Simplifying Parenting from the Start:
Me + You = Us
by Cynthia Frosch, PhD
In the current climate, many families are choosing to scale back, live more simply, and prioritize. Moving to a larger home or spending money on a nursery may be beyond the reach of many families expecting a new baby. What can new and expecting parents do to simplify the transition to parenthood? Let’s address three key – and free! – investments all parents can make from the start.
Me. Simplifying parenting starts with “me” — the parent. Reflect on your strengths to identify the many wonderful characteristics that you bring to parenting. If you are a creative, gentle person, then creativity and gentleness are two important traits you bring to parenting. Start by considering all of the gifts you bring with you to parenthood. Also consider how your own childhood has contributed to your adult personality as well as your beliefs about parenting.
Knowing yourself will also help you to identify areas where you might need additional support and help you determine what you will need in order to thrive as a new parent. If you are someone who exercises daily for emotional and physical health, consider how you can meet that need as a new parent. Perhaps you can join an exercise group where you can exercise with your baby, OR walk outdoors each day with your baby in a sling or backpack. By knowing your own needs, you will be better able to meet your child’s needs.
+You. Second, consider what your child brings to the relationship. Each child is born with unique needs and a unique temperament. Discovering who your child is at their core will be beneficial in developing a solid relationship between the two of you. Consider your child’s temperament. Is your child open to new tastes and experiences? Easily distracted? Persistent? Intense? Active? Also consider your child’s physical health, special needs, preferences, and interests. Can you allow your child to show you who they are and accept your child as a complete person?
=Us. Third, look at the fit between you and your child. If you are a night owl and your newborn baby does not fall asleep until late, then the nighttime fit between you will be quite good. Now imagine that you like to go to bed at 9:00pm and your baby doesn’t fall asleep until 11:00pm? Not quite as good of a fit. The key is to acknowledge your child’s needs and identify ways to adjust your behavior to improve the fit. Can your partner stay up later and transition the baby to sleep? Perhaps you can gently and gradually move your child’s bedtime a bit earlier over time. Or take a nap when your baby naps so that you stay well-rested… even if housework goes by the wayside.
Or perhaps your child tends to be fussier around dinnertime. Carry your baby in a sling while you make dinner. Take a walk outside. Give your child a bath. And keep evening meals simple and quick so that you can enjoy the time with your baby more. Use a slow cooker or make sandwiches for dinner.
Thinking about the fit also means considering the question: What is my “edge” in parenting? What pushes me outside of my comfort zone? And how can you work with challenges in a way that supports and deepens your relationship with your child? My son really likes physical play and tickling games and I still remember the first time I heard him have a full belly laugh as a baby. I ran into the living room thinking something was wrong. But there he was laughing and laughing while my husband played on the floor with him. My edge? Being silly and physically playful. It is an area where I have really worked to stretch and share in my son’s interests and connect in a way that is meaningful to him.
Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, explains that our resistance to parenting challenges only amplifies them. However, when we are able to surrender our resistance and accept that the relationship with our children is paramount to our personal “edges,” we are able to move into a place of joy. Parenting – resistance + acceptance = joy.
The bottom line: The best investment you can make for your child’s future is awareness and understanding. Know yourself. Know your child. And look at ways to improve the fit. You may not have the money to buy the stroller of your dreams or choose designer furniture for the nursery, and even if you do, you can invest in the relationship for free. The dividends? Priceless.
Cynthia Frosch is a child and family development consultant, researcher, and visiting scholar at the University of Texas at Dallas. She is also mom to a 5-year-old son and creator of The READY MethodTM, a visual guide to interacting with children from birth to three. Cynthia blogs at http://www.ReadyMethod.com