Did you always see yourself as a parent? Or maybe that was the farthest thing from your mind… really, the only thing we know for sure is that no one is fully ready to be a parent.
Sometimes that has to do with changes to the family dynamic, or finances, or just lack of sleep. On top of that there is increasing pressure, probably due to social media and our own expectations, that we need to be the perfect parent. Well, we’re here to tell you – there is no such thing as a perfect parent!
The best definition we’ve seen is from zerotothree.org: “Parenting is an ongoing process of learning who your individual child is and what she needs to thrive.”
So that might be a little different than the basic idea of keeping a child safe, fed, clean and dry. But it also feels like a relief to know that there is no expectation of perfection, in fact there is a continual evolution that has as much to do with growing as a parent, as it does with supporting a child’s growth.
Does that concept make it easier? Probably not. Will it still be an all-consuming life change? No doubt. Parenting books, websites or newsletters are helpful, but only get you about so far. It’s helpful to know that you aren’t the only one with a baby that just doesn’t sleep, or maybe isn’t a strong eater; even, as was the case for me, that your rebellious 4-year-old is doing what is developmentally appropriate and likely won’t be a juvenile delinquent.
The thing that really is a lifesaver is having a variety of people that support you and that you can reach out to, no matter what time of day or night. We’re thinking of extended family if you’re lucky enough to have them near; but also, other parents, friends, even co-workers.
Some of that support rises to the level of, “I need a break, can you ___fill-in-the-blank___ while I take a break?” Others might just be available for a call or a walk together. They also might have solved a problem that you hadn’t even thought of. The idea here is that you probably have these people in your life, and you need to ask them for their help.
We’ve helped a stranger traveling with two kids get everyone on a plane, and it really wasn’t a big deal. For everyone else reading this – if you see a parent struggling in the grocery store, the park, or in a restaurant, consider asking if you can help, or just acknowledge that having little ones is rough sometimes.
There are certainly more people in your support network. Your child care teacher might be able to give you a tip or two, or at least commiserate with you. That goes for the other parents with children in that classroom as well.
Say hi next time you see someone new; they may really need you to be a support too. One thing we’ve learned throughout this COVID experience; most of us suffer some sort of social deprivation, or loneliness, or more, when we don’t have the usual contact with friends and family. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t exactly the social butterfly before, we all are missing the things and places and people that just happened naturally.
We are so fortunate to have a wealth of community services available from virtual yoga, to free warm lines to talk about stress, to financial support. Please check out the new toolkit from Mind Springs (mindspringsfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Back-to-School-Toolkit-August-2020.pdf.) This is a great resource for your whole family. The warm line number is 877-519-7505. Parents and other caregivers often put the needs of others first, but we all know the airline losing oxygen analogy – and now might be the time to put your mask on first. There are many free yoga videos online, even yoga at your desk – something for everyone.
Kids First staff (970-920-5363) and Aspen Family Connections staff (970-205-7025) are also available to talk, to help, or to refer to someone who can help. Think about how big your circle of support is, reach out and share these resources with them, and maybe arrange to meet for a socially distanced walk or talk.
Shirley Ritter, the director of Kids First, and Katherine Sand, the director of Aspen Family Connections, are co-authors of “Growing Community,” which runs in this space every other Wednesday. It features topics of interest related to early childhood, parenting and education. To reach the authors, email Shirley at email@example.com or Katherine at firstname.lastname@example.org.