Most couples experience mixed feelings at the prospect of becoming parents, particularly when it is their first child. Initially, there’s excitement at the thought of having a baby in the family, someone extra to love and care for. Then comes uneasiness; won’t a baby cause an enormous disruption to their existing lifestyle? It’s also the time when many realise that the ability to be a good parent — beyond the basic instinct to protect — is not inborn.
When it comes to being natural parents, animals seem to be better equipped than humans; they are capable of protecting their babies. Yet no one trains animals to behave in this way, and they don’t attend animal antenatal classes yet all the same, they instinctively do a good job.
However, animals are not concerned with the higher issues of parenting, such as giving their offspring toys to play with or ensuring that she fulfils her potential. Human concerns are far more complex, they want much more than that for her, including a good education, a happy home life, a suitable career and, a satisfactory marriage.
However, there are some inborn tendencies that pull parents and children together. For example, when a baby comes into the world she is pre-programmed to interact with her parents, for instance, her vision is set to focus best on her parents’ faces when they feed her, and she can use her voice to let them know that she is unhappy.
These basic tendencies aside, most aspects of parenthood have to be learned. Your starting point for deciding how to act as a parent probably stems from our own experiences (either negative or positive) in childhood. Some people have such a miserable time as children that they are determined to raise their own child in a totally different way, while others find their childhood so satisfying that they replicate the same style of parenting with their own children.
Think about your childhood. What do you think were your parents’ main priorities when they raised you? Make a list, it might contain answers such as ‘keeping me clean and tidy,’ encouraging me to be well behaved,’ or ‘helping me to be friendly to other children.’ Write these down, and cover up the sheet of paper.
Then take another sheet and make a list of the priorities you have for your own children. Compare the two lists. The chances are that you will see a connection between your parents’ skills as mother and father and your own views on how you would like to be as a parent.
Previous generations of parents had one major advantage over today’s — they were often part of a large, close-knit family network. A host of helpful-and experienced relatives and friends were always close at hand to give advice on matters of parenthood. Those earlier generations had less need to ask for advice and help on day-to-day matters, since they already had a bank of ‘folk-wisdom’ immediately available. This made parenthood easier to cope with.
That luxury is no longer available. The basic concept of the extended family has broken down, and there is no longer the family support for new parents that there once was. Even when a family is intact, a child’s grandparents may not be on hand to give advice. In the past, grandparents lived close to their married children, ready to help out whenever called upon. Today, it is highly likely that grandparents live in a far away. So don’t feel guilty or insecure when you find you don’t have all the answers to questions about child rearing. Ask your friends and family, read books and talk to child-care professionals.