Tips for early parenting: do less, enjoy more!
Special to The Union
Editor’s Note: This month’s parenting points article, regularly submitted by Annie Keeling, was written by guest contributor Katie DaMota, local parent educator, postpartum doula and lactation consultant.
At first glance, the growing excess of gadgets, blogs, books and opportunities available to new parents might appear to make parenting a breeze. Information is available in an instant. Social media has solutions for any problem. There’s an app or a class or a book for just about everything. Are today’s new parents better off and more confident than ever before?
In my work supporting families for the past 30 years, I have found the answer to this question to be a mixed bag. While some parents are calmed and soothed by modern resources and smart gadgets, others appear to be paralyzed trying to make the perfect choice, wondering if they’re doing it “right.” Some parents complain of exhaustion from the busy-ness of keeping up with their own expectations of what life with a young child should be like.
For those who feel overwhelmed and lost in the modern world of parenting, I’ve taken to sharing the idea of doing less and enjoying more. It may seem impossible at first. After all, it can be hard enough to get in a shower. There may also be the pressure of “must-do” tasks: play dates, music classes, story time, early language classes, day care choices, tumbling … and let’s not forget tummy time. Cutting anything out may seem daunting or you may worry about missing out.
Building community is one of the most crucial favors you do for yourself as a parent. While I’m a huge fan of the weekly meet-ups, if the busy schedule and barrage of opinions are overwhelming, consider skipping out.
Instead, find a moment to drop in with your baby or maybe with yourself. Consider curling up to read a book together or explore a trail and spend time in nature. No one said you had to forgo yourself to keep up with your baby’s busy schedule. The truth is, your baby enjoys simply being with you.
All babies are easily entertained without spending a cent. It may come as a surprise, but the human face is one of the most stimulating things to a baby. Gadgets and gizmos can buy you time to make a snack or run to the bathroom, but young babies are happy to spend time memorizing your face and mimicking your smile. They learn a lot just by connecting with you in this simple moment that can happen anywhere.
When we purposely do less, it makes space to enjoy more. It can be as simple as listening to those important first sounds together: birds, music, story, or even a local train going by and watching the wonder in their eyes. Pausing to greet the day is a lost art for some adults, but it’s an everyday activity for the very young.
As your child grows, ask them what they hear or maybe what they notice. I’m always delightfully surprised when I ask instead of tell about the world. A neighborhood walk is filled with so many opportunities to ask questions. Keep in mind a toddler’s idea of a walk may be just a block — and that may take 30 minutes. Small children don’t tend to be as focused on the destination so much as the journey and how many treasures there are to find along the way.
Babies and children are hard-wired to learn despite our efforts to involve them in educational toys and developmental classes. If you are finding that your day is too full and doing less sounds like a refreshing thought, rest assured they will still learn to play, talk and interact with the world just by observing and listening to everyday life.
Play is another area where parents can do less. Rather than narrate play, consider sitting back to listen. Their ball may have become an airplane in a matter of seconds, or perhaps the kitchen has become a spaceship. By doing less, it allows the child or baby to take the lead, sometimes sweeping us away to surprising places. This also allows parents to take a moment to breathe.
Culturally, parents usually do everything for babies. It seems to be an underlying belief that the infant is helpless. Yet, building self-sufficiency can begin early in the child’s life. The idea is to teach your kids to do things for themselves as they get older and more capable. Yet, even before they have the capacity to do for themselves, we can plant the seed of involvement.
Diaper-changing is a great example of how you can start this idea in a small way. While babies can’t actually lift their bottom to help you slip the diaper under them, you can plant the idea of assistance by saying, “Thank you for helping to lift your bottom,” or “You’re helping me change your diaper.” And then before you know it, they can actually assist with moving limbs or lying still with cooperation when asked. You’ll be doing less, and they’ll be doing more.
Give yourself permission to slow down and enjoy the sweet naps and accidental adventures. Get caught up in the awe of the world through your young child’s eyes. And notice the ways your children can be involved in their own self-care. It’s truly a gift of parenthood if you choose to accept and enjoy it.
Katie DaMota, MAS, IBCLC, is a local lactation consultant, educator and mother. She founded The Nest Family Resource Center in Grass Valley in 2013, a local nonprofit aimed at providing support, community and resources for local families from pregnancy through parenting. You can find her at the play circles on Mondays and Thursdays. Find out more: http://www.thenestfamilyresource.org.
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