Being a parent is the most difficult job you can ever do. I am no expert I have only one child, and two step children. When I had my child I was aware that many people don’t think about parenting, they just repeat what their parents did to them.
My parents thought about how they had been parented (bear in mind they grew up during the world war 2). They tried to be better parents than their parents were, I tried to better them.
I started from the belief that no child asks to be born, and, whilst not everyone who becomes a parent wants to be one, they do at least have the advantage of having some knowledge of what’s going on (though I doubt that anyone fully understands just how demanding a job it is until it’s too late). So, as I had consciously chosen to become a parent, it was only right that I put my child’s needs before my own.
This doesn’t mean that I didn’t take care of myself, but that I did so in ways that I hoped would be helpful to her. I was very lucky to do a ParentLink course (before it got muddied by outside pressures). It reinforced some of my ideas and challenged others.
I learnt that saying “no” is sometimes the most loving and supportive thing you can say to a child. I learnt that I didn’t have to be a perfect parent, just a “good enough” one. I learnt that I didn’t have to know everything, or be right all the time, I just had to be honest (congruent).
I already knew that the most important thing for my child was for her to know that she was loved. I also knew that a certain amount of structure in her life was important to give her a sense of security. But I learnt to think about what I wanted her to learn from me (through my behaviour, as well as what I thought I was teaching her), and what would be the best way of helping her understand.
I already knew that many parents have little understanding of their child’s age and how this impacts on both their behaviour and what they are capable of learning. It was a steep learning curve for me, to work out just what was appropriate to expect from her. I saw mothers shouting at their children for being to young to understand what was expected from them. I had to stop myself from intervening.
I also saw mothers who had handed over all control to children too young for that level of decision making. I found that scary, I wanted my child to know something of the freedom of childhood. I wanted to allow her to be a child, and to see that I valued her play at least as much as I valued her work. I wanted to give her the time to grow up at her own pace.
I also realised that I had to provide her with a role model. There are so few positive role models, especially for girls, that I had to show her that she didn’t have to conform to anyone’s stereotype, she could be herself.
I struggled with all these things. I made lots of mistakes. But I tried.
I love my daughter very much and I am immensely proud of her. Every now and then I apologise to her for the mistakes I made, for the fact that I was also trying not to succumb to depression all the way through her childhood. And I am so grateful for all the fun we had together, and for the joy she still brings me.
And I wish I could have done more of these things with my stepchildren. But things don’t always (ever?) turn out the way you want, let alone expect, them to. I will have to live with the feeling I have let them down.
And I remind myself that very few people have a wonderful childhood. Most of us wish things could have been different. But the past is gone, and, whilst it’s shadow may still hang over us, all we can do is make the best we can of today – and make sure our children know we love them.