Parenting is one of those truly transformative experiences, and on so many levels: lifestyle, psychological, emotional. Regardless of the fact that the processes of conception and birth are in themselves little miracles, the real miracle lies in the transformative power of nurturing and loving another human being- and knowing that you are helping them to develop their potential and personalities.
Yet, how do you become a 'parent'? Babies don't come with a manual (although, frankly, they should). Where do parenting skills come from, how do we learn? The process of becoming a 'parent' is an interesting one: while you physiologically become a parent the moment your child is born, parenting skills are a different matter. Personally I remember that when my first child was born, I was struck by the fragility and 'floppiness' of the infant: I was almost scared of handling him, and he was so tiny! (He didn't seem that tiny when my tummy was the size of a balloon though!). It took a good three-four months to become confident with the whole experience and other aspects of baby care (breastfeeding, nappies, sleep, various ailments). There is a steep learning curve, but one that each and every parent has to go through: it doesn't always go smoothly.
Traditionally, it was the mother's mother who supplied help in the very first stages, with her wealth of experience: it has to be said though that not everyone feels comfortable with that route, because attitudes towards parenting and family have changed dramatically in the last thirty years- although well meaning, 'help' sometimes doesn't help. It's a welcome development that fathers are more and more present in all aspects of parenting, especially at the early stages; although sadly there is a long way to go in father involvement and mainly due to the fact that the working environment is not really structured in a family-friendly way, when it comes to spending time with your children. Modern families constellations can also be rather 'complicated' so people rely on other ways for learning the basics, but then, the reality is that you are left on your own: how do you become a 'parent'?
We don't learn parenting skills in school (although we learn a whole lot of stuff we will hardly use), or anywhere else, really. It's just something that you are supposed to learn somehow, or to 'know' by instinct: so we primarily draw from our experience as children. A process of re-evaluation of our childhood makes us decide what we want to implement or not for our children. This is sometimes a conscious process, sometimes less so, as we tend to subconsciously transfer deeply rooted cultural attitudes. You may consciously choose to give your child a certain schooling experience because yours was good/bad- therefore you evaluate according to what you believe is right; or one may subconsciously have beliefs in relation to gender, therefore have different expectations from boys or girls, for example.
In my experience, parenting challenges many previously held beliefs: I can say I wouldn't be the same person if I hadn't become a parent (I would probably have vast disposable income, would live in a university cubicle surrounded by books, and would go to conferences full of geeks: but that's another story). We are very lucky in our times, as there seems to be an array of interesting top notch literature about parenting, children, families, psychology: so the resources are indeed there, if one wishes to expand. The UK has also a wealth of resources in terms of charities and groups/workshops centred on parenting, each focusing on different aspects. A few that come to mind - but it's not an exhaustive list by any means: the NCT, Families Live, Positive Parenting, Gingerbread. Internet forums: Net Mums, Baby and Bump, Mumszone, Just Parents, UK Parent Lounge. Birth and parenting classes also abound, and so do playgroups and pre-schoolers' activities- all very good avenues to meet and socialise with other parents. Although in modern society we have partially lost the 'local community' network, there are many forums and a great amount of information available: this offers excellent support and the opportunity to connect and share - which is the ultimate aim of 'community'. So perhaps we don't have communities as they used to be, but we do have nonetheless spaces dedicated to connecting and sharing: isolation is the ultimate enemy.
Parenting can be tough because it's not only exhausting at times, it also holds a mirror right in front of you, forcing you to face you beliefs, hopes and fears; but it's also an amazing experience and there is no shame in admitting that sometimes we have questions as parents, and if we reach out, the answers are indeed there.
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