The Happier Parents Manifestoby Helmy Sa'at
It is indescribable. A real challenge to put it into words. It is akin to falling in love all over again.
The above-mentioned sentiments are a few examples of joyful expressions often used by parents, especially those who cradle their first newborn babies. So you have heard from family and friends or Korean dramas you watched. Alas, for those who are blessed enough in such capacity would also inevitably sigh and complain in later years. About anything and everything related to parenthood. Most importantly, a constant hounding of guilt which boils down to the following being articulated or thought of constantly: “I could be a better parent.”
It is not wrong to aspire to greatness, but when that direction veers into an idealised conception of perfection that is when it is problematic. Fact: The perfect approach to parenting does not exist.
Parenting is a full-time job. As a parent, you are responsible for your child’s overall well-being. There are no designated off days. It is no less exhausting whether you are sharing your parental duties and responsibilities with your partner or not, compounded by the number of children in your care which could vary from very young kids to teenagers. All those nifty parenting tips and guide you might have read online or in a book parked under the self-help section do not always translate to your everyday lived realities. And, rightly so. With every unique individual, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Your priority in life would be your offspring. However, that is feasible only when you are mentally and emotionally taken care of and having constantly successfully navigate in avoiding and/or coping with parental burnout.
We All Change Constantly
Your child is not a mini version of you. Though they have inherited your DNA, they are their own individuals with a distinct set of likes and dislikes. Not everything is cast in stone.
Perhaps your child detests eating broccoli. Other than encouraging exploration of other vegetables available, there is no point in repeatedly shoving the same plate of broccoli at every meal time. At times, growth needs breathing space and not an enforced set of rules to abide by which removes opportunities to make choices and learn through mistakes.
This also seeps into the daily struggles of having to mediate sibling fights. You do not have to step in all the time. There has to be space for learning. It is an opportunity for personal development whereby such engagement allows a learning chance about oneself to flourish while respecting the consequences of their own words and actions.
Furthermore, it is unfair or unrealistic to expect your child’s growth to be in lockstep with your own, their older siblings, cousins or, especially, other children. They are not the same and would never be the same; other than being inspired and aspiring to emulate the good and avoid the bad. Instead, applaud his or her achievements and daily triumphs and guide him or her through his or her stumbling blocks and everyday failures.
Yes, you could always catch a glimpse of a piece of yourself in your child; but that is metaphorically it — a piece. Your child will grow to be his or her own person. There is no comparison to be made. Even when your child excels in fields such as sports or the arts based on your encouragement during their early years, it might not be the right fit as they enter adulthood and develop other interests. Our expectations should not stop them from exploring and excelling in their own choices while developing an independent mind.
We, as people, constantly change.
I Steer My Happiness
Your happiness is compounded by your children’s happiness. It does not stem solely from sharing your children’s happiness. As an individual first, who has chosen to become a parent, you are in charge of your happiness. As a parent, you are the rock in your child’s life.
Your world does not burn to the ground when your child is unhappy because of the inevitable daily disappointments of life that mould and shape an individual’s learning and growth trajectory. As an adult, you empathise with your child’s disappointment, then guide him or her in moving forward. Vast experience as an adult allows a sense of perspective to temper one’s emotions by providing an objective viewpoint, particularly for a child who needs guidance in contextualising his or her pain and navigating feelings in reaction to a situation.
Parents Too, Are Just Humans
You might have perceived your own parents as heroes in your own life. Or heard others label individuals who choose to step into parenthood as superheroes — the ones who are able to breathe more than just life in their children while juggling a million things other than climbing the career ladder.
You do not need the permission of others to treat yourself well. From helping with your child’s homework, scheduling and ferrying your children to social activities outside of school hours, during the weekends and school vacations, to something as simple as preparing their daily lunch boxes on top of the family’s meals three times a day. Although parenthood does not stop even during sleep — other than it being a well-earned temporary respite in recharging your energy as you prepare to face another day — know that as a parent you cannot do everything.
This necessitates an acknowledgement of the need to take a break from time to time, away from your family. Carving out a time to focus on your personal growth which would only serve to add value to one’s development as a parent. A life’s worth is not measured by the absolute sacrifice revolving around parenthood.
A recalibration in developing a paradigm shift towards a healthy perspective on parenting starts with you. You provide your child with firsthand experience of what it means to be a happy and secured individual. An adult who is also successful in constantly evolving as a parent who would inevitably not get it right every time. Fundamentally, it is not dictated by your child, too.
The ball is in your court. What is your choice?