Child Care: Three Important Principles of Parenthood

Three important principles regarding parenthood are:

1. Be Mentally Prepared for Parenthood

Parents are a little scared at the prospect of taking sole charge of a helpless baby for the first time. For those who are fortunate enough to have the support of the grandparents of the baby, this is easier. But for those parents who are alone (particularly if they are young and therefore mentally less prepared for this responsibility and/or both are working parents), child-care may be a big mental stress. With the coming of the baby, their life style completely changes.

Not only is their freedom gone, but they feel overwhelmed by all that has to be done for the baby. They may not get a proper sleep in the night because of the baby’s odd hours of crying, which disturbs their blissful sleep. If the baby doesn’t go off to sleep again quickly and goes on crying, the parents really start feeling the pressures of parenthood. On top of that the parents may start feeling that their spouse is not doing enough in the care of the baby, i.e. sharing the “workload of baby care 50-50.” This may lead to a feeling of irritation that why should they only be responsible for childcare. So they may start shifting the responsibility on one another. Because of all these factors, the parents should realise that child rearing is a very serious business in which they have to sacrifice a lot AND can leave the parents mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted.

Therefore I strongly advise that unless you are mature enough, mentally ready and emotionally prepared to go through the “grind” of child rearing, don’t go for a child immediately. There is no rigid rule that you should have a child within a year or two of marriage. You can wait, enjoy life with your spouse, and settle your career etc. before considering having a child. Otherwise the baby becomes a “task”; the overwhelmed parents push themselves too hard and feel only the burden of responsibility towards the baby.

2. Parents are Humans

All good parents naturally feel that it is their duty and moral responsibility to rear their child in the best way possible. But many times (particularly in the case of over conscientious, young parents), this may be carried to excessive limits. They feel that their whole attention and time must be for the baby, so they give up their freedom and personal hobbies etc., not as a matter of practicality but as a matter of principle! So even if they sneak off to enjoy some free time when they get a chance, they feel too guilty to enjoy fully. In the long run they chafe at this “imprisonment.”

Another concept the parents have is that for them to be the right sort of parents, they should have unlimited patience and tolerance towards their baby. But this is not humanly possible. When a child disobeys a reasonable rule, is not listening to you repetitively and goes on doing something that he should not do, you can’t remain cool like a robot with no emotions. You are bound to feel indignant. So you blow your top once in a while and give a good scolding to the child or sometimes even beat him. There is nothing to feel guilty or bad about it afterwards. The child was asking for it and deserved it. Certainly parents should not take out their own mental stress, frustrations and tensions on the child i.e. they are irritated at something else but take it out on the child.

Having children does mean giving up so much, that parents naturally do and should expect something from their child in return; if not much, at least that he would be reasonable, considerate and willing to accept the parents’ standards and ideals of right and wrong. If parents are hesitant in asking for reasonable behaviour and overlook his mischief and unreasonable behaviour, the child, feeling no check is sure to get spoiled. Therefore parents should be firm, because such firmness is one aspect of parental love. Firmness keeps the child on the right track and that is for his own good.

The child also understands your outburst, if your reaction is fair. He knows that he has done something that he was not supposed to do. Naturally he accepts your being angry with him and doesn’t resent it for long, as is evident by the fact that after sometime (as you cool down and accept him again); he will kiss and hug you. This means that your getting angry doesn’t diminish the bond of love and affection between you and your child as long as you are consistent and reasonable i.e. you get angry on his committing some mischief, which oversteps the limits set by you upon the child.

Sometimes your resentment suddenly boils over and you are shocked by your vehemence towards the child. But if you analyse it, you may find that the child had been doing a series of irritating acts, all of which you have been trying to ignore for quite some time in a supreme bid to be patient. Finally he does a small thing (which doesn’t warrant that much anger), and you suddenly lose your composure and give him a severe scolding. This again is justifiable if the child was pestering you for a long time. It is also a good idea to be open about your feelings of anger and irritation towards the child with your spouse or friends. This way you can comfortably accept these natural and humanly reactions without feeling remorse about such feelings.

There is an enormous amount of hard work in child-care – changing diapers, preparing food, struggling to make the child eat what you have so lovingly prepared, cleaning up all the mess that the child makes, stopping fights and drying up tears, listening to stories that are hard to understand, joining in games that aren’t exciting to an adult, reading stories that aren’t interesting, trudging around zoos and parks, helping with school homework and studies, being disturbed and hampered in your daily chores or hobby by the eager, enthusiastic, “wanting to help and participate” type of child, and so much more.

Children keep parents away from parties, theatres, outings, meeting friends etc. They will interrupt when the parents are discussing something interesting amongst themselves, the child won’t let the conversation be smooth and uninterrupted. Rather he has to poke his nose in the middle and meddle, as a reminder that he is also very much there and thus not to be ignored. The fact that you won’t trade places with a childless couple for the entire world doesn’t alter the basic fact that child-care is at best a lot of hard work and deprivation.

So it is justifiable that the genuine needs of the parents, their frustrations associated with child rearing, how tired they get (physically and mentally), how much emotionally drained they become sometimes, how much they also want some rest and change from the routine of childcare are understood and appreciated. Because the fact is that child rearing is a long, hard job and parents are humans just as children, and not superhuman.

As child rearing is a hard, monotonous work which can leave the parents mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted, I advocate that the parents should “recharge their batteries”; i.e. take some rest and “quality” time off from baby care and enjoy themselves (e.g. go to movies, parties etc. once in a while). If there is some caretaker, then both the parents can take some time off for themselves. If there is no caretaker, one parent can look after the child for few hours, while the other parent can “loosen” himself or herself. Like this the parents will feel rejuvenated, less irritable and better able to cope with the stress of child caring.

