The Imperfect Parent
I remember the days when I was a perfect parent. When I knew that my incredible parenting techniques would produce the perfect child- the happiest, healthiest and best behaved mini-me in existence. I would comfortably guess that you, too, were perfect parents in that era, in the time I fondly remember as BC.
BC, I would look at a woman breastfeeding a child who was old enough to chew food, and believe that she was doing him a disservice. She should introduce her child to proper food as soon as teeth arrive. My children would stop breastfeeding before they could ask for food.
BC, I would watch a pregnant mother on a train standing up to let her child sit down on the only seat available, and think, “She is asking for trouble. That child will grow up to have no respect for his elders. He won’t understand that she has earned the right to that seat.” My children would vacate seats for adults.
BC, I would see a couple who shared their bed with their daughter, and decide that they probably had a complete lack of intimacy, wondering what on earth they were thinking. My children would sleep in their own beds from birth, thank you very much.
I looked at children who watched TV, not understanding why their parents couldn’t see the damage that was being done. No TV in my house.
I watched as little boys ran around the park playing with guns and swords, wondering how a parent could let their child be so violent at such a tender age. No weapons of mass destruction in my yard.
I saw snotty children in public places, thinking that the parents who reused the same tissue needed to learn more about quarantine and a lot about hygiene. My children would stay at home when they were sick, using one tissue for every wipe, followed by strict handwashing…
The thing is, I really didn’t have any right to have opinions on such subjects at that point in my life. I had little or no personal knowledge or understanding of the realities of parenting. My own upbringing wasn’t a reliable source of information, given the selective memory I had for things that only went in my favour. My BC opinion, therefore, is now officially rendered inconsiderate.
As soon as I became pregnant, I started to read and listen, watch and understand, and things started to look somewhat different. Now, with every single step I take as a parent, I am forced to rethink old ideas that lead to inaccurate judgements of actions, people and events.
I have had to learn how to become an IMperfect parent.
And this is what I have learned so far…
Breast is best for the child, when it’s possible. The longer one can breastfeed, the better the child’s immunity, emotional bonding, nutritional balance, cognitive development, and so on. The list is endless. Having said all of that, if a mother is unable to breastfeed for whatever reason, then I believe she must be given the freedom to provide for her child in the best possible way available to her, without being laden with guilt. A baby can feel a mother’s stress and negativity, so having courage in the decision to discontinue ineffective breastfeeding is of utmost importance. I breastfed for as long as I could, with both children and cried the day they weaned themselves. I tried everything to keep up my flow- natural herbs and potions, acupuncture, massage and the power of positive thinking. The more I tried, the less milk I had. The more I stressed, the more my babies fussed. Eventually, there was nothing left for them and all I could do was to give in to the pressure to feed them ‘normal’ food. So they got pureed organic vegetables and boiled water, and they were absolutely fine. I found my happy place again and so did they. They have continued to thrive with ‘other’ food, and finally, I lost the shame and guilt about my traitorous breasts. I just wish I had given myself permission to stop a lot earlier.
The woman who stands for her child on the train is a strong, stoic and loving mother who protects her little one at all costs. She does not expect others to stand for her but when someone finally does (invariably an older female who needs the seat just as much as she does), she sees a chance to keep her child safe. He isn’t tall enough to reach the safety handrails, nor is he strong enough to fight the lurch of the fast-moving train. Our children need to be looked after and even when they behave in a manner that suggests they are independent and all-knowing, they are still under the umbrella of our care. We are their guardians. I insist my children sit down on public transport, knowing that when they are taller and stronger, they will stand for those who need it most.
Parents who co-sleep with their babies and children are practising attachment parenting, the benefits of which are well-documented: babies bond well with both parents, some sleep better, breastfeeding is easier. Those who share beds with their offspring have well-adjusted children who have few attachment issues. Co-sleeping is not for everyone, though. Both of our children were windmill sleepers, and we quickly learned that a happy Mummy is a well-rested Mummy. We therefore encouraged our children to stay in their own beds, but to this day, we enjoy regular visits at 5am (!), and always sleep with our children when they are ill. As far as intimacy, well, everyone knows, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Those siblings aren’t dropped off by storks are they?! One just needs to find the will…!
We don’t have a TV in our house, but we use the computer, the iPad and other tools to electronically babysit our children for small periods of time. We make the time to monitor what our children watch, what they do and for how long they do it. When my son was 4 years old, he saw commercial television at his grandfather’s house for 30 minutes. During that time, he saw an ad for a toy that he has not stopped talking about for 2 years now. He still doesn’t have one, because his Mummy is very stubborn and won’t be dictated to by the media, but he has the image of the toy imprinted on his beautiful brain forever now. Children are coming into contact with technology at every turn- to teach them moderation is part of our journey as parents. I now understand that all parents need a break, and in our disconnected communities, it is harder and harder to find that time to recover from parenting duties.
Hmmm, guns and swords…well, despite not having the plastic variety anywhere near our house, my son will make a weapon out of sticky tape, paper and glitter if he has to. I have learned that a lot of little boys are testosterone-filled machines of destruction and all I can do is teach him to aim for the sky, literally and metaphorically!
And as for snotty noses? This is one area where I stand firm in my BC nursing beliefs! Schools say to keep children at home when they are unwell, fevered and inactive, sending them back when they feel better, which is the best we can wish for, given that none of us knows exactly when a child stops being contagious. We hear, “If it’s green, don’t be seen” vs “When it’s clear, don’t go near”. How is one to know, given such inaccurate measurements? As a nurse, infection control continues to be a parenting issue for me, and I wish fervently that sick and snotty kids would stay at home and not fill the public pool with germs. I wish that parents would use more than one tissue and wash their hands afterwards. But I sigh with defeat as I can see that increased immunity is the silver lining to the clouds of germs being spread out there and try to ease up a bit on my expectations, doing only what I can do with my own family.
So, after all of that parental retraining, I am now officially a member of the Imperfect Parents Association. I can stand up tall and proud, and say this to you all: “Hello. My name is Caylie and I am an imperfect parent. Most days, I strive to be the best that I can be. I will trip, I will fall and my children will suffer from my imperfections. All I ask from you is for your support when I tumble, empathy when I cry, encouragement when I succeed and that you always share your ideas on how to do it better.”
A nurse and counsellor by trade, Caylie Jeffery has had many adventures and experiences that have made her into a strong, independent, and interested woman. Being a mindful parent in a world that loves to turn children into mindless robots is her biggest challenge yet, and she is determined to instil passion about life, books, art and people into their hearts and minds.
Caylie has a blog where she writes familiar essays about subjects that catch her breath. She is establishing herself as a freelance writer, and is an emerging author of children’s stories, teen adventures and creative adult non-fiction.