The Parenting Philosophy that explains why you don't need to worry quite so much
Do you have a philosophy when it comes to parenting your kids? I am not a particularly philosophical person, but I do have a number of mantras which have helped me through the first 14 years of parenting (I am sure I will have to come up with some new ones as we embark into the adolescent stage). “I’m doing the best that I can” helps me negotiate the impossible task of achieving “work/life balance.” “No child has ever suffered from ‘too much’ connection,” and “no parent has ever regretted having spent ‘too much’ time snuggling their kids” are always in the back of my head as I interact with my own kids and support new parents in my classes. And "every behavior expresses a need" is always a helpful one to remember. But one of my favorite parenting philosophies is this: “The only constant is change” (also known as, “this too shall pass!”)
The Only Constant is Change isn’t actually my brain child. It was proposed by Heraclitus, a Greek Philosopher living around 500 BC, but I’m not entirely sure he was thinking about parenting when he came up with it. For me and my husband it has meant that whatever you are struggling with or worrying about today is not really worth stressing over, because it is likely to change in only a matter of weeks or months, regardless of what you do. This doesn’t apply to some things, of course, because our children’s health and well-being and safety are always going to be our primary concern, and will require a fair amount of vigilance and intervention on our part. But so many aspects of raising children are truly out of our control, and understanding that they are going to change in time (short time) can help to put them in perspective.
“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change-”
6 proofs that, when it comes to kids, the only constant is change:
1. Stressing that your baby or toddler doesn't "sleep through the night?"
Trust me, they will one day. The reality is that this is what they do at this age—they sleep lightly and wake frequently and need more parental assistance both day and night. As they grow, and in their own time, they will sleep through the night and you will wonder what all the worry and stress was about. My first-born was a “terrible sleeper” and I was terrified that I had done everything wrong by co-sleeping and nursing her while she slept, but she eventually slept through the night (and weaned from the breast). And when I did everything the same way with her younger sister and she slept great right from the start, I realized that each kid was her own unique person with different needs at different stages. And now they both happily sleep until noon during the summer holidays and I have to drag them out of bed every school day. So, all that stress and worry was a waste of energy, because when it comes to kids and sleep, the only constant is change. There is a great article here by Sarah Ockwell-Smith which elaborates on this point.) I teach a BabyCalm Sleep workshop that goes into much more detail on this topic as well.
2. Anxious that toilet training is taking too long or that you will undermine your efforts if you are not consistent enough?
Stop worrying and quit working so hard. All kids learn to use the toilet and the less you pressure them, the easier it is for everyone! I remember working really hard at it with my first born, and struggling with lots of accidents in the car (when I think of all the car seats and car upholstery I had to clean!) and emergency stops along highways to jump out with the portable potty because “the poop was coming out!” With my second toddler, I often put her in a disposable pull-up during long journeys and invested in some urine-proof “piddle pads” to prevent all leakage in car seats and strollers. No stress, no mess, and she learned to toilet “train” without any effort on my part at all. Does anyone know a healthy kid who didn’t learn to use the toilet or control their bodily functions (more or less) during long car trips? Even if their mother was not totally obsessing about it? Of course not. Because when it comes to physical development and control, the only constant is change and your 3- year-old and 4-year-old is going to have many more skills than your 2-year-old does. And some day you will have an adolescent with entirely different reasons for needing to rush to the toilet during a car journey!
3. Worried that your baby isn't sitting up yet, or rolling yet, or walking or eating solids as well as your friend's baby?
Well of course you need to confirm whether it is age-appropriate and within the range of normal. And if it is, then please don’t waste your energy and your happy relationship with your baby stressing over it, because they all do it in their own time Trust me, regardless of what you do or don’t do they will be changing every single day. I remember when my husband was totally freaked out that our 6-month-old wasn't sitting as well as our friend's 5-month-old was. That girl rides horses like an amazon queen now, and he was worried that she wouldn't be able to sit up! Whatever you are worrying about this week will be completely different next week. You will have new things to worry about, of course, (that never ends, I’m afraid, and horseback riding kind of scares the dickens out of me) but I promise they will be different. Because when it comes to kids and what they can do, the only constant is change.
4. Distraught that your toddler is throwing tantrums or biting other kids or unable to share even for a second?
As they say in your toddler's favorite show (favorite one this week, at least), LET IT GO! This is normal toddler behavior and is not a reflection on your bad parenting skills or your child's future as an axe murderer. I remember when my angelic little 2-year-old would haul off and punch any child who even looked like he might be coming near the toy she was playing with. It was mortifying, but that child is now frequently asked to be a support person and role model for her middle school peers, and I haven't seen her punch anyone (other than her sister) in over a decade. Just like babies, toddlers are going through daily changes and whatever annoying behavior they are exhibiting this week will have morphed into a different annoying behavior next week. They don't have any control over most of it and neither do you. Remember they are "having a hard time, not giving you a hard time" (another favorite mantra) and all you need to do is keep them (and others) safe and give them a cuddle and some empathy (and a snack and nap never hurts!) Before you know it they will be bigger with more self control and more social skills and your biggest worry will be keeping up with all their play dates and birthday party invitations! Because when it comes to toddler behavior, the only constant is change. (I teach a ToddlerCalm workshop that provides lots of perspective on toddler behavior and how to keep life as calm as possible during this challenging phase)
5. Feeling like you really have this parenting thing figured out already?
I've got bad news for you--this works the other way too. Do you have a baby who is sleeping through the night at 6 weeks or eating everything placed in front of her at 6 months or loving every minute of nursery school at 2 years? Well, be aware that this will all likely change too. Don’t congratulate yourself too much, and whatever you do don’t gloat to your friends, because the bad news is that the good stuff shall pass as quickly as the not-so-good stuff. Most of it probably has nothing to do with you or your parenting practices, but just with the temperament of your child and the stage she or he is in. My dream sleeper who slept through the night early and napped all on her own for over 3 years suddenly had a terrible time with sleep at around the age of 8. And after 5 years of not having to parent much at night it was all the more shocking to me and her dad! But we got through that phase eventually as well. It all changes quickly, so if you are in a good phase, try to enjoy it! If you are in a worrisome stage, seek reassurance but don’t waste too much time trying to force the change, because it will come regardless of what you do.
6. Convinced that your child will be small and needy for a long, long time to come?
The worst part of this philosophy is the reality that none of it lasts. I felt like my own childhood lasted for ages, and when I gave birth to my first child I remember thinking that I was looking down the barrel of another childhood as long as mine had been. What I didn't realize was that to my parents, my childhood had flown by in the blink of an eye. When you have a high needs newborn or a demanding toddler or a bored kid or a rebellious teen it feels like this is what you will be dealing with for the rest of your life. Until suddenly you open your eyes and that phase has gone forever and you are on to the next one without you even realizing it.
So, at the risk of sounding cliché, remember: This too shall pass. It’s just a phase. The days are long but the years are short, and when it comes to kids, the only constant is change.
What evidence can you share to support (or disprove) my philosophy? What is your favorite parenting philosophy or mantra (or at least your favorite this week?)
Amy is a former midwife, an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant, a licensed BabyCalm and ToddlerCalm consultant, a Certified Infant Massage Instructor, co-founder of Love Parenting UAE, and a mother of 2 girls who have been changing constantly and teaching her about parenting since 2004.