3. Enjoy Your Baby

You may think from the amount of attention and time the baby requires that the babies come in this world to put the parents under their thumbs. This isn’t true. The baby is born to be a reasonable and friendly human being. Every baby needs to be smiled at, talked to, fondled, hugged and showered with love and affection, which is difficult if you don’t learn to enj oy your baby.

The parents should let the child do whatever he enjoys, including creating some mess, as long as it is harmless and within limits. Finally as long as parents are loving and conscientious, who care for their child, they should not pressurise themselves too much by self-guilt and doubts regarding the rearing of the child. Instead they should take child-care in a carefree attitude, enjoying themselves and the antics play, social interaction etc. of the baby.

That’s why also, you will find grandmothers remarking wistfully, “Why couldn’t I have enjoyed my own children the way I enjoy my grandchild? I suppose I was trying too hard and feeling only the responsibility.”

That’s why you also enjoy playing with other’s child (particularly if he is smaller than your child is) more than playing with your own child, because the other’s child is not your responsibility. You are completely at ease with that child, because at a moment’s notice (as soon as you get bored or want to do some other work or the child starts crying and gets on your nerves), you can “pass” the child over to its mother and get “rid” of it. While with your own child, you cannot do it. You and only you have to bear his demands & tantrums stoically.

Does this mean that it is difficult to enjoy one’s child? Yes, it is. After all, the child is yours and only yours responsibility and you only have to cope with it. This coping is easier, if you are emotionally mature and mentally prepared for baby care. Once you realize that what he is doing is what every child does, that you also did the same when you were a child; you won’t feel irritated or chafed at him that much. Therefore to enjoy your child you have to accept your child as he is; knowing that it is a part and parcel of growing up and everyone passes through the same phase.

Another way to enjoy your child is to laugh it out with your spouse. For e.g. your child has made a mess of the food in the plate by mixing different foodstuff together and also spilling some of it. You might get irritated at the child and consider him to be always doing such “senseless” and “stupid” doings. On the other hand, if you have come to terms with your child and have a sense of humour, you will realise that what the child has done is harmless and that he enjoys doing so. So you may laugh it out with your spouse and enjoy with your child his “mischief.”

There are so many other examples, where you can look at things in two entirely different and opposite ways, one with a feeling of irritation towards your child and one with laughter and merriment at your child’s “silly” pranks and doings, as long as they are harmless.

The child doesn’t do all this “silliness” to make you angry or to irritate you; rather he does it because he enjoys it. He wants to explore this world by experimenting in different ways. His curiosity is boundless and he is fascinated by all novel things. He is a most willing and ardent learner (e.g. if he sees you washing clothes, he will want to try it out himself. He may make a mess of it, but this is how he enjoys a new experiment.) He is a great imitator, particularly of the parents.

That’s why a baby girl will stand in front of the mirror and apply lipstick, comb her hair, and apply powder and other cosmetics of the mother; just like the mother. The mother may get irritated because not only the girl is spoiling her cosmetics but also making a mess of her hands and face, which now she has to clean up. But just pause for a second and see how much the baby enjoys it, how much bliss this act is for her and how much it means to her (it is a part of her learning and growing up).

So my humble request is don’t spoil the mood of the baby and in the process yours. Get the child her own cosmetics (maybe artificial) and let her play with it, i.e. device ways where the baby can enjoy without spoiling much. Then sit back and enjoy your child’s antics! The child’s enjoyment and the thrill she feels (in doing such acts) will be doubled if she finds that vou, too, are enjoying her “play.” Reciprocally your heart will also be filled with joy seeing your child enjoy.

The child’s mental level is much below yours (there is a whole generation gap between you and him). The things she does, which you consider as “stupid” are not stupid (if you view it from the child’s eye and mental perspective). The child cannot come up to your mental level (so she can’t for instance, enjoy your hobbies and pastimes like playing cards, reading magazines, watching TV. etc.). But, you can go down to the child’s mental level! Enjoy participating in whatever “games” she plays (she also wants her parents to join in), however, foolish they might seem to you and don’t feel conscious about it. I know that after sometime you will start finding it boring and will want to “quit.”

By all means do so! The child wants your company for sometime only. For instance, if the child requests you to “play” with her in some “game” of her own making; you can tell her that you will play for 10-15 minutes (i.e. for sometime), as you have some work of yours to do after that. The child understands this and is more than happy if you join in the fun even temporarily. But by outright refusing her (because you are busy, tired or consider the “games” of her boring and making no sense to you), you will make the child unhappy and let down. Maybe you will also end up feeling guilty (as to why didn’t you concede to a simple request of your child?).

The parents have to come down to the child’s mental level to enjoy her. I know it may be difficult at times (your mind may be preoccupied with caring for her and keeping everything in order or you may not be in the mood); but you can certainly try and make sincere efforts towards this. Initially you may not enjoy it that much (because you may feel awkward), but with time your awkwardness will go, you will come to terms with it and enjoy it.

Why I stress so much on enjoying your child has got a forceful reason. As your child grows up, off and on, you will remember her past, bygone days, and her babyhood. At those times, you may also feel wistfully (like the grandmother mentioned earlier), “I wish I had enjoyed my baby more, rather than having felt too bogged down by the parental duties and responsibilities.” But the past doesn’t come back!

In brief, the best way to cope up with your child and enjoy him is to have a sense of humour, to be free and open with your spouse about your feelings, and laugh at the child’s “silliness” together. Parents, apart from being parents, should also be the friends of their child.

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