An adventure is defined as an unusual, exciting or daring experience. Something risky. Having raised three children, I cannot agree more that it’s been one of the greatest adventures of my life—a challenge, a joy, and a plunge into the complete unknown. Heart-stopping, heart-filling and mind-boggling all at the same time. Just when I thought I’d worked out what I was meant to do, my children would grow up a bit more, and the rules would change. And each of the three is completely different, so that kept me on my toes, too. Kids don’t come with a manual. It’s a journey that nothing prepares you for.
By the time you become a parent, you’ve long forgotten what it was like to be a child and have to relearn it step by step as your children take you on the journey all over again. Or you can try to ignore the fact that they’re not mini adults, and treat them as grown-ups—but then you miss out on the joys they offer, the lessons they can teach, and your key role as a witness to the wonders of development.
An artist friend told me when I was expecting my first child that having a kid will show you how you learned when you were young. Your own children take you through their development stage by stage and sometimes, particularly if they’re different learners, that can be bit of a roller-coaster. I used to run parenting courses, and would always tell participants that even though I’d studied child development twice and worked in adult psychiatry with axe murderers and psychotic clients with the most challenging behaviours, nothing had prepared me for being a parent.
Why aren’t we taught child development in schools? Alongside choosing our life partner and managing our finances, it’s one of the most responsible and important things we ever do. Parenting matters, and the World Health Organization, among others, highlights how important the key early relationships are. Love is a wonderful thing, but it also invests you differently in what you do. It’s hard to be impartial and professional with your own children. They make you think and dare. Often it feels like you’re on the edge of a precipice about to jump, hoping you’ll fly but fearing you might fall.
My sons have been my greatest teachers and for that I thank them. Having lived through the adventure of child development three times, 24/7, I now feel just about ready to have my first child! It’s from that perspective, with the additional lens of three professional trainings around child development, I offer a few hard-learned pointers for all parents, hoping to make your adventure less risky and more rewarding.
1. You don’t need to be perfect. In fact, good enough is great. Be human, forgive yourself when you feel you get it wrong. Show your children how you can be resilient, adaptive and forgiving. Perfect parents are impossible to live up to, and actually limit our children’s capacity to thrive.
2. Have fun with your child. Play with them. Rediscover your inner child. They’re a great excuse to let go. Playing hide and seek in the park is fun—and entirely acceptable when done with children. We all need play, release and relaxation, and through playing with our children we build strong shared memories, while they feel seen, understood, and accepted.
3.Follow your child’s lead. Children know what they need and tell you all the time, in many different ways through their behavior, motivation, sleep, language and play. Try and listen to them with a child-focused mind. They don’t see the world like we do, so you need to enter theirs.
4.If you’re worried about whether your child learns differently, seek support and advice. None of us are trained to be parents and if your child is learning differently you can make the journey easier for both of you if you get a bit of support. We know so much more now about how children learn, and there are experts who can support you, but do follow your intuition go for someone you believe and trust and who you feel gets you and your family needs.
All the best for a rewarding and exhilarating adventure.