Parenting the Kid That You Have as the Parent You Are

Particularly in the early days of your kid’s life, it can be hard to differentiate which of your caregiving tasks is a) actually about caring for your her biological needs, or b) a parenting choice. It is easy to fall into thinking that—for example—where your kid sleeps or what she eats is biological, when in reality, that is something you as the parent decide.

As your kid gets older, parenting choices become increasingly more frequent and complex. Added to that is the vast ocean of parenting resources (advice, articles, books, nosy buttinskis, etc.) that modern-day parents find themselves adrift in—some of which are useful but many of which feel polarizing, high stakes, and judgmental.

So how do you know what to do? Who do you listen to?

The following is a framework for navigating these waters—I refer to it as “Parenting Literature Literacy.”

 

First, Some basics

Temperament

We all have one. Temperament refers to the biological preferences and propensities we were born with—our nature. (For reference, temperament [nature] + character [nurture] = personality.) Temperament is a conglomerate of 9 different components—activity level, distractibility, intensity, regularity, sensory threshold, approach/withdrawal, adaptability, persistence, and mood—each of which has a high/low continuum. Temperament is a nuanced way to describe an individual. (Note: I know there is a simplified version of temperament out there, but I'm not a huge fan—I prefer to let people be complicated! Because we are! And that's cool! Plus who wants to walk around feeling pissed that they have a "difficult" kid? Nobody.)

The point of knowing one's temperament is to find a "goodness-of-fit" for that individual—environment, personality mixes, etc. Temperament is a tool to help you navigate the world, both for yourself and your kid. It helps you to predict what will meet your/your kid's needs and what will be anathema to them.

A great resource on temperament can be found here. It includes parent-child activities based on both of their temperaments, which is super helpful.

Development

Naturally, what your kid is capable of/interested in doing/able to understand depends on where he is, developmentally. (Captain Obvious will be here all week, pointing out, you know, the obvious.)

One of my favorite books on child development is "Is This a Phase?"—a very nice, succinct, non-judgy tome that describes your kid's developmental tasks for each period up to age 6. There are a lot of tables used and Lord knows I love a good chart. I'm also a fan of the Louise Bates-Ames books from the '70s that describe development in more detail, one for each year. I also love that the one for the three-year-old is called "Your Three-Year-Old: Friend, or ENEMY?"

Who Are You?*

It starts with knowing yourself, both as an individual and as a parent.

Individual examples: What's your temperament? Homebody or gal-on-the-go? Introvert or extrovert? What are your interests? Values? Priorities? What do you love? What drives you crazy?

Parenting examples (which, spoiler alert! will likely be in line with who you are): What is important to you in a broader way? What do you want your kids to walk away from your parenting knowing, understanding, valuing, and having as a moral compass?

Getting clear on these particulars will help you discern what is and is not for you.

Who Is Your Kid?

And, of course, know your kid.

Where does she fall on the components of temperament? Active? Maybe she needs lots of outdoor time. Intense? Time outs might not work for her.

What developmental stage is he in? What are the needs of that stage? What can he understand right now?

You will start to know your kid more over time and can begin to fill in the blanks about his preferences and styles.

Getting clear on these particulars will help you discern what is and is not for your kid.

who/what do you listen to?

With healthy doses of self- and kid- awareness, you can safely navigate the choppy waters of parenting literature. Pay attention, also, to how something makes you feel. What parenting information resonates? What parenting information makes you feel like crap?

With any given piece of advice, if it seems a) reasonable, b) interesting, c) aligned with your parenting values, d) aligned with what you know about your kid, and e) doesn't send you into a shame spiral, then ROCK AND/OR ROLL. If it makes you feel bad about yourself or your kid, then CHUCK IT. (With the caveat, safety first, always.)

Anchors away! Or whatever! I get seasick and don't go on boats.

*I am a walrus.