From the moment you welcome a new child into your home, you will be worrying to some degree about how well you’re doing as a parent. A vulnerable, precious human life is completely in your hands, totally dependent on you for all its needs, and will remain so for a good eighteen years, if not longer! It’s the one job in life that people truly want to get right, and yet it is one of the most difficult things you can do. Raising a child is hard work, stressful and time-consuming, and second-guessing your actions every day only adds to the pressure you put on yourself. Is there any way to know whether you’re getting it right or not, and is it even possible?
Your primary task as a parent is to provide for your child’s basic needs, e.g., sustenance, shelter, and safety. The needs themselves may be basic, but the options and alternatives can be a minefield. Take your very first job – feeding your baby. Medical evidence all points to breastfeeding being best, the gold standard for baby’s health. If you want to do the right thing and breastfeed, you can feel like a complete failure if you struggle with it, or find it just won’t work for you for whatever reason. If you’ve tried your hardest and despite all the help it just isn’t working out for you, then making yourself ill and stressed won’t help your baby one bit. You have the option of using formula milk, which is a perfectly adequate alternative and your baby will still grow and thrive. Medical advice also says you should avoid most prescription drugs when you are pregnant or breastfeeding, because of the risks they could pose to the child, but if you can’t manage without certain medications, does that make you a bad mom? Like breastfeeding, being medication-free is a gold standard, the ideal environment for optimum health, but your circumstances may mean that by stopping your anti-depressants for example, you risk sinking into a depression which will harm yours and your baby’s prospects far more than the drug itself. The best approach is to check with your doctor about any drugs you are taking to reduce possible side effects where it’s feasible. Gold standards are just not achievable a lot of the time, but if you have made every effort to get as close to those heights as you can, you will be doing a good job and will have nothing to feel guilty about.
Everyone it seems has an opinion on how children should be raised, from sleeping habits, discipline, education and even extending to whether the child should be out without a sunhat or eating candy. There is no aspect of childcare that has a single, universally agreed seal of approval, which should tell you something about the complexities of raising a child. Every child, every parent and every situation they find themselves in are individual, and together they form a unique whole. It’s impossible to prescribe one course of action that will be appropriate for every family, and rather than looking for the definitive answer, you need to assess what is best for your particular circumstances. Listen to and seek out advice, and make your own mind up about what will work best for you. If you are struggling with a particular aspect of caring for your child, there are numerous resources available at your library or online that can offer you help and tips for how to tackle pretty much anything that might arise. If you’re searching the internet, make sure you don’t just click on the first results in the list. Have a look at who has written the article, what knowledge or authority they have, and whether they have any hidden agendas. There is a wonderful collection of helpful information out there, but the internet can also be used by the ignorant and unscrupulous to spread misinformation, so check the credentials of anyone who is offering advice. That doesn’t mean you should only listen to doctors and professors; some of the best tips for simple fixes are those posted by other parents who have been through the same experience and want to share what they’ve learned. This kind of advice is invaluable for day to day hacks and problem-solving. It’s also really useful to find recommendations that other parents have made for services and facilities for children, such as day-care centers, pediatricians, and dentists in your area. Websites like The Traveling Parent have been created with this purpose in mind and can be very helpful when it comes to making choices that affect your child’s wellbeing. If you have a serious problem that you are finding hard to cope with, then seek professional advice from someone you can trust, whether it’s a teacher about educational issues, a psychologist about behavioral problems, or a dietician about providing nutritious meals. Don’t be afraid of looking for help; it isn’t a sign of inability or weakness, in fact, it shows that you want to do the best for your child.
Listen to your child, too
The most important person in all of this is your child. It may seem like an obvious statement, but it’s possible to get so involved in worrying about and trying to do your best for them that you don’t notice what is right in front of you. Ask them how they feel, make sure they know they can come to you with their problems, and that you will listen, take them seriously and not be too judgemental. Don’t fall into the trap of making all their decisions for them, or pushing them in directions they don’t want to go. You are there to guide and advise, but not to run their lives for them.
If you’re the sort of person who worries about their children, there’s a very good chance you are doing your best for them and making a good job of being a parent. Keep learning and listening and putting your kids first, and you won’t go far wrong.