Covering parenting and child development issues
"The easiest thing in the world is to be you. The most difficult thing is to be what other people want you to be." (Leo Buscaglia)
It starts with something small. A change in diet when the pregnancy test comes back positive. A new room to accommodate a new family member. Changes in spending and saving, entertainment choices, vacations. Before long, all the little changes have added up to the inevitable lifestyle change that accompanies parenthood.
Our children change us, too. We begin to see the world through their eyes, and their queries make us question things we thought we knew all along. They challenge us, they stretch us (literally and figuratively), they exhaust us and in so doing, cause a shift in the way we look at the world.
Some would argue that these changes are a natural part of the aging process, of human development. With or without children, our world view is shaped by our experiences. Children are simply another experience.
But when you're a parent, that experience is pervasive. With our children or away from them, we are affected by them, influenced by them, their needs running through our heads like a ticker tape regardless of where we are -- or where they are. Head off to work when your child is sick and it will affect your entire day. Send them to school or sleepaway camp, let them ride a bike or drive a car or grow up and start a family of their own, and still the ticker tape clicks away.
Along the way on the parenting journey, our decisions are influenced by what other people want us to be. What do the books and pediatricians say about parenting? How about our own parents, friends and neighbors, our children's teachers? What do our children expect of us, and how does it color what we expect of them?
Parenting is simultaneously a solo venture and a group experience as we cull information, selecting that which rings true and measuring it against experience that is meager at first, but grows over time as we gain both experience and confidence. We change, they change, the world changes and suddenly being who you were is no longer as easy as it once was, and being who you are is only a temporary state of affairs.
And still, we want to be who other people want us to be -- the ideal parent, the doting husband, the cool mom. Messages flood us, some valid, some not, and sifting through them can be exhausting. We change too much because we doubt ourselves, or we resist change because change is scary.
But in the end, only two things matter: being true to ourselves and doing the best we can with their best interests at heart. There is no ideal parent, no perfect spouse, no always-cool mom or dad. Real parents make mistakes. We let go when we should hold on and hold on when we should let go. We feed them too much ice cream and not enough broccoli, but as long as we're willing to adjust, the damage is unlikely to be permanent. As long as we stay fixed on the inner compass that keeps us on course, we'll end up in the right place.
Fortunately, there's more than one way to get there from here.