Saturday, 21 April 2012

There should be an "i" in "parent"

Okay, so I've been at this parenting malarkey for slightly over 13 years and, while there are most certainly longer treatises on the subject than I'm going to offer here, I reckon I've seen and learned a thing or two.  I'm not even going to try to impart a fraction of what I would class as the advice at my disposal.  I'm simply going to make two choice observations today.

These observations are not just based on my personal experience as a parent.  I'm also tapping my observation of other parents and the way they manage their lives around the minions they've produced. In a lot of cases I knew them before they were parents, and there are as many reactions to becoming parents as there are people.  Further, I don't think there is any "right" or "wrong" way to parent.  I will certainly think to myself "well, I wouldn't do it that way",  but I won't tell those parents that they should do things the way I do.  There's superior and there's different.  A lot of the time stuff is just different, and you should leave well enough alone.  Lots of different parenting skills work, sometimes unexpectedly.

There are a couple of matters, though, that I think are universally applicable.  Here are two of them.

The value of having a parenting team can't be underestimated.  Married or unmarried, hetero, gay, lesbian or otherwise, when there's two of you things are just ... better.  Now, there are clearly some very able single parents out there, but my point is not that they should have a partner.  All I'm saying is that when there's two of you, you get a bunch of advantages.  Here's a few I just thought of (but I'm sure there are many more):

  • working arrangements are more flexible
  • you can team up against recalcitrant minion(s)
  • there is an on-call, invested, sounding-board for parenting ideas
  • you can take turns being on duty (thus granting valuable down-time)

With regard to the second point, I can't emphasise enough the value of presenting a united front, even when you don't actually agree.  Team parenting means acting as a team, not as individual players.  So, you agree in public, but if there's disagreement, sort it out off-stage (so to speak) and, if the outcome is different to the one presented earlier, well, unless you're running a democratic household - bad idea! - you just announce there's been a change of plan.  But really, having your minions' authority figures disagreeing in front of them is one of the first steps on the long road to disagreeable minions, and you don't want that!

So, putting the "i" in "pair-ent" is the first "i" that should be there.  When you're a pair, and you act as a team, the outcomes are superior.

The second "i" I wanted to touch on today has to do with the last point I made above: having the ability to find down-time, when you can be "I", and not just "we" all the time.

Most couples meet, fall in love, and spend some time being a couple before parenting comes along and takes over their lives.  It's really important to make the time to be the individual who attracted your partner on a regular basis, instead of the stranger you can become if you spend all your time being a parent.   You need to stay in touch with those friends, and make the time to have fun with them.  Maintain that interest or sport you always had, get out there and do it.  Those are the things which make you you.

There are absolutely terrific parents out there who are completely different people to the one their partner fell in love with.  It's really easy to get caught up in a narrow cycle of work and home (or home and home), especially when you've got small minions.  This is a time of pressure, when it's possible for personalities to be submerged beneath the parenting role.  Strong personalities and robust couples may not face this problem.  But I think the number of partnerships and marriages which break up while their minions are still young can at least partly be attributed to roles and personalities changing from lovers to parents, without relief.

I'm in awe of those people I know who have managed to parent and continue their personal lives without interruption.  I know it can't be that simple, but the fact that they even give the appearance of this being the case is impressive.

So, there you have it.  Naturally, there's way more to being a parent than a couple of hundred trite words on the subject from me.  However, this is what came to me when I started thinking about the "there's no 'i' in 'team'" thing in the context of parenting.  :-)

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