Reflections on parenting

Posted by , 8 May 2014

There is no parenting manual that pops out with your wonderful new bundle of joy when he or she arrives.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could go back and begin your parenting ‘career’ all over, with the benefit of hindsight? If, like me, you are having doubts that you ever managed to make any right decisions for your children and are wondering where on earth you went wrong, then you probably just answered ‘yes’ to my question. But let’s think about it seriously, just for a moment. What would you or I actually do differently?

There is no parenting manual that pops out with your wonderful new bundle of joy when he or she arrives. No list of instructions for use that warns you in dodgy Chingrish about the do’s and dont’s of parenting. No checklist handed to you by the lovely midwives as you are being discharged from under their watchful eyes that you can hang on the fridge to keep track over the next 20+ years of the decisions you make and their impact. Instead you are left to figure it all out for yourself, with lots of ‘helpful’ advice from your own parents, friends, neighbours and your mother’s friend’s uncle’s brother’s wife’s sister’s best friend’s son’s daughter.

At the age of 22 I became a mother for the first time and then promptly delivered three babies in three years. I really can’t believe this now, and wonder how on earth I ever thought I was ready to take on that challenge. But I did, and whether I like it or not, the end result is three young adults, one of whom has already stepped down the parenting path himself. I remember that when I had my first baby my mother told me that she wished that her own children had stayed babies forever, that she hated the fact that we had grown up. I was sad when I heard this, and am pleased to say that I don’t feel the same way about my own children, and never have. Yes, I loved them as babies and enjoyed the cuddles, baths, that wonderful newborn smell and play. But the reason we have children is not to keep them as children; it is to love and nurture them and to teach them the difference between right and wrong so that they can grow up to be responsible adults and productive members of society. At least we hope that will be the final outcome.

Unfortunately “Parenting for Dummies” was not published when we started having babies, and What to Expect When You’re Expecting didn’t go much beyond the pregnancy. Yes, we read a range of books that other people recommended, including those by christian extremist James Dobson, and Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph. But in the end the responsibility for every decision we had to make, and every action we had to take, was on our shoulders and came down to the information we had at the time, and what we felt was the right thing to do.

I readily admit that along the way over the past 25 years I have made many mistakes, far too many to even begin to list or count. But those mistakes were not necessarily mistakes at the time – we always made our decisions carefully with the information and resources we had available to us, in the hope that we were protecting and nurturing our children and that one day they would be better off for those decisions. At the time it was always the right decision to make – we gathered our information, considered what was best for our children, and sometimes when there were equal pros and cons we just took a leap of faith based on our gut feeling and held our breath to wait and see if we had done the right thing.

I sometimes wonder about the different paths all of our lives may have taken if we had chosen to do a few things differently. And of course, our children sometimes tell us very blatantly that they don’t like some of the decisions we made on their behalf. But you can’t spend your life reminiscing about ‘what if I had…’, or wishing that you had done something differently, can you?

What would I have done differently with the benefit of hindsight? Maybe one or two small things – but in the big things – those that really count – I believe we made the right decisions at the time and have tried our best to do a damned good job of this parenting business. Although we have our differences of opinion and may not always like each other, our children define us as a family. They can be annoying, childish and selfish at times, (and I am sure they think the same about us!) but on the whole they are young adults that I am proud to have raised. They each have a well rounded sense of right and wrong; they are sensitive and care about other people, animals, the environment and each other; they have well formed political opinions and the communication skills and education to be able to articulate them; and they have good friends and social skills. And hopefully one day, when they are finished telling us that we did a crap job of parenting (probably when they are doing it for themselves) they will realise that parents are fallible, and that although we may not have been right all the time every decision we made was with their best interests at heart, and made with love.

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