Thursday, February 18, 2010

For ScienceGirl

Blogfriend ScienceGirl is about to embark upon a new journey in her life: she and her husband are about to have their first child! This exciting news is tempered by the fact that she and her husband have only recently moved to the place where they live, and don't have much of a network of friends yet. This means that they're not having a baby shower, and will have to depend mostly on themselves when the baby comes.

I unfortunately don't live close enough to help out (otherwise I'd be inviting myself to come help like I did for my sister et al. in December!), but at the suggestion of blogfriend EcoGeoFemme, we are holding a virtual baby shower/blog carnival for ScienceGirl. Hopefully our words of support will be good for something.

ScienceGirl, I'm privileged to know you not just through the internet but also in real life! I know that you will be an excellent mother and you probably don't need any of my help in doing so. Still, I hope that my experience will be of help to you. I would like to offer you two pieces of advice -- two themes, if you will, that have helped me make it through the journey of motherhood so far.

The first is "This, too, shall pass." The immense pain of childbirth? Lasts on the order of hours. The sleep deprivation? Doesn't last forever. The temper tantrums? They'll go away as she matures.

On the other hand, it's not just the bad things that pass. Before you know it, your Baby Girl will be sitting up, crawling, then walking. She'll become more and more independent with every passing day. And she'll be too big to cuddle in your lap before you know what happens. So you need to savor the moment -- watch her explore those new-found things called hands, enjoy the groans and sighs of ecstacy as she drinks that milk, and caress that soft, soft skin and those tiny little fingers.

There will be moments that you miss. I missed my son's first crawl, because I had to go to bed early so I could go to work. You may get jealous of her other caregivers, and this is understandable. But remember this: at the end of the day, nobody can compare to Mama. You will be loved by your daughter more purely, more fiercely, than she loves anyone else. Enjoy her, and your time with her, in the moment -- because this too shall pass.

The second thing I'd like to talk about is what it means to be a good parent. You don't try to get a Ph.D. in Science from a Prestigious Institution of Higher Learning if you're not ambitious and somewhat competitive. Making comparisons between yourself and others, and striving to be Better than others may work okay in an academic environment* -- but when it comes to parenthood, it does not. You will never be the Best Mother in the World; you can only strive to be the best mother you can be.

First, comparing your parenting, as measured by the outcome of your child's development, to others' will only serve to get you into trouble. "So-and-so's kid walked at 10 months, and mine had just started crawling then" -- so what? Different kids develop at different rates; one person's kid developing skills earlier than another's is not a referendum on their parenting skills, or on the quality of your child. Certainly, there's something to be concerned about if your child doesn't pick up these skills, but there is such a wide range of developmental curves, that in 99.9% of all cases, there's nothing to worry about.

Second, being overcritical of your own parenting actions is counterproductive. This is not to say that you should never examine your actions, or be critical of what you've done. But it is counterproductive to punish yourself over mistakes that you've made.

Examine your history and your behavior patterns, and know your vulnerabilities. For example, I tend to yell out of anger, because that's how I was brought up. Do your best not to be triggered into doing the undesirable behaviors by learning what it is that pushes that button. (In my case, it's when I am drawn into a battle of wills -- plus sleep deprivation, stress, hunger, etc.) Then, avoid getting into that situation. (I try to redirect rather than directly confront disobedience -- with the exception of immediate dangers like running out into the street -- which works much better than imposing my will on him ever could. I also try to keep myself healthy to avoid the second set of triggers.)

You won't always succeed. I have barked at my son more times than I would have liked, but it's okay. I've transformed those situations from failures to learning experiences by figuring out what triggered me, how I can avoid that situation in the future, and (most importantly) apologizing to my son for my unacceptable behavior. Our children use us as role models, and modeling grace and humility in the face of a mistake is one of the best ways we can help them deal with their own inevitable mistakes and frustrations.

But love yourself enough to know that even in that dark moment, you had only the best of intentions. Create a plan of action, forgive yourself, and move on. Get some help (from family and friends, or from an expert) if you need it. Just believe in yourself confidently enough to know that you are growing and maturing even as an adult, and that you are and will continue to mature into the best parent you can be.

ScienceGirl, I am so happy for you and I'm looking forward to someday meeting your little one. Please know that I'll be thinking positive thoughts in your general direction as you get adjusted to life as a mother, and that I'm only a phone call away.

* I find this assertion debatable, but that is a subject for another post.


ScienceGirl said...

Wow, there is a lot to think about in this post - thank you for taking the time to write it!

I will have to remember to tell myself that the hard things will be over soon, and to savor the good things while I can. My competitive streak... well, I will try to not let it work against me. And I do tend to be hard on myself about my character flaws, which do become more apparent the less sleep/rest I get; thank you for the advice on how I can learn to deal with my flaws in a more productive way.

Thanks again for your kind words, and I am glad to be able to ask you questions when I have them!

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The bean-mom said...

What fantastic advice, Rebecca. Although I already have children, there is much for me to learn here, too!

Rebecca said...

Thanks ScienceGirl and The Bean-Mom. I always hope that my mistakes can be a learning experience not just for me but for others around me too.