Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Parenting with courage

Much of parenting requires courage: a leap of faith, flying without radar, and a journey fraught with uncertainty. We are thrown into this amazing parenting experience with no preparation. Regardless of past babysitting gigs or the many childraising manuals we devour, parenting comes as a rude awakening. 

Suddenly, we become a parent - instantly navigating both the intense joys and daily demands of parenthood. Few other tasks in life come without training and experience. We don't waltz into the DMV and receive a driver's license without months of driving practice. We don't become a CEO or expert mechanic or take the bar exam without hours and even years of preparation. Experience and training are key. 

Yet, nothing fully prepares us for parenting. We might think we're ready. We take childbirth preparation classes... but they barely mitigate what we endure during labor. We devour articles about childraising and discipline and educational options. We talk to friends and experts and our relatives - and our head spins from their varied, conflicting, and insistent advice. We harbor questions and doubts. Uncertainty is the norm.

Courage is required. It involves a compassionate acknowledgment that the task is monumental and unprecedented for each one of us. Yes, childrearing is part of the human condition and nothing new. But it is a new awakening every time someone becomes a parent. Our courage lets us forge ahead and trust ourselves to manage every new challenge, every developmental milestone, and every stressful demand. Even when we function on autopilot after three hours of sleep, part of us knows that we are doing something right. Each step along the way in our child's development brings a sigh of relief, but also a sense of loss; we cannot hold onto their younger selves and must accept the inevitable progression toward adulthood.

We all have our limits and fears. What is simple or fun for someone else might be terrifying for you. What you grasp easily might be impossible for another. As a psychologist, I have witnessed a litany of fears and impasses. Some people engage in highly courageous acts, yet struggle with behaviors that might seem easy for others. I once worked with a family where the father was a fighter pilot with several dangerous missions under his belt. Yet, he could not muster the courage to tell his wife or children that he loved them; that particular level of vulnerability was just too threatening. Parenting evokes the same challenges; each of us is different and must enlist our courage to face what we find the most difficult.

What is courageous parenting?

1. The courage to trust ourselves. We know this is all new. Yet, we dig deep and trust that we will figure it out. This means tolerating uncertainty and discomfort and even some panic. We see how much our child trusts us and learn that our steady, reassuring love will guide them, even when we behave imperfectly and feel uncertain or lost. 

2. The courage to wait. We develop patience. We know that we sometimes must defer our needs and wishes. We go without sleep. We restrain our anger - even (especially) when we want to yell or even spank our child. We turn down party invitations because the babysitter quit. We sometimes put our careers on hold. We know that sleep, socializing, sex, career advancement, glorious vacations, or that kitchen remodel will have to wait for another time. We see the big picture and know when we must defer our own needs. 

3. The courage to stay. Sometimes we want to leave. It feels like too much to handle and we feel trapped. We may be angry at a partner or struggle financially or feel enraged over our child's refusal to cooperate. But we hang in there. We don't abandon ship. We don't leave... even though sometimes we want to.

4. The courage to find support. It takes courage to ask for help. Childcare manuals and YouTube videos only go so far. Sometimes, we need additional guidance, advice, and support. A hug, a friend who truly listens (without adding advice), a neighbor's commiseration that their child also struggles - all provide the support we need. Advice from a professional (e.g., a trusted teacher, pediatrician, spiritual leader, or mental health therapist) can provide reassurance and guidance when we hit a roadblock.

Keep in mind that parenting is a daunting and wild ride. Enjoy it. Savor it. Rant and scream about it. But honor your own courage as you embrace this wondrous parenting experience.

If you are the parent of a gifted or twice-exceptional child, please consider joining an interactive, supportive online workshop series starting soon that addresses the challenges parents face, with concepts applied from my book, The Gifted Parenting Journey.

Workshop information can be found here: https://www.thegiftedparentingjourney.com/.


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