Years ago, author Toni Morrison said something on The Oprah Show that has stuck with me and informs my parenting to this day. She said that every child is only looking for one thing. When they walk into the room, do their parent’s eyes light up?
Meaning, do they see evidence that their parents love them unconditionally?
I think high-achieving people with perfectionist tendencies (i.e. many physicians) can fall down the rabbit hole of believing that there is a right way and a wrong way to parent, and they judge themselves harshly when they think that they’ve gotten it wrong.
But really, parenting is a role that comes with on-the-job training for a reason. It’s normal to make mistakes and learn from them, and figure out how to do a little bit better with the next challenge that comes along.
I’ll never forget the first bath my husband and I gave our daughter two days after we came home from the hospital. (First of all, can I say how criminal it seemed that they let us take her home at all—didn’t they realize that we had absolutely no idea what we were doing?)
It was like a super stressful military operation. Baby bathtub with tepid water as verified by elbow: check. Sheepskin fleece to lay the baby on afterward so she won’t freeze: check. (Did I mention my daughter was born in November in Canada?) Special soap, special towel, special lotion: check, check, and check. But wait, how do we keep her head up? Why is she crying? Is the water too hot, too cold? Where did the clean diaper and sleeper end up? Husband, do something!
Fast forward to 2.5 years later when caring for an infant seemed so easy compared to a toddler. They only eat one thing. They sleep most of the time. They can’t move when you put them somewhere. They don’t run away from you naked and screaming when you’re trying to get the diaper and pajamas on them after the bath.
If I’ve learned anything as a parent, it’s that every child and every family is unique. There’s nothing wrong with reading all the childcare books on the planet, but understand that you are the expert when it comes to your family and your child. You are always going to be the best judge of what is the best solution for your family, and every family will need a slightly different solution.
We can think that it’s our job to protect our children from being hurt. But it isn’t. It’s our job to teach our kids how to deal with the hurt that the world will sometimes deliver. We are their soft place to fall.
So ask yourself—do your eyes light up when your children walk into the room? Do they know that you will always love them, no matter what? If so, you are doing it right.