had to carry a heavy shopping bag in your 9th month, even later in your parenting journey, remember to ask for help, and take all the help you get! It is worthwhile to know ‘there’s no trophy at the end’!
- A few slip-ups are OK!
It’s ok if you had a burger in your 4th month, and that you couldn’t resist the pani-puri in your 9th month – your baby still came out fine, the guilt was unnecessary! Similarly, a few missteps, taken unknowingly once in a while, during your parenting journey – can be pardoned. Your child will not hate you all his life, just because you happened to miss his annual day program. Give yourself permission to fail once in a while, we all are learning as we go! Guilt isn’t good for you or your child. You are a good parent, because you are trying your best, everyday!
- The ‘kicks’ are a part of the journey
Remember, how those tiny kicks you experienced during the 4th month turned into somersaults by the 9th month? You didn’t complain, did you? Because, you knew those kicks were not only enjoyable, but also a proof of life. In parenthood, let’s say your kids tantrums, mischief and rebellion are the ‘kicks’ – let’s accept them as a part of the package. Let’s cherish them too, because it won’t last for long. Let’s learn how to take those kicks in our stride, just like you had devised ways to sit through those somersaults during pregnancy.
- You have to ‘Let Go’ someday
As much as you little baby enjoys the safe space you provided her with for 9 months, she can’t stay there forever. She must enter a new world that awaits with new possibilities, wonders and challenges. And as much as you would want your little baby to grow up, yet remain small enough to fit in your arms – you have to ‘let go’ someday. Like Alison Gopnik says, “Our adult children are and should be foreigners – inhabitants of the future.”
We can pat ourselves for having done a good job as a parent – if our kids grow up to be able to masterfully deal with the inevitable and unpredictable changes that face them in the future. That would be our TROPHY!