Monday, 5 December 2011

What am I learning, what am I teaching...? By Kate

When you make a cock up, ask yourself, "What did I learn from that?"

Somebody far wiser than I suggests this as a more constructive way to deal with own-goals than guilt-ridden self-flagellation. It makes a lot of sense. It's a way of accepting that we all make mistakes and those mistakes can actually be useful opportunities to grow as a human being.

As first time parents, we make a lot of mistakes. After all, it's a huge, new, intricate area of human relationships we're navigating. No one gets it right first time. Which is bad luck for Rosie. A friend of mine put it this way: "Your first child is the practice one."

It's just as well Rosie doesn't require us to be perfect. Good enough will do fine for her, luckily. Although I expect we'll come in for a bit of a hammering for certain things she reckons we did or didn't do when she hits her teenage years and early adulthood. That seems to be par for the course.

So we're learning all the time. And so is Rosie. How to use and understand her body, how to talk, how to socialise with other people, how she fits in with the world....and that's before she starts on things like reading, writing, arithmetic, sport, music etc. etc.
The sobering thought is that as her parents, we are Rosie's Number One teachers. She learns the nuances of handling human relationships by observing and mimicking Theo and I primarily. There's nothing like that knowledge for putting your own behaviour in the spotlight.

Every day I find I'm asking myself, "What are we teaching Rosie in this situation?" For example, if Rosie refuses to touch the food we have given her and instead insists on something different, our acquiescence to that request would teach her that she doesn't need to make an effort with unfamiliar or less-favoured foods as she can rely on getting an alternative.

If Rosie throws a wobbler about something we regard as important (having her teeth brushed, for example) if we were to give up on what we were doing, we would be teaching Rosie that tantrums are a good tool for getting what she wants (or stopping something she doesn't). A recipe for more tantrums, in other words.

That doesn't mean we should ride roughshod over all Rosie's personal preferences. She might be tiny, but she's still a human being and deserves to have her opinion heard. So we try and offer her choices - okay, the choices are limited to outcomes we find acceptable, but at least she's being offered some toddler-sized autonomy. "Rosie climb in the buggy, or Mummy put you in the buggy?" is one we often have just before she settles into her pushchair for her lunchtime nap. (The answer is almost always, "Rosie do it!")

And one more piece of sage parenting advice I'm coming to fully appreciate: "Pick your battles." Some things just aren't worth a fight. Whether or not Rosie wears her slippers indoors really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. If she doesn't, her feet may be a bit colder than otherwise, but it's no big deal. On the other hand, if she doesn't allow us to help her clean her teeth, there's a very real risk of tooth decay, so that one is non-negotiable.

Navigating life with a feisty toddler is a huge learning experience, that's for sure. For all of us.


  1. I'm sorry but I think you are falling into the trap of asking yourself far too many questions about how to raise a child. Yes, one should be mindful of the example one sets one's child but one should also be natural.

  2. Sure I take your point, but it's only a 'trap' if you feel constrained to act in certain ways that feel unnatural. What we're doing doesn't feel unnatural, nor does it make us feel trapped. Asking questions doesn't have to be unnerving or dispiriting: often the question we're asking ourselves is "Are we doing the right things?" and the answer is usually "Yes." We think questions are healthy and help us clarify what we know, but then (as you might expect from former journalists) we're inquisitive people! Asking questions is natural to us! I appreciate this might not work for everyone, but then this blog is descriptive not prescriptive...

  3. A good answer and I respect the need for questions and answers; I am similar and a freelance journalist too!

    Having navigated the waters of raising three children (youngest same age as Rosie eldest fifteen) I have observed how, despite errors and a slightly 'roughly does it' approach they are all turning out to be wonderful, respectful, enthusiastic, and hard-working invidivuals with a small dose of imperfections too, thank God! It is reassuring and quite enchanting.

    I believe parenting is hard work (how lucky we are to be parents) BUT sometimes we can make it more timeconsuming than it already is.

    Good luck!