I am motivated by and focused on parenting this week because bright and early on a Friday morning my newest grandson was born. I was fortunate enough to be with my daughter throughout labor and delivery and even cut the cord. It was a blessed and sometimes overwhelming experience. There were times where I felt a little woozy and was so anxious that I needed to run out of the room, but at the same time, I was a parent witnessing my child become a parent and had to push through to be there for her. We are both parents, but in very different stages. Let’s take a look at the evolution of the parental role from birth until our children become adults.
Stage 1: You Are My Everything
After months of anticipation, your little bundle of joy has arrived. The wait is over, but the adventure has only begun. From the time that you first hold your baby, you become its everything. All of its needs are only met through you and your support system. During this stage, next to extreme love is extreme exhaustion. You are at your baby’s beck and call for food, diapers, comfort, absolutely everything. Your needs and wants are at best secondary while all of your time and attention are lovingly bestowed upon your new baby. The selflessness that is required to be a parent is at one of its highest peaks because your baby is not able to do even the most basic tasks for itself. You are it. You are everything.
During this stage you learn about depth: the depth of your love, the depth of your strength, the depth of your endurance. It is all put to the test as you learn what this new arrival needs and how best to provide it. It is important as a parent to remember yourself and your basic human needs: food, sleep, alone time and adult interactions. As much as your baby needs you, he or she needs a high functioning you. In order to be at your best, you must take care of yourself. Although at this stage, it is easier said than done:
- Allow others to help you
- Ask for what you need
- Sleep when your baby sleeps
- Give yourself some grace and be OK with not having it all together all of the time
- Don’t feel bad about spending time away from your baby
- Refuel – eat regularly to keep your strength up
- Get outside – enjoy the fresh air
I know you have heard it all before and as a new parent, it sounds impossible, but remember that you cannot pour from an empty vessel. If you do not take the steps necessary to take care of yourself, this stage will be more difficult than necessary. The highlight of stage one is that it lays the foundation for your relationship with your child. The bond is established, and he or she learns love and what it is to be loved through you. But remember, this stage does not last long. Your baby develops quickly and before you know it, is learning to do some things on its own and will actually start to want some independence.
Stage 2: I Can Do It Myself
While stage 1 requires selflessness, stage 2 requires patience. Your baby is learning to perform some basic functions on its own and will at times demand independence. It can be hard to take a step back. You want to protect your child, but this stage is important and is a time of so much discovery for your baby. You can do things faster and with a lot less mess, but this is an important developmental stage for both of you. Your little person begins to have an identity outside of you and trust his or her own abilities.
Help to develop that trust. This is a stage of extreme curiosity for your baby. He or she will spill, fall and send your anxiety through the roof, but let them try. One of the most important things that you can provide during this stage, is safe exploration. When you set the boundaries and provide a watchful eye, your child will gain more and more confidence and will create many photo and video worthy moments for you to capture. During this stage their independence will grow, but they will still show how much you are needed. You are the comforter after the fall, the encourager after the spill and the perpetual cheerleader and reassurer. Enjoy it because while you’re still needed in the next stage, your teen is not likely to show it!
Stage 3: You Are So Embarrassing
During stage 3, you may become the object of your child’s embarrassment. The same child who once saw you as a hero, now seems to want to keep it a secret that they know you. Like the previous stages, this one is typical and will pass. Your young adult is hormone ridden and is living in a body that is changing as much on the inside as the outside. It can be a very difficult time for all involved as he or she works to find an identity and start to carve out a unique existence.
This time can feel like a tight rope act for everyone. Emotions are high and boundaries are tested, but it is a process. As the parent, setting boundaries are important, but I believe the most significant message during this stage is unconditional love. At his or her worse, your child needs to know that you will always be there. That stability will make moving through one of the most difficult stages, adolescence, easier. Hang in there because before you know it, the school years will be ending, and you and your young adult will be making plans for the future.
Stage 4: Separation Anxiety
You have cared for your baby, watched your toddler grow and are making it through adolescence. Just as things are starting to level out, stage four arrives. Your young adult is finishing up high school and deciding what path lies ahead. There is a good chance that your young adult will be entering an era where they have an address other than yours.
After eighteen years of almost total focus, you are facing life without your child under your roof. This stage brings on a myriad of emotions: excitement, pride, anxiety and fear to name a few. This is the last time that we will all do this or that often comes up, but take it from me, it is really a time of new beginnings.
It is an opportunity to see your child brave new experiences. It is an opportunity to have more time to focus on yourself and your goals. It is an opportunity to start to carve out a new relationship with your child.
Stage 5: Trusted Advisor
This is my current stage and I call it the sweet spot. My children are all adults and living their lives. I have had the opportunity to see what I taught them in action. They have exceeded my every expectation. They are amazing people. The sweetest part of it all is that they now come to me for advice. They no longer need me for everything. I am no longer holding on so tight that they need to fight for their independence. We have settled into a space where they know without a shadow of a doubt that I am here when they need me.
I know without a shadow of a doubt that they are fully capable of managing their lives without me. We have a mutual respect and admiration and I have the pleasure of being asked for my opinion when they make some of the biggest decisions of their lives. It is such a gratifying place. I have moved from not only being needed but wanted. It is not always perfect. There are times when I am sure that I offer an opinion that is unsolicited. There are times where I wish I had been consulted, but in the grand scheme of things, the ebb and flow of our interactions are so rewarding for me.
I feel valued as a parent and my hope is that they feel the same both as someone’s child and someone’s parent! Challenging as they may have been, I’ve enjoyed each of the stages of parenting.