Right now I’m in the ‘golden age’ of parenting. That magical space between the utter hell of raising small children (0-5 years) and the utter hell of raising bigger children (12+ years). This is a unique space to be in when you have three children, for it’s rare for all three to fall between the ages of 5 and 12 years all at the same time. This is my late-delivery consolation prize for having three kids under 4 in the first place.
These days we (mostly) sleep all night, don’t change nappies or beds (mostly), can expect the kidlets to entertain themselves (mostly) and have three extra pairs of hands when it comes to doing the dishes. It’s a magical time in a parents life when your kids become actually helpful (as opposed to the “I help, mummy, I help?” years), it really is. They can get you stuff too, so you don’t have to get out of your chair. Really good.
So, it’s from my seat at the top of the golden mountain, bathed in shiny golden light that I tell you the five traits that I’ve learned as we bumbled along. The five things I think got us to golden when at times all around us was bleak. Remember, these are not necessarily the traits I’d choose to be a good person (so many, but honesty, humility, gratitude, etc) nor am I touching on the standard characteristics of good relationships (love, affection, etc); rather, these are the traits I think got me over the tougher hurdles of parenting. If you don’t already have these characteristics in your arsenal, I urge you to practise them until you do.
Ah, patience. Surely the number one requirement of any good parent. I did not possess an ounce of it until the kids came along. Matter of fact, I recall lamenting the fact that pregnancy was at least 3 months too long, given that it was awful for the first three, quite pleasant for the next and then… ready to go when you are, baby.
But I learned, oh how I learned. When my firstborn made me labour for more than 40 hours to see him, I think I was starting to develop a modicum of patience (along with quite a lot of teary frustration, it must be said). I honed my patience skills as he took 10 weeks to learn how to breastfeed and, god help me, 7 1/2 years to sleep through the night. By the time I was a mother of three, I had patience by the bucket load. So much so that my new-found patience has often helped easy going me become the strict parent I know I have to be. I can withstand anything, long after most parents might have given in.
You can read this as optimistic courage, if you like. Every parent needs a relentlessness in fortitude that matches the relentlessness of parenting. It is one thing to have patience in a moment (see above), but to truly believe that tomorrow will be easier, brighter, better than today takes fortitude. To believe that despite feeling like you have no idea what you are doing pretty much every single day, you will prevail and your children will be okay – that’s fortitude. To stare down a toddler in full tantrum mode and say in a calm, assertive manner, “no, not now, not ever, no way”… fortitude.
It’s a sad thing, but kindness does not come naturally to everyone. Most people will happily be kind when asked to be kind, but they have no idea how to set kindness going on their own. Parents need to work on that. A kind parent will do little things for their child just because. A kind parent will allow their child to be different to what they thought they wanted their child to be. A kind parent will open their home to other people, bringing joyous colour to everyday family life. A kind parent will notice things that parents who lack kindness will not.
Children exist in a world that is abundantly creative because they make it so. They can’t help it – we are born to self-expression and it’s only the ‘shoulds’ and ‘have-tos’ that stamp it out in most of us. A creative parent is a parent who understands the day-to-day life of kids. They simply ‘get’ where the kids are coming from. Creative parents say yes to the mud pies and don’t give the white dress a second thought because they get it: if mud is there, then pies demand to be made.
Creativity in family life allows children to express themselves in their own way, in their own time. It gives kids the opportunity to put their stamp on their daily routines and it allows families to develop their own rituals and rhythm. I think creativity frees us up to ignore the bits of life we don’t want to welcome. A creative parent will basically be better able to customise modern life to the needs and wants of the family.
There are not many problems in parenting that can’t be unproblemed with a good dose of humour. Humour helps all of the other good traits stick together. It reminds us to be patient, it helps us to have fortitude, it brings cheekiness to kindness and it enhances creativity. Humour also makes the bad bits suck a lot less. That old expression, “if you didn’t laugh you’d cry” kept me from weeping constantly from about 2004 through 2009.
Have I ticked off the traits you think are most important? Do you tick off these traits yourself?