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The #1 Lesson in Parenting



As a Perinatal Mental Health therapist I work with a lot of people in various depths of their parenting journey. People in fertility treatment, people wondering if they want to adopt, people wondering if they even want to be parents, pregnant people, recently Postpartum parents, parents of older children and even parents of adult children.


Over my time working in this field, I have come to notice that most of these people at any point on their parenting journey are struggling with learning and re-learning the same lesson over and over again. My supervisor, Olivia Scobie, names it as “the realization that parenting is really just one new disappointment after the other.” Not in the negative way that this sounds, but in the way that we are consistently disappointed by our EXPECTATIONS of the realities of parenting, and so we are consistently needing to learn how to pivot and shift our understanding.


I like to call this the Number One Lesson in Parenting: that we have little to no control over what happens a lot of the time. For some people, the journey to and through parenting is the first experience that we have of experiencing a complete and total lack of control over our own lives. These people are most likely the clients to be showing up in my therapy office, so confused and frightened by experiencing lack of control over something so important to them.

Some of us experience this lesson when we first step into our parenting journeys and realize that it might not be so easy to just “get pregnant” and have to transition into a fertility journey, or in the adoption process when we realize it’s not as easy as being a lovely potential parent and filling out all of your forms. There is grief, and tension and disappointment from the very beginning for many families.


For those who were able to conceive a baby without struggle, the lesson may come in the realization that we have little to no control over how baby grows inside of a birthing parent or how they develop… We have no control many times over whether this pregnancy will move to full term, or if the baby will grow in the way we want it to, or even that it needs to.


If we get this far, despite our preparations and "birth plans", many of us learn the lesson that we have no ultimate control over how the birth plays out, or when baby decides to arrive. Our expectations are shifted again.

Although, some people sail through these waves without this lesson hitting us too hard. If you were lucky enough to make it this far unscathed, it'll probably get to you soon. In my experience, there is no missing the #1 lesson once your child has arrived. A new baby brings a new kind of chaos to a home that typically defies (or "disappoints") all expectations. They won’t sleep when you want them to, they may not feed how you want them to, you may not respond to baby in the gentle graceful way that you had always planned. We quickly learn that no matter how many prenatal trainings we have taken, no matter how many parenting podcasts we have listened to… we still have little control over the chaos of newborn and baby life. As baby grows we still struggle with this lesson, we learn that even though we followed all of the baby feeding recommendations, our baby is still a “picky eater”, and even though we followed all of the “good sleep habits” strategies, our baby still wakes inconsistently.


Hopefully in time, we can begin to learn that instagram, and podcasts, and professionals and well-meaning friends and family don’t actually have the answers on how to parent, or how to bring a baby into the world. We begin to learn that there is no one clear map on “how to do this right,” there is just “the best that I can do today.”


The #1 lesson in parenting is learning to live with a lack of control.

My mother taught me this early on, when I was worried about my baby. I asked her, “when do I stop worrying about everything?” She simply responded, "You don’t it’s always there, I still worry about you and your siblings everyday.”


I once heard someone say that having a child is like having a small piece of your heart ripped out of you and it’s just living there out in the world now. There couldn’t be a more true statement. It hurts to know that something so important to you, something that is a literal piece of your heart can’t be fully protected anymore. It’s vulnerable, and exposed and there is a risk of it getting hurt. It's terrifying…but this is the hard truth of parenting. It’s also maybe what makes it beautiful, and maybe what makes it love.

In Acceptance and Commitment therapy we use a tool called “the other side of the coin” to reframe difficult feelings or thoughts. We talk about a difficult feeling (for example “terror of the unknown harm that could come to my child one day”) and we flip the coin (“I have this fear because on the other side of the coin is so much immeasurable love and care”).


Keeping this in mind, I don’t think my job as a therapist to get rid of people’s fears, or to try and “anxiety coping skill” them away. This fear is normal, and appropriate and not a sign that you are broken. I believe it's just a reaction to the discomfort of this #1 lesson. We don’t have control a lot of the time, and that is hard to hold. In my view, therapy support can help us to learn to live with this truth, learn to lean into discomfort, and be gracious and kind to ourselves as we do so.


If you are interested in meeting with me to explore your own fears about struggles with control or anxiety in parenting I would be happy to journey with you. I offer virtual Psychotherapy throughout Ontario to clients as a Registered Psychotherapist.


You can book a session here. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.


Take care and always be gentle with yourself,


Michelle Green MA, RP, CCC, CC-PMH

michellegreenrp.com

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