Of all the things in life that you are probably most unprepared for, it’s becoming a parent for the first time.
No matter how ready you think you are as a mother- or father-to-be, nothing quite shakes your self-confidence like the first scream of your newborn baby.
First comes the feeding, either the breast, the bottle, or both. Then the nappies. The bathing. The vomiting. The unexplained rash, and the first temperature higher than normal.
Not to mention the sleeping, or lack thereof, and the crying… and that’s just the parents!
Then the baby learns to crawl. You turn your head and…OMG, where is she? The stairs! OMG, the stairs!
So you put up barricades and gates and obstacles so your child won’t tumble down the stairs or fall out the window. You put locks on the cupboards and pantry doors. You padlock the fridge (which you will do once again when they’re teenagers, but for now it’s a safety issue).
Then your baby suddenly stands, wobbles for a second, then takes their first steps. You’re full of delight and joy, little realising that within a patter of delightful footsteps they’ll be running and heading toward that busy main road. And you thought they were fast when they crawled!
Before long the tantrums begin, and that’s usually the father. Then kindergarten or ELC. Then the first day of primary school and learning to swim. The first netball game, or cricket, or football. Then in a flash of birthday parties and sleepovers, it’s the first day of high school.
Then it’s tests and exams and, oh dear, boyfriends and girlfriends. Then it’s parties with alcohol and “Don’t you tell me what to do!” Then it’s L-plates and finally P-plates and they’re speeding down the driveway faster than they could run.
And as the dust settles from the tyres and the brake lights dim from view, you wonder: Where did all the time go?
You hope they are prepared for the real world. You hope they have developed the right attitudes and have grown into the young adult you’d always envisaged they would.
You think of all the mistakes you made as a parent. The things you could have done differently. The arguments that happened. The tears that were shed.
You have been on an emotional journey. Your little baby has taken you to the extremes of emotion, from delirious joy and happiness, to despairing guilt and anger.
But can it really be any other way? You see, it isn’t just your baby that is growing up during their brief time with you—you are also growing up.
You will discover that children are the best teachers. They teach you more about yourself than any doctor or psychologist or life coach could ever do.
They show you your weaknesses and lay them out bare for everyone else to see. They show you how you speak, act and behave by repeating every word that comes out of your mouth, by absorbing every emotion you exhibit, and by copying all your bad habits.
That’s why they say, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Your children will grow up to be like you in many ways. They will most likely support the same football team, vote for the same political party, believe in the same God or the absence of a God.
They aren’t you, of course, they are their own unique selves, but their genetics and their environment (which includes you, their parent) shape the adult they will become.
Which is why your role as a parent is so important, why it’s vital you get it right. There is ample research that shows the absence of a parental figure, usually the father, is a risk factor for poor educational achievement and even future criminal activity.
Parental absenteeism can either be physical (you’re just not around), or emotional (you simply don’t care), or psychological (you wish they weren’t there). Or it can be physical, emotional, and psychological abuse, which is worse.
But for the most part, most parents do want to be parents. They do love their children and they do want the best for them.
So what’s the best parental mindset to have when raising your kids? Is there a one-size-fits-all approach that can be applied to every child and every family in every situation? Is it even realistic to even consider it?
I believe there is, but it’s not quite a one-size-fits-all. It’s more like a one-pattern or single blueprint that you can use and adapt to your own family and children to suit your own unique needs and circumstances. It’s a parenting mindset that you can adopt and take ownership of, kind of like your own family crest.
Remember, we’re talking mindset here, so that means attitude.
Everything starts with your attitude: your thoughts, your emotions, your words, your actions. Get your attitude right and everything else falls into place. Get it wrong, and everything falls apart.
That includes parenting.
So the best parenting attitude I have discovered and have used habitually for the better part of 18 years, is actually a question I ask each night before I fall asleep.
This question came to me one day when my daughters were young and I began to think, If death knocks on my door tonight and I do not wake up tomorrow, what is the most important thing I should have done today?
The answer was obvious, to me at least:
Did I love them today?
So, this is my parenting attitude, the attitude from which all my parenting thoughts, emotions, words, and actions stem from:
At the end of the long day, if I have done nothing else but loved my children, then today is a success.
This is my parenting mantra, and each new day brings this same opportunity of success. I’ve had thousands of such successful days. Which means you too as a parent can have thousands and thousands of successful days.
Children who know they are loved, wanted and needed are rooted in depths of self-worth and self-acceptance. They are the children that grow into the most self-assured and confident adults. Knowing they are loved, wanted and needed, they can take on the world with fearlessness and with courage.
These are the children who are truly self-determined and free because they grow up to love themselves.
As Frances Scovel Shinn, author of the classic, bestselling book, The Game of Life and How to Play It, said: “The first start toward success is to be glad you are yourself.”
In these days of increasing anxiety, body image disturbances, drug addiction, self-harm, and pandemics, what more could any parent want for their child?