If you want to drive a car, you have to take a course or read an informational booklet and pass a driving test, In order to do many jobs, training and/or study is a requirement. Often, it seems that only parenthood requires no training or prerequisites. Yet,most parents would agree, it is the most difficult and the most important ‘job’ of all ! How do we know that what we are doing is right?
We are, in a way, training (to be a parent) from the day we are born. Experiences we have with our own parents play an important role in the way we parent our children. Think about it….the ways you communicate, express anger, love, disappointment, etc. You will likely recognize some similarities in the way you were parented. Some families express love with hugs and kisses, words of endearment or encouragement, others with gifts. Some people are not so comfortable with physical affection or words of praise. Anger may be freely discharged (and then forgotten about) in one household and utterly shunned in another. How did your parents allow you to express your anger as a child? Were you “seen but not heard” or could you vent your frustrations, and, in what ways? A parent who was not allowed to express his/her own opinions as a child may have difficulty permitting his/her own child to do so. Or, he/she may go to the other extreme (to NOT do what his/her parent did) by allowing a child limitless expression. All of the above constitutes our informal and, largely unconscious, job training for parenthood. How many times have you said, or done things that you vowed you would never do (because your parents did) ? That is how deeply these feelings, thoughts and actions are imbedded. We all do it sometimes.
There are other opportunities for honing parenting skills, especially if you don’t come by them naturally (ie, by familial ‘osmosis’). Our parents, or grandparents, had Dr. Spock if they had questions. Today, we have an embarrassment of riches in resource materials. Any good website or bookstore has a wealth of information, begininning with pregnancy, delivery, nursing, etc., to problems with sleep, toileting, and sibling rivalry, all the way through helping children get into college. Your first difficult decision may be which book or site to choose! Take some time and plan to explore a few. Determine which information is organized in a reader friendly way; for example, chapters that are clearly defined so you can find what you are looking for quickly without having to read the whole book if you are short on time. See if the writer’s style and philosophy of childrearing is something you and your family are comfortable with and can manage.
Another important and pleasurable way to gain knowledge is to vicariously experience parenting through family, friends and groups. Talking with others offers a wonderful opportunity to stretch your parenting skills. You can learn what might be in your future as you listen to others talk about their child(ren) who is older than yours.’ Mommy and Me’ groups are wonderful. ‘Daddy and Me’ groups could accomplish the same goals with parent and child. There is not necessarily a right or wrong way to parent. Each family is unique, as is each family member. When you have gathered a variety of possible responses, you can choose from an array of solutions that might better suit the personalities in your household.
And, that’s just the beginning. When you have ‘launched’ your children, be prepared to be open to learning how to grandparent. Observe your parents doing it with your children, another great learning experience.